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Parenting Vegetarian Kids

Updated on April 9, 2013
Salad is only one of many vegetarian meal options.
Salad is only one of many vegetarian meal options. | Source

So, your child has told you she won't eat meat anymore. Don't freak out! This is just another parenting challenge in a long list. You can handle this with equanimity, even if you come from a long line of devoted carnivores. First, figure out what your child means by "vegetarian."

  • If your child has simply decided not to eat red meat, there is no need to worry at all. Fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are all great sources of protein. This is not vegetarianism, but it is a stage some people go through when they are trying to decide whether to become vegetarian. Also, some children and teens simply don't like the taste or texture of red meat, and won't eat it for that reason.
  • Some vegetarians forgo meat and poultry but continue to occasionally eat fish, eggs, and dairy. These are pescetarians, and younger children who are trying vegetarianism because they don't want cows to suffer may choose this type of eating regime. (Since fish aren't cuddly, young kids may not consider the flesh of a fish to be in the same category as the flesh of a cow.)
  • Teens are more likely to become true vegetarians or even vegans, eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. Teens are also much more likely to have decided on vegetarianism for philosophical reasons rather than dislike of a taste or texture.

Five tips for a smooth transition to a vegetarian child

When one person in a family makes a decision about changing eating habits, it can cause disruption to a family's routine. However, helping your child in her quest to become a vegetarian will ultimately be much easier than trying to change her mind. Follow these simple tips for peace in the family, especially at the dinner table.

This is vegetarian chili made with TVP crumble.
This is vegetarian chili made with TVP crumble. | Source

Teach her about proper vegetarian nutrition

The number one concern most meat-eating parents have about children who want to explore vegetarianism is that they won't get enough protein in their diets. No need to fear; there are plenty of veggie-friendly ingredients that provide sufficient protein for growing children.

If your child still eats eggs and dairy, she'll have a very easy time getting high quality protein in her diet. If not, explain to her the need for complementary protein sources to make sure she has enough (and the right kind!) of amino acids in her diet for her body to use. She can easily get enough protein in the course of a day by eating a variety of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Remind her that just because there's no meat in them, fast food french fries do not constitute a healthy vegetarian meal.

This is vegetarian, too: Lentils Ranchero.
This is vegetarian, too: Lentils Ranchero. | Source

Stock the fridge with veggie products

Make life easier for your child (and healthier for your whole family) by keeping the fridge stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. If you're concerned about the expense of fresh produce, buy heads of lettuce instead of bagged lettuce, and wash it yourself. See what's on sale, and buy food when it's in season, when it will taste the best anyway. Consider going to a local farmer's market instead of the supermarket, or joining a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture group) once your child has shown her dedication to vegetables.

Make sure you have healthy vegetarian proteins available for your child, too. Beans, lentils, and tofu are traditional sources of protein for vegetarians, but nowadays there are many options with "meat-like" flavor and texture, such as Gardein and Morningstar Farms products.

Meatless Dishes for Carnivores

Pretty much any dish that can be made with ground beef can be made with TVP crumble instead. It has a good, hearty texture, and you can add flavor with strong seasonings.

Let her help plan the menus

If your family is used to eating meat every night, let your vegetarian child choose one night a week to make a meatless night. You and she can cook a hearty vegetarian meal together, like vegetarian chili made with TVP crumble.

If your family is open to more experimentation, work together two or even three nights a week to make dishes that will please you all.

On other nights, when the rest of the family is having meat, allow your child to cook or prepare her own meal (with your supervision, if necessary). Her cooking skills will improve, and she may even come up with some more recipes the family will be willing to try.

Don't belittle her vegetarian lifestyle

If you don't understand your child's reasons for not wanting to eat meat, it doesn't mean her decision isn't valid. Making snide comments about her rice and beans will not convince her that she's doing the wrong thing. Nor will declaiming the deliciousness of the steak you're eating for dinner in an exaggerated fashion. It will only hurt her feelings and raise the tension level in your household.

Don't try to trick her

Under no circumstances should you trick your child into eating meat or lie about the ingredients in a dish. If the vegetable soup is made with real chicken stock, then it isn't vegetarian. If your child finds out that you have intentionally deceived her, it will damage your relationship for a long time, especially if your child is in a puberty-induced hormonal haze. The meat may not hurt her, but the fights will hurt you both.

Accept your child for who she is, respect the way she wants to live, and work toward peace in your household.

