By Kathleen Mitchell-Askar, senior contributing editor to Attached Family magazine
When my friend, a mother of one, found out her nine-year-old daughter wanted to become a vegetarian, she didn’t know what to do. She and her husband had never considered a meal complete without chicken, beef or fish, so her initial worry was whether her daughter would be healthy. The worry was quickly replaced with wonderment at the person her daughter was becoming.
Parents of adolescents and teens may find that their child’s growing awareness of the world and their part in it may lead them to choose vegetarianism. Some parents may worry that their child’s choice is a reflection of some mistake they have made, but parents should instead be proud that they have raised an empathetic child.
For my friend’s daughter, the shift occurred on a family trip to Mexico, while walking through an open market. When her daughter saw the meat hanging in the butcher’s stall, she decided then and there she would never eat meat again. She has been a vegetarian for two years and remains committed.
For parents who were raised on the idea that meat is essential to health for its vitamins, nutrients and protein, vegetarianism may seem like a nutritionally inferior way to eat. On the contrary, a vegetarian diet is often lower in fat, cholesterol and calories, and higher in fiber than a diet that includes meat. Eliminating meat, however, is not a sure path to health. A vegetarian who eats large amounts of potato chips, cookies and cheese will, of course, not reap the same benefits as one who focuses on wholesome, plant-based foods. Dr. William Sears encourages parents to ensure their vegetarian child does receive proper amounts of calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B-12, nutrients found in high concentrations in the meat and dairy the child may choose not to eat.
In accordance with the Principles of Attachment Parenting, parents of vegetarian children who are not vegetarian themselves can “feed with love and respect” by honoring their child’s choice. Forcing a child to eat meat when he does not want to may push him away and make mealtime difficult.
To support these children in their dietary choices, families can explore fruits and vegetables together. Most cities have community supported agriculture (CSA) programs that deliver boxes of fruits and vegetables to subscribers directly from the farmers who grow them. These boxes contain local, in-season produce, some familiar and possibly some not, that the family can have fun turning into healthy meals. If a CSA program is not available, a family trip to the farmers’ market or conventional market can prove rewarding if every family member chooses a few new items each week.
Parents who are at a loss as to what to prepare at mealtime can ask for their child’s input. Children may enjoy contributing to the shopping list and meal plans for the week, and such inclusion will endow their choice with value. If inspiration is needed,
Mollie Katzen and Dorothy Bates have published cookbooks aimed at younger vegetarian audiences (see sidebar). Some other authors, such as Rachel Ray and Emeril Lagasse, while not vegetarian, do provide tips for making cooking accessible to kids, and recipes that include meat can be altered. An online search can also yield numerous websites with free access to vegetarian recipes.
Vegetarian Cookbooks for Kids
Honest Pretzels: And 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 & Up by Mollie Katzen
Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up by Mollie Katzen
Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up by Mollie Katzen
Kids Can Cook: Vegetarian Recipes Kitchen-Tested by Kids for Kids by Dorothy R. Bates
Vegan Lunchbox by Jennifer McCann
If a family has a backyard or access to a community garden, parents and children can plant and harvest vegetables and herbs together. Even the youngest children enjoy playing in the dirt, planting seeds, and running into the yard at dinnertime to pluck a few leaves of basil for pasta or rosemary for soup. Children who plant, tend and harvest their vegetables are more likely to eat them and take pride in what they grow and eat.
Whether parents choose to focus on plant-based foods in support of a child’s commitment to vegetarianism or commit as a family to this way of eating, a family that grows, chooses, and prepares a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods treats both its loved ones and the earth with love and respect.
Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, http://vegetariannutrition.net/
Vegetarian Resource Group, http://www.vrg.org/
Vegan Health, http://veganhealth.org/
Vegan Outreach, http://www.veganoutreach.org/
Meatless Monday, http://www.meatlessmonday.com/
Feeding A Vegetarian Child article, http://www.foodnetwork.com/healthy-eating/feeding-a-vegetarian-child/index.html