Vegetarian Diets for Children: Right from the Start

Eating habits are set in early childhood. Vegetarian diets give your child the chance to learn to enjoy a variety of wonderful, nutritious foods. They provide excellent nutrition for all stages of childhood, from birth through adolescence.


The best food for newborns is breast milk. If your baby is not being breast-fed, soy formulas are a good alternative
and are widely available. Do not use commercial soymilk. Babies have special needs and require a soy formula that is
developed especially for those needs.

Infants do not need any nourishment other than breast milk or soy formula for the first several months of life.
Breast-fed infants need about 2 hours a week of sun exposure to make vitamin D. Some infants, especially those who
live in cloudy climates, may not make adequate amounts of vitamin D. In that case, vitamin D supplements may be

Breast milk or infant formula should be used for at least the first year of your baby’s life.

At about 4 to 5 months of age, or when your baby’s weight has doubled, other foods can be added to the diet.

Add one new food at a time, at one- to two- week intervals. The following guidelines provide a flexible plan for
adding foods to your baby’s diet.

4 to 5 Months

Introduce iron-fortified infant cereal. Try rice cereal first since it is the least likely to cause allergies. Mix it with a
little breast milk or soy formula. Then offer oat or barley cereals to your baby.

6 to 8 Months

Introduce vegetables. They should be thoroughly cooked and mashed. Potatoes, green beans, carrots, and peas are all
good first choices.

Introduce fruits next. Try mashed bananas, avocados, strained peaches, or applesauce.

By 8 months of age, most babies can eat crackers, bread, and dry cereal.

Also, by about 8 months, infants can begin to eat higher protein foods like tofu or beans that have been cooked well
and mashed.


Children have a high calorie and nutrient need, but their stomachs are small. Offer your child frequent snacks, and
include some less “bulky” foods like refined grains and fruit juices. Do limit juices however, since children may fill up
on them, preferring their sweetness to other foods. Calorie needs vary from child to child. The following guidelines are
general ones.

Food Groups for Children

Breads, cereals, and grains

Includes bread, hot and cold cereals, pasta, cooked grains such as rice and barley, crackers.

A serving is 1/2 cup pasta, grain, or cereal or 1 slice of bread.

Beans. Nuts. Seeds

Includes any cooked bean such as pinto, kidneys, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas, navy beans, and chickpeas; soy
products such as tofu and soymilk; all nuts and nut butters, seeds, and tahini (sesame butter).

A serving is « cup beans, 4 ounces tofu, 8 ounces soymilk, 1 tablespoon nuts or nut butter.


Includes all vegetables.

A serving is « cup cooked or 1 cup raw.


Includes all fruits and fruit juices.

A serving is cup cooked fruit, 4 ounces fruit juice, dried fruit, 1 piece fruit.

Recommended Servings

Ages 1 to 3 (Preschoolers)

Grains: 4 servings

Beans, Nuts, Seeds: 5 servings total, to include 1 serving beans, 1 serving nuts or seeds, 3 servings fortified soymilk.

Vegetables: 2 servings, to include at least ¬ green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, broccoli, Swiss chard, turnip
greens, mustard greens.

Fruits: 2 servings

Ages 4 to 6

Grains: 6 servings
Beans, Nuts and Seeds: 1 serving beans, 1 serving nuts or seeds, 3 servings fortified soymilk

Vegetables: 3 servings including at least 1 serving of leafy green vegetables.

Fruits: 3 servings

Ages 7 to 12 years

Grains: 6 to 7 servings
Beans, Nuts, Seeds: 2 beans, 1 nut, 3 to 4 fortified soymilk

Vegetables: 4 to 5 including 1 to 2 dark green leafy vegetables.

Fruits: 3 to 4 servings

Sample Menus

Ages 1 to 4 years


Cheerios with soymilk

Orange Juice


Hummus (chickpea and sesame seed butter spread) on crackers



Carrot sticks


Lentil-tomato loaf

Mashed potatoes

Creamed kale





Ages 4 to 6 years


Apple-cinnamon oatmeal


Orange wedges


Tofu-egg salad on bread

Apple juice

Carrot sticks

Oatmeal cookie


Baked beans with blackstrap molasses

Baked potato


Pineapple chunks



Trail mix

Graham crackers


Ages 7 to 12 years


Raisin Bran with soymilk and sliced banana

Toast with almond butter

Orange juice


Macaroni and blended tofu with nutritional yeast

Fruit salad


Green beans with almonds


Lentil soup

Salad with greens and broccoli


Steamed carrots



Trail mix


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Written by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021