The Very “Veggie” Family

Vegetarian Diets

Can vegetarian diets be healthy for the entire family? According to the American Dietetics Association’s Position Paper on this diet, “well-planned vegetarian diets can be appropriate for all stages of the life cycle.” This type of diet can meet the nutritional needs of children and adults of all ages. Also, well-planned vegetarian diets can satisfy the needs of pregnant and lactating women, as well as athletes. Even the most strict vegetarian diet, such as “vegans” can be healthy if planned well. The “vegan diet” is the diet without any food from animals.

The Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid

Use this vegetarian pyramid to help plan healthy daily meals for the whole family:

Bread, Cereal, Grain Group 6 – 11 servings
Vegetable Group 3 – 5 servings
Fruit Group 2 – 4 servings
Milk, Yogurt, Cheese Group 0 – 3 servings
(vegans should eat other sources of calcium)
Dry Beans, Nuts, Seeds, Meat Substitutes
2 – 3 servings daily
Fats, Oils, Sweets, Salty Foods
Use sparingly

Vegetarian Nutrition

Protein – You can get daily protein needs by eating a varied diet rich in protein. To be safe, kids on this type of diet may wish to have their parents include good protein sources in their meals such as:

  • tofu
  • soymilk
  • tempeh, a meat substitute made of soy
  • sietan, a meat substitute made of wheat
  • lentils
  • nuts
  • peas
  • whole grains
  • beans

Vitamin B12 – This helps in the use of iron and prevents anemia. You do not need much B12 in your daily meals. The best sources of B12 are animal products. You can get vitamin B12 for this diet from:

Fortified Cereals – These are cereals with added vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Nutritional Yeasts – These are not the same as yeasts used to make bread. You can buy this type of yeast in a jar at a health food store. It can be sprinkled on food. Examples of this type of yeast are brewers yeast and torula yeast.

Fermented Food – You can buy this in grocery and health food stores. An example of this type of food is miso. This is a soy product used in soups.

Cultured Food – You can buy this in grocery and health food stores. Some examples of this type of food are:

  • Kefir is similar to yogurt, except you can drink it.
  • Soy yogurt is yogurt made from soy instead of milk.

Calcium – You can get this from:

  • low-fat dairy products
  • dark leafy green vegetables
  • tofu prepared with calcium
  • fortified soy and rice milks

Iron – You need to choose your food wisely to get iron in your meals. Be sure to include good plant sources with iron such as: dark greens, dried beans, blackstrap molasses, prune juice, and dried fruits.

Vitamin C – You can get this from orange juice, tomato juice, or any other vitamin C rich food. Vitamin C helps improve and increase the absorption of iron.

Thinking of Making a Change to This Type of Diet?

Recent research shows vegetarian diets are becoming more popular. Today, about 10% of the people in the U. S. consider this diet. Whether you and your family are thinking of making a change or you are already eating this type of diet, the key is to include a variety of food.

Prepared by Lynnette Mensah, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness, University of Illinois Extension, Chicago Extension Center.

Edited by Katherine Reuter, Extension Educator, Consumer and Family Economics, University of Illinois Extension, Countryside Extension Center.

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