Vegetarians say teaching school children about plant-based diets is “entirely appropriate” but a dietitian says she would never recommend a meat- and dairy-free diet to children.
A new tool for schools which encourages children to eat less meat and dairy to reduce their carbon footprint is to be rolled out nationwide this year after a pilot programme in Christchurch.
The Climate Change: Prepare today, live well tomorrow resource is aimed at children in years 7-10 and has been criticised by farming groups, who say it lacks context and has information gaps.
However, New Zealand Vegetarian Society spokesman Philip McKibbin said students should be taught about dietary choices and their environmental impacts just like they were taught about eating well and exercising.
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“The fact is, animal agriculture – and dairy farming especially – is extremely damaging to the environment.
“It produces a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and it is polluting our land and rivers. It is right that these issues, and positive actions like vegetarianism, are presented in schools.”
Following the pilot programme at South New Brighton School in 2018, some year 7 and 8 pupils who took part had become vegetarian.
That was “hugely concerning” for registered dietitian Sylvia North, who said there were no circumstances in which she would recommend a vegetarian or vegan diet to children that age.
“Some children may be required to avoid certain animal foods if they have intolerances or allergies – intolerances to dairy, egg, and fish [shellfish] may be reasonably common in children.
“However, most children with allergies or food intolerances will work with a dietitian to reach a point where they can reintroduce these foods and return to a normal diet.”
One exception would be if it was a spiritual or moral choice made by a child, in which case the diet wasn’t recommended, but was the child’s choice.
North said there were several key nutrients children could miss out on by becoming vegetarian or vegan, including protein which was vital for their growth.
“Certainly, a vegetarian and vegan diet can contain adequate protein, but especially for a vegan diet, it requires a lot more planning.
“Plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils, rice, quinoa have lower protein bioavailability and are incomplete sources of all the essential amino acids needed to support life.
That meant a child would have to consume enough of those foods and ensure they came from a variety of plant-protein sources.
North said children were less likely to eat dishes like lentil casserole and quinoa salad, which adult vegetarians would do to ensure their diet was well-balanced.
“Simply putting peanut butter sandwiches and fruit in a lunch box is not going to give them that balance,” she said.
A lack of protein could also result in weekend immunity, meaning more sick days, while the amino acids in protein were used for making neurotransmitters which could influence mood and learning, North said.
Children could also miss out on necessary iron, zinc, essential fatty acids and B vitamins if meat and dairy was removed from their diet.
North’s advice to parents with children who wanted to be vegetarian was to adopt a few plant-based meals or days, but not to remove all animal products from their diet.
“There are certainly benefits to be gained from eating more plants. It’s potentially a great way for the family to become more educated and skilled in cooking nutritious meals,” she said.
“However, the risk of nutritional issues, particularly in young growing bodies, is not worth totally removing all animal-sourced products from the diet.”
Source: Thanks https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/118905679/preteens-too-young-to-make-vegetarian-decision-dietitian-warns