Parenting Vegetarian Kids
So, your child has told you she 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 pescetarians, 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 her quest to become a vegetarian will ultimately be much easier than trying to change her mind. Follow these simple tips for peace in the family, especially at the dinner table.
Teach Her 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, she'll have a very easy time getting high quality protein in her diet. If not, explain to her the need for complementary protein sources to make sure she has enough (and the right kind!) of amino acids in her diet for her body to use. She 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.
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 joining a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture group) once your child has shown her 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.
Delicious and healthful vegetarian meals--in photos!
Let Her 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. You and she 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 her own meal (with your supervision, if necessary). Her cooking skills will improve, and she may even come up with some more recipes the family will be willing to try.
Don't Belittle Her Vegetarian Lifestyle
If you don't understand your child's reasons for not wanting to eat meat, it doesn't mean her decision isn't valid. Making snide comments about her rice and beans will not convince her that she's 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 her feelings and raise the tension level in your household.
Don't Try to Trick Her
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 her, 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 her, but the fights will hurt you both.
Accept your child for who she is, respect the way she wants to live, and work toward peace in your household.