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What are vegetarian and vegan diets?

People consuming a vegetarian diet typically avoid eating meat, poultry, and fish and center their diet on plant-based foods. Below are common types of vegetarian diets.

  • Lacto-vegetarian: eats plant-based foods and dairy products
  • Ovo-vegetarian: eats plant-based foods and eggs
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: eats plant-based foods, dairy products, and eggs
  • Pescatarian: eats plant-based foods and fish (may or may not consume dairy products and eggs)
  • Vegan: eats plant-based foods but avoids all animal products, including dairy products, eggs, and honey

What are the reasons people eat vegetarian and vegan diets?

People choose to follow vegetarian or vegan diets for a variety of reasons, including animal welfare, environmental impact, religious reasons, or general health reasons. A carefully planned plant-based diet can be healthful and can provide the nutrition a child needs to grow.

Are there any risks for children who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet?

Depending on the specific diet, there may be increased risk of not getting enough nutrients for a child to grow and develop normally. Because vegetarians avoid meat, they are less likely to get adequate amounts of minerals typically found in meats, such as iron, zinc, and selenium. Your child may take a multivitamin that contains adequate amounts of all these minerals.

In a strict vegan diet, a child may not get enough vitamin B12, which is an essential nutrient. It is important that a child on a vegan diet eats food fortified with vitamin B12 or takes an age-appropriate complete multivitamin with vitamin B12 in order to meet their needs. Also, it is important that a child eating a vegan or vegetarian diet get enough protein, fat, and calcium to grow. It is important that these children drink an alternative to cow’s milk, such as soy milk.

Any diet high in fruits and vegetables provides many benefits, but the amount of fiber can be too high for infants and young children. Fiber can fill up children without providing enough calories, protein, or fat. Eating a balanced diet of foods naturally high in fiber along with energy-dense foods will help children meet all of their needs.

Without proper oversight, vegetarian diets can become too restrictive for any age group. Especially for teenagers, who are often making most of their food choices on their own, it is important for parents and caregivers to have a conversation about the child’s reason(s) for choosing a vegetarian diet. With this discussion, it is important to emphasize how the child can continue to meet their nutrition needs to be healthy and grow appropriately. If there are concerns that following this diet continues to be too restrictive or is being used as a means for disordered eating, reach out the child’s primary doctor to get them involved.



Pediatric Nutrition Handbook, American Academy of Pediatrics, 6th edition.

Mayo Clinic. “Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition”. Accessed 09/08/2021.

Amit, M. C. P. S., Canadian Paediatric Society, & Community Paediatrics Committee. (2010). Vegetarian diets in children and adolescents. Paediatrics & Child Health15(5), 303-314.

Melina, V., Craig, W., & Levin, S. (2016). Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: vegetarian diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics116(12), 1970-1980.

Moilanen, B. C. (2004). Vegan diets in infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics in Review25(5), 174.

Author: Megan Van Hoorn, MS, RD, CSP, CD
Editor: Riha Bhatt, MD
November 2021

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North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
The Association of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Nurses
North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Foundation
The NASPGHAN Council For Pediatric Nutrition Professionals
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