How to support your child's new meat-free culinary choice
You’re a family of meat-eaters. Carnivores through and through. Steak, pork chops, ribs falling off the bone – that’s your idea of a real meal. This is how it is, this is the way it’s been forever in your family.
Enter your child. They could be young, say elementary school age, or in their tweens or teens. Regardless of their age, they’ve decided that they no longer want to eat meat.
What’s a parent to do?
This scenario is a common one that is playing itself out in kitchens and dining rooms around the world. With an increasingly aware group of children who are curious about how and where their food comes from, coupled with many delicious meat-free options that are now considered standard fare in supermarkets, restaurants and even school cafeterias, it’s no wonder that kids are considering their choices before they “chow down” on their next meal.
Vegetarian or not, the choice to become one poses a dilemma for families where most of the members are meat eaters and have always been so. For you as a parent, the practical considerations of this pronouncement by your child include the following:
- Philosophical Disagreement – You just don’t agree with vegetarianism, period. People should eat meat – that’s how we evolved, and that’s your position.
- More Work For You – Having a child that disagrees with you is causing a major problem at the breakfast, lunch and dinner table as you may have to make extra meals to accommodate your child. As well, there’s the education involved as you may also have to “bone up” (pun intended) on vegetarian nutrition and find out what types of healthy, balanced meals you can make for the new non-meat-eater in the family.
- Expense – “How much is this going to cost me?” you may be thinking. After all, aren’t vegetarian foods more expensive? From a practical perspective, money is money and parents on a budget may balk at the idea of having to spend more on groceries due to this new development
- Fear – What does this new foray into meat-free eating say about your child? Is this just the beginning of an overall change of values for your beloved son or daughter, values that you worked so hard to in still in them?
Recently, my ten-year-old daughter expressed an interest in cutting down the amount of meat that she would be eating. Inspired both by her deeper consideration about animals and school friends who are also vegetarian, the topic has been one that we’ve been discussing frequently.
Full disclosure: While I am not a full-fledged vegetarian by any means, I eat mostly vegetarian dishes, do not eat red meat or pork at all, and eat chicken and fish two to three times a week. Generally speaking, I lean more towards the non-meat meals as a preference. That being said, the rest of my family eats meat of all kinds fairly regularly. This type of scenario – where different family members eat different meals is not at all atypical. For many reasons, food choices amongst family members often begin to vary as children get older and form their own thoughts and ideas about what they do or don’t want to eat. The question for the parents then becomes: “How are we going to deal with this?”
Tips for Parents of Newly Vegetarian Children:
1) Be Supportive – Your child is questioning their choices and is starting to make decisions for themselves. This is a good thing! You’ve likely taught them to be an independent thinker and to weigh many sides of an issue or topic. In choosing a vegetarian diet, they are doing this, so help them along their journey as they sort out their new dietary lifestyle.
2) Know Your Stuff – Learn as much you can about vegetarianism, not only the nuts and bolts such as what to cook, but the philosophy behind it as well. Many cultures and countries in the world have large vegetarian populations and long histories behind this culinary choice. In addition to learning about the philosophy, do some research to make sure that your child’s daily nutritional needs are met. Things to consider include vitamin intake, protein and iron requirements, which foods are rich in specific vitamins, etc. Also consider the type of vegetarianism that your child wants to follow. There are also different types of vegetarian diets and not all are the same. Some of these include Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw Vegan, Ovo-Vegetarian, and others. For a more detailed list with explanations of each, click here.
3) Learn Some Recipes - This new nutritional venture is a great opportunity for you and your child to cook together as well as to learn some new recipes. Seize the moment and invest in a vegetarian recipe book (or two) and learn to cook some meat-free meals. Sit down with your son or daughter and go through some potential dishes that appeal to you both. Cooking with your child and showing support in this way will make the transition to this new cuisine more enjoyable for both of you.
4) Plan Ahead – Meal planning is key in this new world order. The last thing you want to have to deal with is scrambling to make a separate dish for your child and finding out that you don’t have the right ingredients. Sit down with your son or daughter and, as in point number 3, learn some recipes and then head to the local grocery store to make sure you have the ingredients. Make a weekly menu and grocery shopping plan so that you’re prepared for each meal. The key is to have vegetarian staples on hand so that meals and snacks for your child are easily prepared. These can include vegetable soup stock (for making soups, vegetarian stews, etc.), tofu, beans, nuts, rice, and of course plenty of fruit and vegetables.
5) Be Flexible – Sure – you may love to tuck into your steak and potatoes regularly but perhaps your child’s new food choice is an opportunity for a family shift in family meals. With little effort and an open mind, you can support your child’s choice without too much change to your own diet. Consider making vegetarian meals for the whole family once or twice a week, or making a complete veggie-based dish as part of your family’s regular menu. Starting with Meat-Free Mondays or a similar food plan will help you along the way.
At one time, vegetarianism was seen to be an odd and in many cases, unpopular choice for families. Thankfully, things have changed and these days, there are a number of sites and options available for those who want to venture into a more vegetarian-based diet.
Here are some great sites with kid-friendly vegetarian recipes:
BBC Good Food: Vegetarian Kids’ Recipes
Cooking Light: Vegetable Recipes For Kids
Martha Stewart: Kid-Friendly Vegetarian Recipes
With an open mind, a little planning and some flexibility, you can easily support your child’s new food choice without making too many changes for the rest of the family. Bon appétit!
Has your child recently expressed an interest in becoming vegetarian? If so, how have you handled this decision? Do you agree or disagree with children making this choice? Leave me your thoughts and comments in the section below.
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