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Organic, dairy-free and vegetarian diets explained in under 180 characters

Young child reaching for red bell pepper in grocery store with parents behind her.

You’ve probably seen the new options for your morning coffee – oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, cashew milk and the list goes on. Meanwhile, conversations about organic and non-organic food options are ongoing. Organic foods can be pricey, but are they better? It can be overwhelming to understand nutrition and how to identify the best options for your kids. I’ll sum it up, in less than 180 characters right now.

Regardless of how you choose to feed your child, aim for a nutrient-rich diet with lots of colors. Find balance by serving a wide variety of foods at each meal and snack.

Need a little more? Here’s a deeper dive into all of it.

Is a vegetarian diet okay for kids?

Of course! We just want you to be extra mindful of a few key nutrients.

  • Protein: Choose alternative protein sources like beans, eggs, peas, nuts, soy and dairy products. Parents should include at least 1 protein-rich food to serve at all meals and most snacks. Some vegetarians tend to fill up on high carb/high sugar options like breads and pastas, but vegetarians should find alternative protein sources to bring balance to their plates.
  • Iron: Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common concerns in children. Parents should regularly serve iron-rich foods such as fortified whole grains, green leafy vegetables and beans/legumes.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D: These 2 nutrients are important for bone health. All children, even vegetarians, should aim for at least 3 servings of dairy or dairy alternatives daily. This can include yogurt, cheese and milk.

Should kids drink dairy-free milk?

They don’t have to, but if your child is lactose intolerant or you choose to serve your child dairy-free milk alternatives, there are some choices that are more appropriate for kids than others.

Parents should look for milk alternatives that have ~8-10 gms of protein and ~150 calories per serving. Many alternatives like almond and coconut milk are very low in protein and usually not appropriate for kids, as they can often result in poor weight gain.

Instead, parents should choose Lactaid milk, soy milk, protein nut milk, some pea protein milks (such as Ripple) or Fairlife milk because these are more comparable to cow’s milk when it comes to calories, protein and overall nutrient provision.

Should I only be serving organic foods to my child?

Not necessarily, so let’s review where the food comes from. Organic classifications on foods refer to the different farming practices that are used to plant, harvest, manufacture and serve foods. The USDA determines these guidelines and farmers must adhere to these strict requirements before applying for these certifications.

While organic fruits and vegetables may have less pesticides than non-organic options, nutritionally they can be similar. Most organic foods carry a higher price tag, but if you’d like to purchase a few organic options for your family, you might start with the “dirty dozen,” which is created by the Environmental Working Group. Or check out foods with lower levels of pesticides, known as the “clean 15” that you can purchase non-organic. Buying local produce is another way to support local farmers and reduce food cost, even if these foods don’t carry an official USDA organic certification.

However you choose to feed your child, just aim for variety, balance and consistency. And don’t forget that your personal dietary choices and conversations have a big impact on how your children relate to food and their bodies!

Every child has different needs. So if you need more personalized nutrition guidance for your child, ask your primary care physician for a referral to speak with a Registered Dietitian in your neighborhood.

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