We just found out that our vegetarian three-year-old has a dairy allergy. She also refuses to eat most beans. At the moment her only protein source is eggs.
Do you have any ideas how I can get more protein and calcium into my daughter? - A.M.
Just so you know, you're not alone. Three year olds often don't eat much - they're too busy playing. The foods they will actually eat can be counted on your fingers. My theory is that they live mainly on mother love and air.
How was the dairy allergy diagnosis made? If it was through your own observation, please back it up with a health check up, and food allergy testing. It could be something else, or she could have other allergies as well. Sometimes a child may have environmental allergies, whose symptoms are aggravated by sticky foods like milk and cheese.
If your daughter is allergic to cow's milk, can she tolerate goat's milk? A number of Moms I know have used that alternative successfully. It may take some patience to introduce, given 3 yr. old attitudes toward new vegetarian foods. Try hard goat cheese, milk on cereal, sweetened yogurt, or other already accepted forms of dairy. Maybe in french toast, pancakes, or muffins.
Many children absolutely love tofu! The most appealing way I know to make tofu for a toddler is cubed, sprinkled lightly with Braggs or soy sauce and browned in a dab of oil. If your daughter doesn't like it now, try introducing it one bite at a time, over several weeks. Soy is a common allergen, so you might test for that before going all out with tofu.
Some kids like to eat tofu raw, which isn't a good idea, because when tofu is made, there is heat involved, but no actual cooking, so there's a risk of food poisoning. Treat tofu like you do eggs - don't eat it raw.
Use whole grains as much as possible, to boost her total protein intake. Spelt, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and oats are high in protein, and even if your daughter won't eat them, a little flour can find it's way into things with no one the wiser. A bit of sunflower seeds or flax seed meal in the oatmeal or muffins is another tasty trick.
Your daughter doesn't like beans - no surprise. Whole beans are a little rough for a three year old's digestion. How about refried beans on a tortilla? Or hummus - my two year old grand daughter loves it.
Almonds are a good source of protein, unless your daughter is allergic to tree nuts, but sometimes a challenge for a small child to munch thoroughly. Not recommended for children under three. Almond milk or almond butter is another possibility, as is cashew butter. Nuts have good cholesterol, and are a great source of mono-unsaturated fat, which growing children need. Peanut butter has for many years been Mom's ally in getting protein into kids, but it's also a notorious allergen, so go easy.
Hemp, as in hemp milk, or hemp butter, is a bit pricey, but high in protein, calcium, Omega 3's, and B12 fortified.
Make sure that any dairy substitutes you use are fortified with calcium, Vit. D, Vit. A, B12, and folic acid. Calcim fortified OJ is available, and comes in organic, too.
Many foods have protein and calcium: Like grains, vegetables and fruits. For example, an orange has 50 mg. of calcium and 1.23 mg of protein. It all adds up over the day, so don't panic - as long as she is eating a variety of wholesome food, your child will get some calcium and protein even if she doesn't drink milk or eat beans. Plus, calcium is more readily absorbed when it's not bound by the protein in milk.
You can also give her children's daily vitamin supplements, but keep in mind that daily vitamin supplements are just that, and not a substitute for real food. Don't fret if your child isn't always getting the full RDA of protein and calcium. It's something to aim for, but not the end of the world if you fall short. As a safety margin, RDA's are 2 or 3 times higher than what we can absorb.
Gently persevere in your efforts to get other forms of protein into your daughter's vegetarian diet, using games, or trade-offs, or whatever works for you. It may take a while. Remember that the gradual acceptance of new vegetarian foods is part of growing up. I'm sure your daughter will thrive, because she has a loving Mom.
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian