updated 1/12/2009 8:22:42 AM ET 2009-01-12T13:22:42

Children who want to be vegetarians need to "fill in the blanks" of their low-protein diets by eating alternatives to red meat, fish and poultry, experts say.

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Good examples are soybeans, fortified soy milk and nuts. Those are important sources of the protein, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin D that most kids get from meat.

Nutritional yeast — which has a cheesy flavor — has the much-needed vitamin B-12. And flaxseed is good for linolenic acid.

Vegetarian children who eat eggs and dairy products will most likely get all the nutrition they need. But those who become vegan — abstaining from dairy and egg products — need to be more diligent, said Dr. David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston, a specialist in pediatric nutrition.

"It really requires much more attention to avoid nutrient deficiencies," Ludwig said.

Children can start on a vegetarian diet from birth, said Sarah Krieger, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association who is a registered dietitian at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Breast milk or an iron-fortified formula are necessary in the first six months, she said, adding that soy-based formula is an option.

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