Feeding a Vegetarian with Love and Respect

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.803603_23406961 vegetables

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 Websites

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



4 thoughts on “Feeding a Vegetarian with Love and Respect”

  1. I don’t have a vegetarian child (yet – knock wood!), but I do have a vegetarian roommate, and the principle is similar. It’s not hard to, for instance, cook the meat on the side for a pasta dish and have people add it themselves to their own plate. Or if the meat is the main dish, make sure to have plenty of side dishes – plan ahead and make extra rice and broccoli because at least one person is going to be eating those as the main meal, not as a side. (or whatever your side dishes are, obviously!)

    For meals where it’s not possible to separate out the meat and non-meat portions, there are PLENTY of tasty easy-to-make vegetarian options that you can just have on hand. Obviously you want to have your child eating the same things as you most of the time, but it’s ok to sometimes want a meal that they can’t/won’t eat, just make sure you have some easy options available so they can still get a good dinner!

  2. My daughter became vegan at a young age, and (more than 25 years later!) is still vegan (eliminating not just meat, but animal milks and eggs). Over time, most of my other children have seen the benefits of her decision and they have also become vegan. I became vegan six years ago.

    I find people are most often concerned about the child getting enough protein (which is really not a big problem, but people worry about it). It might help to be aware of some of the more common sources of protein in a vegan diet: soy (including soybeans, tofu, tempe and textured vegetable protein); seitan (made from wheat gluten); beans and lentils of all kinds; quinoa; and mushrooms. There is protein in other foods as well, of course, but these are some of the more concentrated forms and they can often be used to replace meat in a meal.

  3. My kids aren’t vegetarian, but one is a very picky eater and we try to feed him with love and respect also! So I found this article helpful. Fortunately for him, I am also very picky, and I realize that people just have different taste preferences or perceptions. We operate much like “kristycat” above with her vegetarian roommate. We serve sauces on the side, or cook two versions of the same food, or simply serve an alternative that the picky eaters like.

  4. I love both Veg. & Non Veg. I like your post so much. Thanks for sharing precious views. I will keep updated the same.

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