What do you do when kids declare themselves vegetarians?

My 5-year-old announced last week that she is now a vegetarian.

They had been discussing dinosaurs at schools and whether they were herbivores, carnivores or omnivores. I guess that led to the children discussing what they were. One little girl that Lilina likes announced that she is a vegetarian, and I think talked about meat is gross and you’re eating animals – cue the cute pictures of chicks and cows. So now Lilina has decided that she is a vegetarian.

She has actually done a pretty good job asking at each meal is this meat or a vegetable?

She resisted my shrimp and vegetable linguini (asparagus and tomatoes). She ate linguini and carrots. We told her she was missing the point by not eating the asparagus or tomatoes.

Although when told that hot dogs and bacon were meats, she granted herself some exclusions to have just a little bit.

I know lots of people that have gone through vegetarian phases albeit not self-imposed at 5-years old.

Michael was actually a vegetarian when I first started dating him. Recently it was revealed that it was for financial reasons – meat was expensive for college students. I thought he did it just to annoy my mom.

I returned from a high school trip to visit my cousin at UGA declaring I was a vegetarian. It didn’t last very long as I am not a huge fan of vegetables. (I would be an awesome grainetarian.)

So I’m not particularly worried about it. I will make my meals as planned and she can pick and choose. I think this too will pass but if doesn’t we’ll have to figure out how to increase her protein in other ways.

What do you do with a child who decides to be vegetarian? Do you honor their self-imposed dietary restrictions? Do you adjust your menus or let them pick around what you serve? Do you force them to eat the meat?

61 comments Add your comment

Elisa

October 17th, 2012
3:45 pm

Hi Not a Vegan! I can only speak for myself, but I would say that being vegan is not about being perfect in an imperfect world. Rather, at its heart, like many other philosophies that seek to do good, for me it is about making compassionate choices, as many as I can, as often as I can, and trying to do the least amount of harm as I live on this earth. It is also about seeking out information in order to really know and understand the ramifications of my everyday choices… where do my food and clothing come from? How does their production impact the planet, my body, my family, other living beings?

As I said in my comment above, it has been a journey for me, and I believe for many other people as well. Personally, I don’t own or buy leather, I look for cruelty-free makeup, I don’t drive often and I keep in mind that the United Nations declared that the meat industry causes more environmental damage than all forms of transportation combined (that’s trains, planes, cars, boats, you name it), and I don’t believe a PETA membership is necessary any more than having a valid Vegan ID card. :)

I applaud your manifold environmental concerns, and yes, I think those are important points that we would all do well to strive towards keeping in mind. There are also issues of fair trade, buying local, GMOs and a host of others related to consumerism and living gently on the planet. I don’t think it’s helpful to become paralyzed by the vast issues involved, though, simply to continue educating ourselves and to seek to make better and better choices over time, without beating ourselves (or anyone else) up about any missteps. Does it benefit the planet to abstain from making one good choice because I haven’t yet made another one?

And, to bring the matter back to the topic at hand, this is about one little girl’s food choices, and her mother being brave enough to ask for more information to guide her response. The journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step, right? All the best to you.

Jaye C.

October 17th, 2012
3:59 pm

I’m always amused/dismayed by other parents who cheerfully feed their kids the SAD (Standard American Diet), loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol, sugars, oils, and other empty calories, but as soon as the kids want to go vegetarian, THEN they get worried about nutrition.

Anyone’s diet — young or old, vegetarian or not — should be carefully thought-out. Planning a balanced vegetarian diet is no more stringent or difficult than one that includes meat. Instead of trying to dissuade kids from being compassionate and healthy, or assuming it’s a phase to be endured, why not see it as an opportunity to expand your family’s food horizons and incorporate more fruits and veggies into mealtimes?

jarvis

October 17th, 2012
5:09 pm

Nothing tastes better than pork….except beef.

Denise

October 17th, 2012
5:51 pm

@jarvis…I prefer shrimp and crawfish but I’d eat pork and beef and chicken on the “off” days. :-)

Leigh

October 17th, 2012
8:32 pm

My husband and I are healthy, long time vegans raising a healthy vegan toddler. Protein is really a non-issue as long as your wise and compassionate little girl is eating a varied plant based diet. My son enjoys peanut butter, almond butter, tofu, soy yogurt, plant milks, beans and lentils regularly, and also gets some protein from most all other foods he consumes. There is a fantastic chapter on raising healthy veg children in the book Vegan For Life by registered dietitians Jack Norris and Virginia Messina.

[...] I opened my mind to trying new products and breaking out of my cooking rut. … Read more: What do you do when kids declare themselves vegetarians … ← Makes Your Kids Healthy With Vegetarian Food » World Go [...]

catlady

October 17th, 2012
9:26 pm

There is a magazine called Vegetarian Times that has lots of good recipes, if you want to check it out.

Lacey Wood

October 18th, 2012
3:16 am

Your daughter is making a very compassionate decision. I would recommend ChooseVeg.org as a resource. You can order a free Vegetarian Starter Kit and get nutrition information and recipes. You will be interested to know that eating a plant based diet reduces your risks of many different types of cancers, heart disease, and obesity, so if it is something your daughter is interested in, I think it is worth encouraging. Also, protein being an issue with a vegetarian diet is a common misconception. Tofu has more protein per gram than beef, and on average americans get more than twice the amount of protein they need daily. I would recommend the American Dietetic Associations position paper on vegetarian eating: http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/2009_ADA_position_paper.pdf
This states that a vegetarian diet is completely healthy for people of all ages, including children.

Dennis

October 18th, 2012
11:20 am

The biggest question on any exclusion diet is how you replace the food you remove.

I don’t eat grains and processed foods…at all. I’ve replaced them with more and larger servings of vegetables (mostly non-starchy), as well as more protein and fat.

If your child is choosing to exclude meats, then their replacement of the food intake they used to get from meat needs to come from similar real food sources. Replacing it with more pasta, bread and processed foods will lead down a road of poor health.

I understand people’s reasons for going vegetarian (animal welfare, perceived health gains), but in so many cases it ends up being a move towards more processed foods – eating more grains, soy-based meat replacement products, and so on. It can’t be towards more processed food.

I wouldn’t stop a child from going vegetarian, but it should lead to a lot of discussion of “Why” and “how.”

Sara Sawochka

October 18th, 2012
1:18 pm

For more information on going veg check out ChooseVeg.com. It’s a fantastic resource for tips, articles and recipes!

Jacqueline

October 20th, 2012
7:54 am

My children have been vegetarian since conception. Today they are 6 and 8 and are healthier than their peers and eat way more vegetables than they do as well. Vegetarianism is more compassionate, better for the planet, and better for human health. Watch some movies like “Forks Over Knives,” “Got the Facts on Milk?” and “Vegucated” so you can learn more about the benefits of a vegetarian diet. You may be motivated to cut the whole family back on meat at that point. At five your child has made a very wise choice. I hope you support it and learn more about it. The number one killers in this country come from eating meat (heart disease and cancer). Her being on a vegetarian diet she is already off to a healthier start. All the research shows that vegetarians are a healthier sect of the population. As for protein… nuts, peanut butter, quinoa, beans, chickpeas, tofu, veggie dogs, veggie burgers, veggie chick nuggets. It’s all readily available at your grocery store, tastes good, and is healthier (and better for the planet and the animals) than their meat counterparts.