Is Your Kid A Self-Proclaimed Vegetarian?

Written by

Sarah Waldman

1:00 pm
06/12/17

Photo Courtesy Of Sarah Waldman

Imagine: your oldest, who is turning seven this summer, has yet to eat a piece of meat. You cook and serve a wide range of foods at your house and have since he was an infant, yet he is holding fast to his vegetarian lifestyle. On the other hand, his little brother, who is almost four, enjoys a pork taco and overstuffed hamburger as much as the rest of them. Oh, the irony of motherhood.

It’s no secret that little people have big opinions, especially when it comes to their personal choices. And, it can be easy to worry about a vegetarian child’s choices. Is he or she getting enough protein? Are they just being stubborn? Should I continue to offer them a piece of chicken? If you’re an involved parent, nutritionist, or avid home cook, too, you may think that you’ll immediately have all the answers and know exactly how to navigate this path, but sometimes you don’t. However, after a lot of thought and reflection, one can become completely confident in their little one’s meat-free eating habits.

If you are in a similar situation, here are a few things that might help you to loosen up and enjoy cooking for and eating with a little vegetarian.

Get to the root: Kids choose not to eat meat for a million different reasons. Thinking about your child’s motivation helps to understand their choice. Some reasons for vegetarianism include: the sensory/textural experience of eating meat, watching what other family members eat, building independence, and concerns over animal welfare.

Be honest: If you try to hide meat in soups, casseroles, or tacos, your child is going to lose trust in you and become suspicious of all the meals offered.

No interference: Other family members should feel comfortable to cook and eat meat if they want to, without a lot of the “ew gross!” comments.

Provide quality and variety: There is a big difference between junk food vegetarians and whole food vegetarians. Junk food vegetarians tend to eat a lot of carbs, and not much else. Whole food vegetarians may eat a wide range of grains, eggs, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy, and seafood products. Is your child getting this wide range of foods, including protein sources? If not, it’s important to work these items into their daily diet.

It’s (likely) temporary: Sure, some people are vegetarians their whole life, but for the most part, kids who don’t eat meat in the beginning grow up to enjoy it later on.

Give choice: Offer something that your child will happily eat with every meal, but avoid cooking a separate dinner for them. It’s important for them to navigate the food landscape on their own.

Remember the big picture: Step back and ask yourself the most important question—is your child growing and developing properly? Are they healthy? If so, they are most likely getting the nutrients they need, but it is always wise to consult your pediatrician.

Sarah Waldman is a food writer, recipe developer, and nutritionist. For more on Waldman, check out her recently released a cookbook, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.

Leave a Comment

9 comments

F

Seafood should not be considered as part of a vegetarian diet.

jenn

I was disappointed by this article! It’s such an interesting topic and this reads so one-sided. Also the point about it likely being temporary feels very closed minded. There are LOADS of great reasons (health, environment, animal welfare, budget) to raise kids on a primarily plant based diet and I feel this article really missed the opportunity to explore how one might approach that WITH your kids in an open and respectful way. I really dig your publication and I hope you’ll consider another view on this very important topic.

    Lauren

    I agree with Cecelia. I was disappointed in the article- seemed like a cheap/quick/poorly considered piece to take up article space. My own experience is that I decided to be a vegetarian when I was 6 and found out what meat was (super weird for a kid in BBQ crazy Alabama). My parents thought it was a phase. It wasn’t – it was deeply rooted in my moral beliefs that I shouldn’t harm other living being for the few minutes of enjoyment I would get from eating their flesh. I’m now in my mid-30s, thankful my parents supported my decision even though it wasn’t theirs, and am raising my own daughter vegetarian unless she some day decides otherwise.

Amy

I am a longtime vegetarian. My family and I eat a wonderfully balanced, diverse diet. I would respectfully like to ask that you amend your article or post a correction. Vegetarians do not eat fish in the same way vegans do not eat/use any animal products or byproducts. Those who restrict their meat consumption to fish are pescatarians. Those who are meat eaters may find this to be a bit picky point but it seems as if education is your goal and if that is the case then proper information is helpful.

Cecelia

Disappointed with this garbage article. Kids have complex moral compasses as well and many children who “play” with vegetarian diets maintain them for their whole life — it’s demeaning to children and vegetarians to dismiss eating habits as simply a “phase”

katie

This is the weirdest article I’ve read in awhile. I am a longtime vegetarian and my daughter, who is 8, has been vegetarian since birth. She has never had a desire to eat meat because she has been taught where it comes from and at what costs, and I do not see her diverging from this diet anytime soon. She is aware of healthy choices and those that aren’t. She swims competitively 3 days a week and has always been one of the smartest kids in her grade, performing well above average. And yes, she gets plenty of protein.

As any plant based dieter knows, it’s a never ending debate to defend your diet to those who plead ignorance. I’ve been asked, more times than I can count, ‘why not let her decide when she is older?’… how about I don’t and I teach her, honestly, where her food comes from. If your child is interested in a plant based diet, make an attempt to understand where they’re coming from and educate yourself. Maybe you’ll learn something yourself! Most adults I’ve come into contact with refuse to look at the facts and are perfectly content living life on a SAD diet.

Also, seafood is not part of a vegetarian diet.

Emily

I appreciate this article! As a child, I showed signs of being a vegetarian and was often left at the dinner table full of emotion being forced to ‘clean my plate’ and not wanting to eat the meat portion of my meal (or eggs). My parents went the route of trying to hide the food or force the food upon me as I grew. Looking back, I wish they would have tried to find protein for me in other ways! As a vegetarian, I see obvious signs from my childhood that shaped how I now source my protein.

Ttrockwood

Disappointing article to say the least.
And vegetarians don’t eat seafood.
The “just a phase” assumption is unfortunate- as if there is something terribly wrong and don’t worry it will pass soon.
Why not encourage the entire family to incorporate more vegetarian meals? Or encourage the kid to help in the kitchen and learn to cook themselves?
I became a vegetarian back when i was ten years old and learned that my dinner was actually dead animals. That “phase” has lasted more than three decades now, and I’m thankful my parents encouraged me to learn how to cook and were supportive.

Jessica Caneal

I agree with all of the other commenters that this article fell supremely short. Pro tip: Have a vegetarian write about vegetarian topics from now on. There are TONS of resources out there for raising vegetarian kids.

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