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Ask the experts: Vegetarian children

Q: "My 11-year-old boy hates meat – he hates the taste and the chew. He is great with his vegetables, fruit, rice, pasta etc. How much meat does he need to be eating and if not meat, what can we replace these proteins and irons with that is interesting for kids?"

Keryn

A: Nutritionist Cindy Williams to responds:

"Fortunately he is a boy! Teenage, and almost teenage, boys do not need as much iron as teenage girls. It sounds as though your son is a reasonably healthy eater so it is likely he will be able to meet his iron requirements, even without meat, with a little planning. Although meat is the richest and most easily absorbed source of iron we actually get about 2/3 of our iron from non-meat foods. The iron in these foods is not so easily absorbed but you can increase its absorption by eating them with vitamin C-rich foods. Iron-rich non-meat foods include legumes – split peas, chickpeas, dried beans, baked beans and lentils – eggs, fish, seafood, green leafy vegetables, dried apricots, peaches and figs, iron-fortified breakfast cereals, drinks and health bars.

For breakfast try an iron-fortified cereal with some vitamin C-rich fruit such as oranges, mandarin or kiwifruit to increase iron absorption. For lunch try a hummus and salad or egg and salad filled roll. Or perhaps a small can of baked beans. Again, he will absorb more iron from these foods if eaten with vitamin C so serve with tomato, capsicum, kiwifruit or citrus fruit.

Try these ideas: minestrone soup with dried beans, pumpkin soup with red lentils, chickpea patties served as burgers, chickpea and vegetable casserole, baked beans and eggs on toast. Check out our web-site for lots of delicious vegetarian recipes.

Nutritionists usually recommend eating about 100 grams of lean beef, lamb, pork or chicken three or four times a week along with a couple of fish or legume (dried beans, split peas, lentils, baked beans) meals on the other days. Even if your son eats just a little meat it will not only boost iron intake but increase iron absorption from the other foods. If he likes fish – great! It provides a good amount of easily absorbed iron. He may cope with minced meat better because it can be disguised with other flavours and is not chewy. Try beef burgers with lots of grated vegetables, Mexican burritos, minced chicken or pork cooked Asian style with finely chopped vegetables e.g. Sang Choy Bow. He may even like pate on crackers. Pate is made from chicken livers which are high in iron."

First published: Jun 2009



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