Protein: Protein helps to build, maintain, and replace tissues in the body, build cardiac muscle, and produce hemoglobin. It is essential for growth and body maintenance. Your child's protein needs can easily be met by eating many plant-based foods, such as beans, nuts, nut butters, peas, and soy products, such as tofu and tempeh. Milk and eggs are also excellent sources of protein.
Iron: Iron functions mainly as a carrier of oxygen in the body's blood. Iron can be found in many plant sources, such as kidney beans, chickpeas, whole and enriched grains like wheat and oats, broccoli, kale, and dried fruits, such as raisins.
Calcium: Calcium plays a role in building strong bones and teeth and maintaining bone strength. Collard greens, bok choy, mustard greens, and other dark-green leafy vegetables all contain calcium, but the amount the body absorbs from these sources can vary, and getting enough calcium from these foods can be unrealistic. Milk and dairy products, or calcium-fortified milk alternatives are the best way to make sure your child is meeting her daily needs.
Zinc: Zinc plays a large role in cell growth and helping the immune system function properly. White beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, pumpkin seeds, and wheat germ are all good sources of zinc, but your body can more easily absorb it if it comes from milk products.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 plays a role in nerve function, and helps build DNA and red blood cells. It is only found in animal products, including eggs and dairy. It can also be found in fortified cereals and nutritional yeast.
At meal time, build your meals around healthy protein sources, such as beans and lentils, and swap out high fat cheeses and dairy for low-fat options. Try vegetarian versions of your favorite meat-based foods, such as bean burgers, soy-based sausage, and falafel (chickpea patties). These counterparts are often lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than the meat-based versions. Even if your whole family isn't vegetarian, meat-free alternatives are a good options for a healthier diet, but make sure to read the labels on these products to avoid any added chemicals, preservatives, or sugar.