In celebration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' National Nutrition Month, I'm thrilled to share this wonderful guest post for The Scoop on Food by Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitianâ„¢.
Obesity rates among children aged 2 to 5 years old have reportedly plummeted by 43% over the past decade. This is huge news considering the efforts we've been taking as a nation in recent years to fight the obesity epidemic. There's no denying there's been an increased interest in food and nutrition, but as a registered dietitian who promotes the power of plant foods, I believe the improved health of our children may be linked to an increased emphasis on such foods. We can thank the growing list of best-selling vegetarian cookbook authors, vegetarian and vegan celebrities, and even our former president, Bill Clinton for giving the "veggie" lifestyle a whole new reputation. Even Jay Z and Beyonce adopted a vegan diet for 22 days this past winter.
While plant-based eating is slowly gaining momentum, many myths surrounding the "veggie" lifestyle still linger–especially when it comes to providing our children with optimal nutrition for their growing minds and bodies. Here are 5 misconceptions surrounding feeding our kids a vegetarian diet, debunked.
Myth: Children will not be satisfied with plant-based meals.
Truth: Your children will hardly miss the meat when you focus on all the whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes available in the plant world. Start with breakfast, for example: pile your child's breakfast plate with fresh berries, whole grain cereal topped with toasted walnuts, homemade quick breads, or buckwheat pancakes with peaches or pears. The options to go "veggie" for the first meal of the day are endless.
Myth: It's impossible to feed children vegetarian snacks throughout the day.
Truth: Store pre-cut veggies and fruit in your fridge, and chopped nuts and dried fruit (with no sugar added) in your pantry for snacks. Many plant foods are nature's perfect finger foods and make for naturally delicious and convenient snacks. What's not to love?
Myth: Children will not get enough protein if they don't eat meat.
Truth: It's a widespread misconception that it's difficult to get enough protein from plant foods. We now know that it's very simple to obtain all essential amino acids from plant-based sources such as legumes, soy, nuts and seeds. Incorporate a good quality protein at each meal or snack and your children will easily meet recommended protein intakes.
Myth: Children will not get enough calcium if they don't eat dairy.
Truth: It's important for growing bones to get adequate amounts of calcium–and two to three servings per day of green leafy vegetables, almonds and broccoli should help you and your children reach the daily recommended calcium goal. You can also add calcium-fortified foods such as tofu, orange juice, or plant-based milk alternatives to the mix.
Myth: Preparing plant-based meals is laborious, complicated and boring.
Truth: Plenty of kid-friendly and plant-friendly recipes are as simple as could be! And thankfully, gone are the days when vegetarian diets are considered to be about as hip and tasty as munching on alfalfa sprouts and chomping on seeds. Think: whole grain pitas filled with cucumbers, bell peppers and hummus, whole grain spaghetti with marinara sauce, and even a classic peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Image of girl cooking with vegetables via shutterstock.
Do your kids follow a vegetarian diet? If so, do you have concerns?
For vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) recipe inspiration, check out our Food & Recipes Guide!