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Vegetarian Journal September/October 2001


Guide to Foods for Vegetarian Kids

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

What do vegetarian kids eat? Often, they eat the same foods as everyone else in the family does - whole grains, dried beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts and nut butters, and other staples of a vegetarian diet. Do children (age 2 years and older) really need food that is different from what the rest of the family eats? Food companies apparently think they do. They are developing many foods that are being marketed as “kid-friendly” food. Millions of dollars are spent annually marketing food and other products to children. Vegetarian children are not exempt from these marketing attempts. While vegetarian parents are less likely to buy Lunchables and MacDonald’s Happy Meals, they may be curious about other foods with kid-friendly labels and names like Envirokidz and Whole Kids. In this issue of Vegetarian Journal we’ll look at some of these foods and see if there’s anything special about foods aimed at children.

A number of foods that are marketed to children are apparently healthier and/or vegetarian versions of snack foods and treats that are popular with children. For example, Gummy Bears are made with animal-derived gelatin and are loaded with artificial colors and flavors. While they are certainly not a necessity, are full of sugar, and expensive, there are vegetarian versions of Gummy Bears. Hain Foods, Planet Harmony, and Edwards & Sons all make small, bear-shaped candies with no animal-derived gelatin, and no artificial colors or flavors. Planet Harmony and Edwards & Sons bears are made with organic ingredients. They’re still candy but can be used for a special treat.

There are even better alternatives to those kid-pleasing Popsicles and Fruit Roll-Ups. Instead of a Popsicle (main ingredients are sucrose, corn syrup, water, artificial flavor and color), your child can enjoy a frozen fruit bar. I was particularly impressed with Natural Choice Full of Fruit Bars that list organic fruit ahead of sugar on the ingredient list. Freeze different flavors of organic fruit juice in paper cups or juice pop holders for your own, much less expensive treat that has no added sugar.

If you could choose between a product containing pears, corn syrup, dried corn syrup, sugar, strawberries and artificial color and one containing organic apples, organic strawberries, natural strawberry flavor, and lemon juice, which would you choose? They are similar in size and calories per serving. If you picked the second product, you chose Stretch Island Organic Fruit Bars, which, in my mind, are a much better choice than the first product, Fruit Roll-ups. Stretch Island Fruit Bars come in 8 different flavors and are a wonderful treat to tuck into a lunch box.

Walk down the cereal aisle at the supermarket and you’ll be struck by the colorful labels and cartoon figures aimed at children. Breakfast cereals for children are big business. There are also some cereals at the natural foods store that are aimed at children. Envirokidz is a line of organic children’s cereals. They are sweetened with organic evaporated cane juice (and in one case honey) and contain no artificial colors or flavors. Envirokidz Orangutan O’s contain organic ingredients and are considerably lower in sodium than Multi-Grain Cheerios, however they have more sugar per serving than Multi-Grain Cheerios. Envirokidz Peanut Butter Panda Puffs have more sugar than Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crowns. You’ll have to decide whether less sugar or organic ingredients are a priority for you. Of course, there are other organic cereals not specifically marketed to children that are even lower sugar choices than the ones I’ve identified.

Fruit Loops is a popular children’s cereal but many parents prefer to avoid the sugar (15 grams per serving) and artificial colors in this cereal. New Morning Organic Fruit-e-Os are made with organic grains, natural color and have only 4 grams of sugar per serving - a good choice in place of Fruit Loops. Barbara’s Fruity Punch is also made with organic grains and natural colors but is higher in sugar (8 grams per serving). Richard Scarry Fruit O’s are made with organic grains but use insect-derived carmine as a coloring agent so are not acceptable to vegetarians.

If your family is making the transition from a non-vegetarian to a vegetarian diet or from a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet to a vegan diet, there may be some familiar foods that your children miss. If they’re asking for Franco American Spaghettios, you may want to try Grandma Millina’s Organic Pasta Rings in Tomato Sauce. This is a vegan product that contains some organic ingredients. It is slightly lower in fat, sodium, and sugar than Spaghettios. It’s not a product for daily use but is a product for vegan children that is nutritionally somewhat better than its counterpart.

Another popular food for children is Animal Crackers. The traditional Barnum’s Animal Crackers contain whey and refined sugar. Alternatives include Snackimals Animal Cookies, Hain Kidz Animal Cookies, and Country Choice Animal Cookies. These are all vegan. Snackimals and Country Choice contain organic ingredients. Hain Kidz Animal Cookies are slightly lower in fat than the other brands. They all have similar levels of sugar.

Kids Balanced Nutritional Drink comes packaged in a single serving aseptic box. It’s the same price as a single serving box of enriched soymilk but the soymilk appears to be a better buy. The nutritional drink is not made with organic soybeans and has 22 grams of sugar per serving. It has one-fourth of the USRDA for many nutrients and 350 milligrams of calcium per serving. Many brands of enriched soymilks are made with organic soybeans, have 6-9 grams of sugar per serving and are enriched with key vitamins and minerals including calcium.

Many families prefer to use organic juices. If you’re trying to keep costs down, it pays to compare prices. New Organic’s Richard Scarry line of products aimed at children includes organic apple juice, fruit punch, and lemonade in 46 ounce bottles. The apple juice is organic and is 100% juice. I compared it to 4 other brands of bottled organic apple juice, not marketed specifically to children, and found that, in my area, the product targeted at children cost between 11 and 23 cents more per 8-ounce serving than similar products. This still was markedly less expensive than the same amount of organic apple juice purchased in aseptic boxes. Prices will vary in different areas.

And what about that childhood staple, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Whole Kids Organic Spreads come in Strawberry and Mixed Berry flavors. They feature organic ingredients. I was very pleased to see that the first ingredient on the ingredient list was organic strawberries, followed by organic sugar. The ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount in a product. Other brands of organic fruit spreads have this order reversed. Whole Kids was also less expensive than similar organic spreads. We’ll look at peanut butter and other nut butters in our next product review (Nov/Dec ’01).

What other foods do vegetarian children eat? Vegetarian children we know give high marks to organic toaster waffles, Stonewall’s Jerquee and Tofurky Jurky, Amy’s Organic Toaster Pops, Cascadian Farm Organic Spud Puppies, Lightlife Tofu Pups, and Whole Soy Organic soy yogurt.

Do children need special foods? Not really. Sometimes these foods do help vegetarian children feel that they are eating foods that are similar to what their friends are eating, something that may or may not be that important to you or your child. You may decide to save these foods for occasional treats. Other foods may be more expensive than similar products, simply because they are aimed at children. However, sometimes kid friendly brands are less expensive than other brands. It does pay to shop around.

Excerpts from the Sep/Oct 2001 Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

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