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How to Feed Your Tot an Alternative Diet

Apr 25 2014 - 3:16am

Kids are known for their weird eating habits, be it only consuming shell-shaped pasta or avoiding anything that's red. Some of these habits, however, are not a result of picky eating but part of a child's alternative diet. Millions of tots, including a few famous ones [1], follow strict eating styles for various reasons. But are these restrictive diets actually good for them, or do they cause kids to miss out on some necessary nutrients? Here we define the most common alternative diets and some nutritional needs to consider before trying them with your tots.

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What it is: In general, vegetarians are those who choose not to eat meat and meat products, be it for ethical, environmental, or cultural reasons. There are, however, specific types of vegetarians: semivegetarians, who eat only fish and chicken; pescetarians, who eat only fish; lacto-ovo vegetarians, who eat eggs and dairy but no meat; ovo-vegetarians, who eat eggs but no meat or dairy; and vegans [3].

Why it's good: In addition to being better for the environment, vegetarianism offers several lifelong health benefits. Naturally lower in fat and cholesterol, going meat-free can benefit your child's heart. Adopting a vegetarian diet can also reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity [4], which have become prevalent in younger children.

Why it may not be for your child: One cannot live on bread alone, especially when you are a growing child. Eliminating meat may mean that your child will miss out on some necessary nutrients, like protein, iron, and vitamin D. If your child is not one to eat his greens during dinner, then he may have take a vitamin supplement to make up for the missing components.


What it is: The most extreme form of vegetarianism, veganism prohibits people from consuming any animal products or byproducts. This means no meat, eggs, dairy, honey, or various fats.

Why it's good: As with a vegetarian diet, the vegan lifestyle reduces one's risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It also teaches little ones to appreciate animals and all they do for the earth.

Why it may not be for your child: In addition to the nutrients vegetarian children miss out on, vegan kids have a tough time getting their daily dose of calcium and vitamin B12, which play an important role in bone and brain development, respectfully. In some severe cases, vegan children have suffered from malnutrition [5] and lost their lives.


What it is: While the definition varies from country to country, the United States Department of Agriculture defines organic food [6] as products that are harvested without the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering.

Why it's good: After years of debate, the American Academy of Pediatrics finally offered an opinion about the benefits of organic foods. In a 2012 report, members of the AAP announced that organic produce and meats [7] prevent exposure to pesticides, which over time can reach a toxic level. They also noted that there are not "any meaningful nutritional benefits or deficits from eating organic."

Why it may not be for your child: If you want to eat organic, be prepared to pay the price — literally. A container of organic strawberries can cost $2.50 more than the conventional variety, while organic meats can cost twice as much as the nonorganic cuts.


What it is: Despite its scientific name, the macrobiotic diet is fairly simple. In fact, it isn't a diet, but rather an approach to eating that emphasizes the consumption of whole grains, vegetables, beans, and sea vegetables. Fruit, dairy, and meat are meant to be eaten occasionally or not at all.

Why it's good: Nutritionally, the macrobiotic lifestyle offers benefits similar to those of vegetarian [8] and vegan diets [9]. It also encourages healthier eating habits, such as eating only when hungry and in an environment that's free from distractions.

Why it may not be for your child: While we see fat as the enemy, it actually helps your children build their hormones and absorb other vitamins. Under the macrobiotic lifestyle, kids often consume less than the recommended amount of fat [10], which could be a bad thing. Finding proper produce and cooking in a macrobiotic way (i.e. no microwaves) also takes a long time, which few moms have.

Gluten Free

What it is: The name says it all. Under this diet, you remove any products that contain gluten, a protein found in grains.

Why it's good: If your child has constant tummy troubles, be it from celiac disease [11] or general digestion issues, then taking gluten out of their meals may be a wise decision. Since the body is not naturally built to process the protein, it can become "upset" when forced to do so. Parents have also found that removing gluten increases their children's energy [12] and helps them concentrate, though there have been few studies to support the theory.

Why it may not be for your child: Unless your child has been diagnosed with celiac disease or a nonceliac gluten sensitivity, it's not necessary for them to follow a gluten-free diet. In fact, doing so could cause them to miss out on several important nutrients, like iron and B vitamins.

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