Pleased to meat you
The Pediatric Insider © 2009 Roy Benaroch, MD
Isabelle posted, “I know this is a complex question but ideally how many times a week do young children need red meat. (my child is 2). My parents are vegetarians so every time I am around then I get parental guilt that I am feeding my son too much red meat. He is honestly only getting 2 servings a week at home (a bit more at daycare) Any guidance?”
Meat is a good source of protein and iron, but isn’t in any way essential for good health– as long as your son is getting protein and iron from somewhere else.
A toddler needs about 10 mg a day of elemental iron. He can get this from any combination of these sources*:
- Iron-fortified cereal, 1/2 cup: 3-9 mg
- Red meat, per 3 oz serving: 2-3 mg
- Kidney Beans, 1/2 cup: 2.5 mg
- Enriched rice, 1/2 cup: 1.5 mg
- Whole wheat bread, 1 slice: 1 mg
- Egg, one: 1 mg
- Pretzels, 1 oz: 1 mg
Eating something that includes vitamin C at the same meal will help get ingested iron into the body, especially iron from plant sources.
Meat is also a good source of complete and easily-digested protein, but there are plenty of other sources of protein in a typical American diet. A toddler needs about 16 mg of protein each day, which is readily available from many sources. Any single one of the following items will provide all of the protein a toddler needs in a day:
- 1/3 cup chicken
- 1/2 of a fast food taco
- 1/2 cup of cottage cheese
- 3 oz of salmon
- 1 cup of beans
- 4 tablespoons of peanut better
- 2 oz nuts
- 2 eggs
- Milk, 2%, 2 cups
So: meat’s a handy way to get iron and protein, but it’s hardly the only way. You don’t need to feel guilty about not eating red meat much. Your vegetarian parents can certainly good nutrition for your son when he visits, though if they’re really strict vegans (no eggs, no dairy, no food derived from animals in any way) it may take some more work to ensure adequate iron, protein, vitamin D, and vitamin B-12. I wouldn’t even worry about that unless he spends most of his time at their place.
* I rounded off nutrition information based on the US Department of Agriculture’s searchable database of nutrition information. It’s reliable and very complete, and it’s free of the ads and odd misinformation that seems to pervade many “nutrition” sites.