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Raising a healthy vegetarian.
Q: I would like to raise my 9-month-old as a vegetarian, no meat at all, but most of the dinner foods have meat. I am concerned he won't get the proper nutrition he needs. Can you please help me?
Michelle Tacoma
A: Michelle, more and more people are raising their children on healthy vegetarian diets. A vegetarian diet tends to be high in fiber and low in fat, which is good for preventing many adult health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and colon cancer.

The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is to make sure your child gets enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins—nutrients that are common in meat products but also available in other foods, especially milk products (including yogurt and cheese), eggs, beans, tofu, and dark green vegetables.

At 9 months of age, your baby can eat baby food and table foods that you puree by hand or chop into small pieces. If you want to avoid baby food with meat, there are still plenty of healthy vegetarian foods you can give your baby. To avoid food allergies, it’s best to wait until after a year to give your baby whole milk, egg whites, and peanut butter. But start trying a variety of other foods. Make sure each meal has some of each type of food—a source of protein (e.g., milk products, egg, beans, tofu), a grain (e.g., cereal, rice, corn, pasta), and a vegetable or fruit. Over time, encourage your child to eat a wide variety of vegetables including dark green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach; and a variety of grains, especially whole-grain cereals and brown rice, which are the most nutritious.

Talk to your pediatrician about your interest in a vegetarian diet for your child. The doctor will follow your child’s growth and may take a blood test to make sure your child doesn’t have anemia. If there’s any question about your child’s nutrition, the doctor might recommend vitamins for your baby. You might also want to talk with a nutritionist to get some more tips.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician