So Your Kid Wants to be a Vegetarian … now what? | Cleveland East Side Moms

So Your Kid Wants to be a Vegetarian … now what?

Apr 29, 2019 | Wellness

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I come from a family of meat-eaters.  Serious meat eaters.  In fact, I once made vegan brownies for a friend of ours and my father absolutely loved them.  Until, that is, I told him they were vegan.  Game over – he wouldn’t touch them after that.  When I was a kid, I really did toy with not eating meat, but it was pretty much impossible with my family.  My parents would never have considered making an alternative meal for me or accommodating a dietary choice.  I wouldn’t have starved, but I’d have certainly been under-nourished in ways growing bodies shouldn’t be.  In short, we are dedicated carnivores.

My sister-in-law, however, is not.  At the ripe age of five, she learned on a school field trip to a local farm that the chicken she ate for dinner was the same chicken as the animal she met there, and she was DONE with meat.  I have to admire that level of tenacity (even though I’m pretty confident that my parents would have stubbornly waited mine out, it’s still impressive).  But it did get me thinking about how best to support a child who made that kind of decision without the ability to procure food themselves.

So, I sought out some tips for you all.  Here they are.

 

What is a Vegetarian?

The first step in this process it to figure out what kind of ‘vegetarian’ your child is.  There are, of course, varying degrees.  Veganism is the strictest, defined as someone who will not eat any animal or animal byproducts.  However, a true vegetarian is someone who refrains from eating meat, fish, or poultry, but will eat animal byproducts (cheese, eggs, milk, etc).  There are also sub-groups.  Pescatarians (they eat fish but no other meat), meat-eaters who refuse beef and pork but will eat fish and poultry, vegetarians who won’t eat eggs … endless variations.  Figure out which of them you child aligns with and what they will and won’t eat first.

 

Increase your consumption of Fruits and Veggies

Without meat, you’ll be more challenged to find foods that will keep your family full, so an easy win here is to add fruits and veggies to everything.  For those of you out there who have already attempted a Whole30 or paleo lifestyle, most of those tips and tricks work well for this purpose too.

There’s a huge plus for someone in the family forcing a dietary change that eliminates meat – more fiber for everyone.  The health community is really pushing for more fiber awareness, too.  With the focus of holistic health really zeroing in on the gut and gut health, adding more fruits and veggies to your diet is an absolute positive.  Fiber is what’s called a prebiotic – it’s an ingredient that stimulates the digestive system to do what it’s supposed to do.  Some kinds of fiber even encourage the what feeds good bacteria growth, and good gut bacteria is necessary for health.  If you begin to depend on them more as a result of your kid’s dietary preferences, that’s a huge win for the whole family.  Finding sneaky ways to add extra veggies into everything will benefit you immensely.  I’ve learned that it’s very easy to add a handful of spinach into a pasta sauce, for example.

 

Introduce Variety

Contrary to my family’s long-held beliefs that a balanced diet must contain animal protein, a vegetarian diet isn’t unhealthy.   Plant-based diets have a lot of nutritional benefits and can often be effectively used as a method of disease prevention.  But matter what your dietary choices are, variety is pretty key.  Boring meals aren’t fun for anyone, least of all children.

If you do a little research, you’ll probably find vegan and vegetarian options for all of your favorite foods.  We’re huge fans of cauliflower crust pizza, for example – vegan AND healthier than traditional crust pizza.  Tofu can be a great substitute for meat in your favorite sauces and curries, and if you’re not a tofu fan, adding chick peas or other beans in place of meat often works just as well.  Hummus is another easy go-to – sandwiches and wraps are easily made for the whole family, using hummus to substitute for the meat wherever necessary.  Feel free to play around and experiment.

There are also many meat substitutes available. Try them out to see which ones your family likes.

 

Focus on Nutrition

Your main goal as parent should be making sure kids are getting the right nutrients (well, unless their toddlers, who I am pretty sure subsist on bread and cheese and apples). Try focusing on the following:

Protein:
Yes, a kid can get enough protein without eating meat.   Tofu, quinoa, tempeh, nuts, beans, and even some veggies (peas, for example) are all great sources of protein.  Eggs, milk, and cheese are also still on the table if your child is cool with eating dairy.

Calcium:
I’m a big fan of a daily multi-vitamin (gummy vitamins for the kids), but calcium is present in lots of foods, too.  Leafy greens and almond milk is where we get most of our calcium.  Milk and cheese are also great options, and you can also try fortified orange juice if all else fails.

Iron:
Kids typically need a lot of iron. Leafy greens, beans, oats, and tofu all contain it. However, word of caution – iron from non-meat sources isn’t absorbed as well as iron from meat sources, so remember to serve these foods with foods rich in vitamin-C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, a little apple cider vinegar in a sauce) because this boosts absorption.

Vitamin B12:
Take a supplement for this one, or find foods that are fortified with B12.  This one is tough to find in non-animal sources.

 

Your child’s dietary decisions to exclude meat or specific foods can have very real positive impacts to your family’s overall health if you learn how to adapt everyone’s diet to accommodate.  And even if you don’t have a vegetarian in the family, add in those fruits and veggies – you won’t regret it.

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