Obesity has become one of the major health issues in the country, not just in adults but also among children. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in the United States alone, childhood obesity has doubled in the past 30 years. In 2012, they reported that more than one-third of the younger population is either classified as obese or overweight.
Childhood obesity is no joke. Those who are considered as obese children are most likely to grow up as obese when they become adults. This also means that they are at greater risk of developing chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
Healthy eating habits should be introduced as young as childhood. When a child is brought up in a plant-based, vegetarian diet, they have higher chances of preventing obesity. A research conducted by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition showed that vegetarian kids have lower BMI than those who eat meat and processed foods. This difference in BMI becomes more evident as the kids enter adolescence.
Building a healthy diet is easier to do with plant foods compared to meat and animal products. Plant foods are lower in calorie and lower in the glycemic index yet are high in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients including fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Meat and animal products contain higher levels of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and other components that healthy kids do well to avoid.
Introducing a plant-based diet can already start by the time the doctor recommends feeding them with solid food. During this time, their diet will be composed of cooked cereals, mashed vegetables, and mashed fruits. By the time they become toddlers, introduce them to a wider variety of plant-based foods including grains and legumes. As they start going to school, expose them to where their food is coming from. Bring them to the market, to the grocery or even introduce them to gardening where they will grow their own foods. You can already start teaching them food preparation at this age. Adolescents who started their vegetarian diet at an early age will have an easier time to manage their weight and will encounter lesser health problems that are common to those who enter this age.
Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains content complex carbohydrates give children the ideal quality energy to fuel their physical activities. For fiber, introduce whole wheat bread, rolled oats and unusual types of grains such as quinoa, and barley. As kids like to snack or drink something sweet, give them fruits instead of giving them soft drinks, sugary pastry or sugar-laden cereals. Eating these will only lead to gaining unhealthy weight.
Protein requirements for healthy kids can be sufficiently provided by plant-based foods. Grains, beans, and nuts are the primary source of protein for vegetarian kids. Getting protein from plants will also change their notion that they have to depend on meat for protein. And you don’t have to worry about protein deficiency. Such thing only happens when you also restrict their consumption of plant foods.
For fat, your best source would come from nuts such as walnuts, nut butter, avocado, and soybean products. These food items have high healthy fats compared to processed foods and meat which contain saturated fats and trans fat. Although children have higher fat requirements, you should still be mindful of their fat intake. Children who follow the Western diet, which is full of meat, are at risk of developing heart diseases even before they reach adulthood.
Calcium deficiency can also be avoided among vegetarian children by eating sweet potatoes, green vegetables, dried figs and beans. If you are following a non-dairy approach, your children can drink soy milk and rice milk. By limiting salt intake and excluding animal-sourced protein, you can help their body retain calcium. Plants are also rich in vitamin content, especially Vitamin C. Plant-sourced Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron.
As your child is growing, you will notice that he might have slower growth progress compared to children who are eating meat and animal-based products. However, as they are nearing adolescence, they will catch up in both weight and height. Another thing that you might notice with your vegetarian daughter is that she will reach menarche later than her friends who consume meat. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that protein coming from animal sources, including egg and dairy, leads to a reduction of puberty age.
To avoid your child from developing a taste for unhealthy food, you should already establish healthy eating habits early on. Once the doctor recommends solid food intake, you can start incorporating iron-fortified cereals into their meals. You can add breast milk or soy formula as both have the least allergens among different infant-friendly milk. You can move on to wheat as your child enters eight months old. Around six to eight months, start feeding them fruits and vegetables. Make sure that they are thoroughly cooked and mashed. Your options are potatoes, carrots, peas and green beans. For fruits, you can start off with peaches, bananas and avocados. By the time they reach eight months old, they can start eating tofu and beans to avoid protein deficiency. Bread and crackers can also be introduced at this point.
As they enter adolescence, their nutritional requirements also change. They will need a lot of energy to fuel their activities. Fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, legumes and whole grains contain high amounts of complex carbohydrates that can provide them with lots of energy. During this time, it can be challenging since their peers will also introduce them to refined foods, processed foods and junk foods. However, if they have started eating vegan at an early age, they will already have a standpoint when it comes to food selections by the time they come of age. The best that you could do is to introduce them to different food varieties and options, whether they are at the grocery or are eating out. This way, they won’t develop a mindset that their lifestyle is limiting them to have fun.
Do you have healthy kids eating veggies? We’d love to hear all about them below in the comments box.