Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Veggie Kids
When your child decides to become a vegetarian

by Abby Hayes

April 01, 2013

Picture this: your child comes home from school one day and declares, “Mom, I’m never eating another cheeseburger again!”

What’s your reaction?

Vegetarianism is on the rise. A study in the Western Journal of Medicine says that only about 2% of the population identified themselves as vegetarian in 1994, but a recent Gallup poll shows that now about 5% of adults consider themselves vegetarian. And during the teenage years especially, passion for health and animal rights can cause kids to want to make drastic dietary changes.

But there’s no doubt about it – life can be tough for a vegetarian living in an omnivore household. It can be even tougher for omnivore parents struggling to work with a child who no longer wants to eat meat.

Before you veto the veganism though, read our tips on what to do if your child decides to become a vegetarian.

Don’t panic!

Local vegan chef and owner of Killer Tofu Ian Phillips actually congratulates parents whose kids make this choice. “You’ve just done a really good job parenting because you’ve raised a kid who’s willing to make his or her own decision based on ethical feelings,” he says.

Plus, raising a veg kid in an omnivore household is easier – and healthier – than you may think.

Recent IU graduate and lacto-ovo vegetarian Hannah Michelson became vegetarian at eight years old. Back then, says Michelson, her mother had to work hard to adapt recipes to be more veg-friendly.

But now, she says, “[There] are a lot more store bought options.” With vegetarian burgers, “chicken” nuggets and even microwave dinners at your local grocery store, it’s easier than ever to create vegetarian meals.

Michelson sometimes takes advantage of these options when planning meals for herself and her omnivore husband, who has learned to enjoy many vegetarian options, including tofu, at home.

Know about nutrition

Mandy Puckett, a lacto-ovo vegetarian and registered dietitian with the IU Health Bariatric & Nutritional Counseling Center says, “As long as their eating plan provides sufficient calories and they’re eating a wide variety, appropriate [vegetarian] eating plans can satisfy the needs of infants, children and adolescents.”

The key word there is “planned.” Puckett notes, “The more restrictive a diet is, then the more carefully it would need to be planned.” This means that vegans, especially, need to carefully plan diets to ensure nutritional needs are met.

What specific nutrients are important in a vegetarian or vegan diet? Puckett lists the following as particularly vital:

Protein

Vitamin B12

Calcium

Iron

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The important thing, says Puckett, is that parents work with their children to create a healthy, workable meal plan.

If you’re not sure that your child is getting adequate nutrition from a meat-free diet, talk with your pediatrician or a registered dietitian. Or check out the USDA’s website, www.choosemyplate.gov, which Puckett lists as a great resource for information on veganism, vegetarianism and healthy eating in general.

The veg in the meat-eating family

Adapting your cooking to a vegetarian child can be difficult, at first. But according to Erin Hogue, a board member of the Indianapolis Vegetarian Society, the process can be healthy for the whole family.

Hogue, who became a vegetarian in sixth grade and a vegan five years ago, says that her whole family started to eat more vegetarian meals after her decision. And they still do! “Our rule at our house is vegan only,” she says, “So when my family comes over for dinner, I always have to make something that I know everyone will like.”

The trick, she says, is to choose recipes that are easy to “veganize.” Italian recipes like lasagna are a great place to start, since meat can easily be replaced by chunky vegetables. Also, meals where meat can be added at the end, like tacos and stir-fry, are a great way to please everyone in the family.

The key is to be creative, be flexible and try new things. If your child is old enough, have him or her help with most of the cooking. Keep some healthy vegetarian options on hand, and find a few go-to veg-friendly recipes for busy weeknights.

You may just find that being open to this change in your child’s diet will help your whole family eat better and become healthier!