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Parenting Vegetarian Kids

Brainy Bunny is a mother of two. Together they read, craft, and play games for fun.

Salad is only one of many vegetarian meal options.

Salad is only one of many vegetarian meal options.

No More Meat

So, your child has told you they won't eat meat anymore.

Don't freak out! This is just another parenting challenge in a long list. You can handle this with equanimity, even if you come from a long line of devoted carnivores. First, figure out what your child means by "vegetarian."

  • If your child has simply decided not to eat red meat, there is no need to worry at all. Fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are all great sources of protein. This is not vegetarianism, but it is a stage some people go through when they are trying to decide whether to become vegetarian. Also, some children and teens simply don't like the taste or texture of red meat and won't eat it for that reason.
  • Some vegetarians forgo meat and poultry but continue to occasionally eat fish, eggs, and dairy. These are pescatarians, and younger children who are trying vegetarianism because they don't want cows to suffer may choose this type of eating regime. Since fish aren't cuddly, young kids may not consider the flesh of a fish to be in the same category as the flesh of a cow.
  • Teens are more likely to become true vegetarians or even vegans, eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. Teens are also much more likely to have decided on vegetarianism for philosophical reasons rather than dislike of a taste or texture.

Five Tips for a Smooth Transition to a Vegetarian Child

When one person in a family makes a decision about changing eating habits, it can cause disruption to a family's routine. However, helping your child in their quest to become a vegetarian will ultimately be much easier than trying to change their mind. Follow these simple tips for peace in the family, especially at the dinner table.

This is vegetarian chili made with TVP crumble.

This is vegetarian chili made with TVP crumble.

Teach Them About Proper Vegetarian Nutrition

The number one concern most meat-eating parents have about children who want to explore vegetarianism is that they won't get enough protein in their diets. No need to fear; there are plenty of veggie-friendly ingredients that provide sufficient protein for growing children.

If your child still eats eggs and dairy, they'll have a very easy time getting high quality protein in her diet. If not, explain to them the need for complementary protein sources to make sure they have enough (and the right kind) of amino acids in their diet for their body to use. They can easily get enough protein in the course of a day by eating a variety of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Remind her that just because there's no meat in them, fast food french fries do not constitute a healthy vegetarian meal.

This is vegetarian, too: Lentils Ranchero.

This is vegetarian, too: Lentils Ranchero.

Stock the Fridge with Veggie Products

Make life easier for your child (and healthier for your whole family) by keeping the fridge stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. If you're concerned about the expense of fresh produce, buy heads of lettuce instead of bagged lettuce and wash it yourself. See what's on sale and buy food when it's in season, when it will taste the best anyway. Consider going to a local farmer's market instead of the supermarket or join a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture group) once your child has shown their dedication to vegetables.

Make sure you have healthy vegetarian proteins available for your child, too. Beans, lentils, and tofu are traditional sources of protein for vegetarians, but nowadays there are many options with "meat-like" flavor and texture, such as Gardein and Morningstar Farms products.

Let Them Help Plan the Menus

If your family is used to eating meat every night, let your vegetarian child choose one night a week to make a meatless night. The both of you can cook a hearty vegetarian meal together, like vegetarian chili made with TVP crumble.

If your family is open to more experimentation, work together two or even three nights a week to make dishes that will please you all.

On other nights, when the rest of the family is having meat, allow your child to cook or prepare their own meal (with your supervision, if necessary). Their cooking skills will improve, and they may even come up with some more recipes the family will be willing to try.

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Read More From Wehavekids

Don't Belittle Their Vegetarian Lifestyle

If you don't understand your child's reasons for not wanting to eat meat, it doesn't mean their decision isn't valid. Making snide comments about their rice and beans will not convince them that they're doing the wrong thing. Nor will declaiming the deliciousness of the steak you're eating for dinner in an exaggerated fashion. It will only hurt their feelings and raise the tension level in your household.

Don't Try to Trick Them

Under no circumstances should you trick your child into eating meat or lie about the ingredients in a dish. If the vegetable soup is made with real chicken stock, then it isn't vegetarian. If your child finds out that you have intentionally deceived them, it will damage your relationship for a long time, especially if your child is in a puberty-induced hormonal haze. The meat may not hurt them, but the fights will hurt you both.

Accept your child for who they are, respect the way they want to live, and work toward peace in your household.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on February 24, 2015:

Well, Peachpurple, you are probably in charge of dinners at your house, right? So why not add in a vegetarian night once a week with some good recipes like the ones I've listed above? Your kids may not even notice they're not eating meat, or they may notice but love it anyway.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 19, 2014:

my kids a re meat eaters. Only me a vegetarian sometimes. I wish my kids could eat vegetarian food too.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on August 19, 2012:

Hi, Sharkye. It's great that you're raising your daughter to be open-minded about food choices. Enjoy your vegetarian nights; there are tons of great recipes out there!

Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on August 18, 2012:

What an excellent, open-minded hub! The idea of swapping meal nights is a great idea. I started doing a vegetarian night even though I'm not vegetarian anymore. I'm hoping that it helps my daughter learn when she is older that she can make choices about her foods and not be met with any resistance or ridicule from her parents.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on June 18, 2012:

Sadie, thank you for sharing your story. I'm glad you had supportive parents, and it sounds like you're doing a great job with your own family, too!

sadie423 from North Carolina on June 17, 2012:

I was 12 when I made that decision, I kept dairy and eggs, but nothing else. I was the only one in my family not eating meat. My parents did good and didn't try to change my mind. Helped me to find good foods. My kids all start out as vegetarians and once they are about 3 or so they make that decision. Now we have 3 vegetarians and 4 meat eaters. Makes for interesting suppers sometimes

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on June 08, 2012:

Hi, Chrissie. I'm glad to hear that your son has a healthy, varied diet. It's great to get kids involved with meal-planning and cooking while they're young and still willing to try new things.

chrissieklinger from Pennsylvania on June 08, 2012:

My son just doesn't like meat but he loves seafood, dairy products, and eggs. At one of his check-ups I told the doctor how concerned I was about what he DOESN'T eat and he told me my son has a very healthy diet and we should all est more like that. We do a few meatless dinners each week and both my kids help plan meals and help cook. I love that you mentioned about not tricking your child. You want them to mature to be healthy eaters their whole life and that is a process. Great hub!!!!

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on June 07, 2012:

Hi, Kelley. I think you have a healthy attitude, and I'm glad we're on the same wavelength. Thanks for reading!

kelleyward on June 07, 2012:

My middle child doesn't like to eat much meat at all, and neither do I. I think we shouldn't force kids to eat meat if they do not desire too. Thanks for sharing this! Take care, Kelley

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on June 07, 2012:

Thanks, clevercat! Trust is the basis of strong relationships, and if parents try to deceive their children, that trust just won't form.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on June 07, 2012:

Wonderful! I especially like the point about not tricking your kid. It seems like so many people (not just parents) just don't bother mentioning what's really in a dish, and I think that is unfair to the eater.

Rated useful!

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on June 07, 2012:

Thank you, Angela. A lot of successful parenting is just choosing which battles are worth fighting, and as long as a child is getting the nutrition he needs, I don't consider vegetarianism to be worth fighting over.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on June 07, 2012:

Hi, ragged edge. Unfortunately I have no advice about non-veggie eaters. I am very blessed to have two kids who love broccoli. My son is the one who is on the road to vegetarianism, but more as an issue of taste than any philosophical insight.

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on June 07, 2012:

GoodLady, I'm sorry to hear about your son's experience, although as a bunny myself, I applaud his abstaining from eating rabbit. ;-) I didn't know about there being more protein in beans than in meat, but I'm glad, because I had beans for lunch!

Angela Michelle Schultz from United States on June 07, 2012:

That was very insightful about the meat might not hurt, but the fight may hurt you both. I think you brough up some really good points!

Brainy Bunny (author) from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on June 07, 2012:

Thanks, Judi. I have known many people whose parents took their not eating meat as a personal offense, even though no offense was intended. Of course, they didn't have butchers for fathers! Ha!

Bev G from Wales, UK on June 07, 2012:

I have the opposite problem - my 13 year old boy won't go within 10 feet of a vegetable. My dad is the same.

This is great advice and I have a feeling that my daughter may well head in this direction when she's a little older.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on June 07, 2012:

Such sensible and loving advice. My son went off rabbit when he saw one being killed on the farm and I was worried he wouldn't eat meat again, stupidly. Why couldn't he go off meat? Life today and parenting is more tolerant of different needs and ideas fortunately - so pleased.

Of course there are so many foods that can provide protein other than meat. Did you know that there is more protein in a tablespoon of beans than there is in a tablespoon of red meat? Don't know where I heard that!

Judi Brown from UK on June 07, 2012:

I became vegetarian in my late teens and my father couldn't understand it - his family were butchers and he simply didn't see what my "problem" was. My mum was fine about it, fortunately. My husband is vegetarian, I eat meat occasionally (started again when I was pregnant) as does my daughter, but mainly we don't bother.

Good advice.

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