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    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

      I became vegetarian in my late teens and my father couldn't understand it - his family were butchers and he simply didn't see what my "problem" was. My mum was fine about it, fortunately. My husband is vegetarian, I eat meat occasionally (started again when I was pregnant) as does my daughter, but mainly we don't bother.

      Good advice.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Such sensible and loving advice. My son went off rabbit when he saw one being killed on the farm and I was worried he wouldn't eat meat again, stupidly. Why couldn't he go off meat? Life today and parenting is more tolerant of different needs and ideas fortunately - so pleased.

      Of course there are so many foods that can provide protein other than meat. Did you know that there is more protein in a tablespoon of beans than there is in a tablespoon of red meat? Don't know where I heard that!

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      I have the opposite problem - my 13 year old boy won't go within 10 feet of a vegetable. My dad is the same.

      This is great advice and I have a feeling that my daughter may well head in this direction when she's a little older.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thanks, Judi. I have known many people whose parents took their not eating meat as a personal offense, even though no offense was intended. Of course, they didn't have butchers for fathers! Ha!

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 4 years ago from United States

      That was very insightful about the meat might not hurt, but the fight may hurt you both. I think you brough up some really good points!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      GoodLady, I'm sorry to hear about your son's experience, although as a bunny myself, I applaud his abstaining from eating rabbit. ;-) I didn't know about there being more protein in beans than in meat, but I'm glad, because I had beans for lunch!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Hi, ragged edge. Unfortunately I have no advice about non-veggie eaters. I am very blessed to have two kids who love broccoli. My son is the one who is on the road to vegetarianism, but more as an issue of taste than any philosophical insight.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thank you, Angela. A lot of successful parenting is just choosing which battles are worth fighting, and as long as a child is getting the nutrition he needs, I don't consider vegetarianism to be worth fighting over.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Wonderful! I especially like the point about not tricking your kid. It seems like so many people (not just parents) just don't bother mentioning what's really in a dish, and I think that is unfair to the eater.

      Rated useful!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
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      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thanks, clevercat! Trust is the basis of strong relationships, and if parents try to deceive their children, that trust just won't form.

    • profile image

      kelleyward 4 years ago

      My middle child doesn't like to eat much meat at all, and neither do I. I think we shouldn't force kids to eat meat if they do not desire too. Thanks for sharing this! Take care, Kelley

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Hi, Kelley. I think you have a healthy attitude, and I'm glad we're on the same wavelength. Thanks for reading!

    • chrissieklinger profile image

      chrissieklinger 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      My son just doesn't like meat but he loves seafood, dairy products, and eggs. At one of his check-ups I told the doctor how concerned I was about what he DOESN'T eat and he told me my son has a very healthy diet and we should all est more like that. We do a few meatless dinners each week and both my kids help plan meals and help cook. I love that you mentioned about not tricking your child. You want them to mature to be healthy eaters their whole life and that is a process. Great hub!!!!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Hi, Chrissie. I'm glad to hear that your son has a healthy, varied diet. It's great to get kids involved with meal-planning and cooking while they're young and still willing to try new things.

    • sadie423 profile image

      sadie423 4 years ago from North Carolina

      I was 12 when I made that decision, I kept dairy and eggs, but nothing else. I was the only one in my family not eating meat. My parents did good and didn't try to change my mind. Helped me to find good foods. My kids all start out as vegetarians and once they are about 3 or so they make that decision. Now we have 3 vegetarians and 4 meat eaters. Makes for interesting suppers sometimes

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Sadie, thank you for sharing your story. I'm glad you had supportive parents, and it sounds like you're doing a great job with your own family, too!

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      What an excellent, open-minded hub! The idea of swapping meal nights is a great idea. I started doing a vegetarian night even though I'm not vegetarian anymore. I'm hoping that it helps my daughter learn when she is older that she can make choices about her foods and not be met with any resistance or ridicule from her parents.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Hi, Sharkye. It's great that you're raising your daughter to be open-minded about food choices. Enjoy your vegetarian nights; there are tons of great recipes out there!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      my kids a re meat eaters. Only me a vegetarian sometimes. I wish my kids could eat vegetarian food too.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 2 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Well, Peachpurple, you are probably in charge of dinners at your house, right? So why not add in a vegetarian night once a week with some good recipes like the ones I've listed above? Your kids may not even notice they're not eating meat, or they may notice but love it anyway.

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