Types of vegetarian diets
People who eat vegetarian diets eat mostly or only plant foods.
There are four main types of vegetarian diets:
- Lacto-vegetarian diets include plant foods plus dairy foods.
- Ovo-vegetarian diets include plant foods plus eggs.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets include plant foods plus dairy foods and eggs.
- Vegan diets include only plant foods.
Healthy vegetarian diets for children and teenagers
Like all healthy diets, healthy vegetarian diets for children and teenagers need to include a wide variety of fresh foods from the five food groups:
- grain foods
- reduced-fat dairy or dairy-free alternatives
Each food group has particular nutrients, which your child’s body needs to grow and work properly. That’s why your child needs to eat a range of foods from all five food groups.
Want to know more about the five healthy food groups? Check out our articles on healthy food for toddlers, healthy food for preschoolers, healthy food for school-age children and healthy food for teenagers.
Planning healthy vegetarian diets for children and teenagers
Vegetarian children and teenagers need carefully planned diets. This ensures they get enough of these nutrients, which non-vegetarians get in animal foods like red meat, chicken and fish. And when children are cutting out animal foods, it’s important to replace these foods with alternatives that give them the nutrients they need.
Also, vegetarian teenagers need the same healthy foods and nutrients as younger vegetarian children, just more of them! That’s because teenagers need extra nutrition to fuel the physical changes happening in their bodies during puberty.
How vegetarian children and teenagers can get the nutrients they need
For vegetarian children, the best sources of calcium are dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt.
Dairy-free foods that are rich in calcium include tofu, some green leafy vegetables like kale and bok choy, nuts, seeds, tinned fish with bones, and foods fortified with calcium, like cereal, soy milk and bread. Not all dairy alternatives are fortified with calcium, though, so make sure to read food labels.
Vegetarian children can get iron from egg yolks, dark and leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, beans, lentils, wholegrains and fortified breakfast cereals.
Children can boost their iron absorption by eating vitamin C-rich foods at the same time as iron-rich foods. For example, your child could eat wholegrain cereal and an orange for breakfast. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, strawberries, capsicum and broccoli.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil and soy products are good vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
For protein, vegetarian children can include dairy foods, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu and nuts in their diets.
Vegetarian children can get vitamin B12 from eggs and milk if their diet includes these animal products.
If your child is a vegan, they’ll need to get vitamin B12 from fortified foods like fortified breakfast cereals, plant-based milks and soy products. Not all of these products have added B12 so be sure to read their food labels.
Vegetarian children can get zinc from milk, seeds, tofu and wholegrain cereals.
If your child is thinking about choosing a vegetarian, vegan or other special diet, it’s a good idea to speak with a GP or dietitian. These health professionals can help you make sure your child’s diet is well-balanced and has all the nutrients your child needs.