Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.2 General Requirements

4.2.0 Vegetarian/Vegan Diets

Content in this standard was modified on November 10, 2017. 

Infants and children, including school-aged children from families practicing a vegetarian diet, can be accommodated in an early care and education environment when there is:

  1. Written documentation from parents/guardians with a detailed and accurate dietary history of food choices—foods eaten, levels of limitations/restrictions to foods, and frequency of foods offered;
  2. A current health record of the child available to the caregivers/teachers, including information about height and rate of weight gain, or consistent poor appetite (warning signs of growth deficiencies);
  3. Sharing of updated information on the child’s health with the parents/guardians and the early care and education staff by the child care health consultant and the nutritionist/registered dietitian; and
  4. Sharing sound health and nutrition information that is culturally-relevant to the family to ensure that the child receives adequate calories and essential nutrients.
Infants and young children are at highest risk for nutritional deficiencies for energy levels and essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins B6 and B12, and vitamin D (1-3). The younger the child, the more critical it is to know about family food choices, limitations, and restrictions because the child is dependent on family food (2).

Also, it is important that a child’s diet consist of a variety of nourishing food to support the critical period of rapid growth in the early years after birth. All children who are vegetarian/vegan should receive multivitamins, especially vitamin D (400 IU of vitamin D is recommended from 6 months of age to adulthood unless there is certainty of having the daily allowance met by foods); infants younger than 6 months who are exclusively or partially breastfed and who receive less than 16 oz of formula per day should receive 400 IU of vitamin D (4). If the facility participates in the US Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program, guidance for meals and snack patterns must be followed for any child consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet (5).

For older children who have more choice about what they eat and drink, effort should be made to provide accurate nutrition information so they make the wisest food choices for themselves. Both the early care and education program/school and the caregiver/teacher have an opportunity to inform, teach, and promote sound eating practices, along with the consequences when poor food choices are made (1). Sensitivity to cultural factors, including beliefs and practices of a child’s family, should be maintained.

Changing lifestyles and convictions and beliefs about food and religion, including what is eaten and what foods are restricted or never consumed, have some families with infants and children practicing several levels of vegetarian diets. Some parents/guardians indicate they are vegetarians, semi-vegetarian, or strict vegetarians because they do not or seldom eat meat. Others label themselves lacto-ovo vegetarians, eating or drinking foods such as eggs and dairy products. Still others describe themselves as vegans who restrict themselves to ingesting only plant-based foods, avoiding all and any animal products.


US Department of Agriculture. 10 tips: healthy eating for vegetarians. Web site. Updated July 25, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017

US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services. Meat and meat alternates: build a healthy plate with protein. In: Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children: Provider Handbook for the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Alexandria, VA: US Department of Agriculture; 2012. Accessed September 20, 2017

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Routine Health Supervision and Growth Monitoring Assessment and Planning of Nutrition for Individual Children Use of Soy-Based Formula and Soy Milk Use of Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian
  1. Kleinman RE, Greer FR, eds. Pediatric Nutrition. 7th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2014
  2. Hayes D. Feeding vegetarian and vegan infants and toddlers. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Web site. Published May 4, 2015. Accessed September 20, 2017
  3. Mangels R, Driggers J. The youngest vegetarians. Vegetarian infants and toddlers. Infant Child Adolesc Nutr. 2012;4(1):8–20
  4. Hollis BW, Wagner CL, Howard CR, et al. Maternal versus infant vitamin D supplementation during lactation: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2015;136(4):625–634
  5. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Independent Child Care Centers: A Child and Adult Care Food Program Handbook. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture; 2014. Accessed September 20, 2017

Content in this standard was modified on November 10, 2017.