IRON RULES

HEALTHY VEGETARIAN OPTIONS; Should vegetarians bring up their children on a similarly restrictive diet? Annabel Karmel weighs up the pros and cons of a meat-free start to life
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The Independent Culture
As more and more parents are becoming vegetarian, their children are also likely to eat less or no meat. A well-balanced vegetarian diet including eggs, dairy products, grains, pulses and nuts is fine for children, but problems may arise if parents remove meat from a child's diet altogether without replacing it with good alternative sources of iron. Over 25 per cent of children in Britain are iron-deficient, and a marked deficiency in iron will not only leave your child feeling tired and run-down, but may lead to impaired mental development.

Eating foods which have a high iron content is one thing, but how much of the iron is absorbed is another matter entirely. Iron derived from foods of animal origin is better absorbed than iron in foods of plant origin. This means that your child will benefit more from the iron in red meat than from eating large quantities of iron-enriched break-fast cereal. As vitamin C improves the absorption of iron from foods, it is a good idea for vegetarians to combine iron-rich foods with a serving of vitamin C-rich fruits or vegetables.

Iron is particularly important between the ages of six months and two years, so introduce your child to some iron-rich baby foods early on. Purees such as broccoli in cheese sauce, lentil and vegetable puree and dried apricot puree mixed with baby rice and formula milk are all full of iron and tend to be popular with babies. Recipes for these can all be found in my book, The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner.

Another consideration is that while a bulky, high-fibre vegetarian diet might be suitable for adults, it is a lot less suitable for young growing children who have only small stomachs and need a greater proportion of fat and less fibre in their diets.

Personally, I do not believe in making babies or young children follow a strict vegetarian diet, unless there are particular religious considerations. I would prefer to allow children to make an informed choice themselves once they are older.

NUTS ABOUT NUTS

This really is a tasty recipe. Serve these vegetarian rissoles on their own or with a tomato sauce.

Makes 10 rissoles

2 onions, finely chopped

50g/2oz butter

1 carrot, peeled and grated

175g/6oz brown cap or button mushrooms, chopped

75g/3oz wholemeal breadcrumbs

175g/6oz cashew nuts, finely chopped in a food processor

30ml/2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

12 lightly beaten egg

112 tablespoon light soy sauce

a little freshly ground black pepper

vegetable oil

Saute the onion in the butter for five minutes, then add the carrot and mushrooms and saute for a further five minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except for the oil. Form the mixture into 10 rissoles and saute in the vegetable oil until they are golden.

I LIKE BROWN RICE

Brown rice is more nutritious than white, it's a good idea to get children used to its flavour. Mix the cooked rice with toasted pine nuts and raisins.

Makes 4 portions

200g/8oz short-grain organic brown rice

1 onion, finely chopped

15g/12oz butter

1 pint vegetable stock

100g/4oz each carrot and courgette, diced

100g/4oz broccoli, cut into very small florets

75g/3oz baby sweetcorn, sliced

25g/1oz butter

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Rinse the rice and drain. Saute the onion in the butter for three to four minutes, then stir in the rice and cook for two minutes. Pour in the hot stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer covered for about 30 minutes or until cooked (if necessary add a little extra stock). Meanwhile, steam the vegetables for six to seven minutes or until tender but still crisp. This is best done in a two-tier steamer with the carrots on the bottom layer and the remaining vegetables on top. Melt the butter and saute the vegetables for two minutes. Season lightly. Mix the vegetables with the cooked rice and stir in the soy sauce.

Annabel Karmel's books are available in book shops, or by phone on 0171 355 4555

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