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

FCM on my cell

October 17th, 2012
5:33 am

I think mine lasted 4 days when she declared herself vegetarian. If she had lasted longer she would jave had to research protein options and planned meals. She is older than Lili.

I see 2 ways to handle it with a younger child like Lili: .let it play out, dont do extra options at dinner. just let her eat the non meat part. if after say 4 days she is still not eating meat, add in greek yogurt & other proteins, but in ways that dont put you out much. opt 2 is that you talk to her & let her k.ow growing kids need protein & she can wait until older to b vegetarian. That u will not make different food just for her.

We actually declared meatless night…tuesdays….for awhile too.

Althoug if prices at market keep going up, we may start hording acorns here. : )


October 17th, 2012
5:57 am

FCM on my cell –

Growing kids do need protein and there are plenty of children growing up vegetarian and vegan who do just fine. There’s no need to lie to Liliana and tell her she needs to eat animal flesh in order to be healthy.

Theresa –

I’m not one to give in to the whims of a child, but there are plenty of ways to sneak some protein into a meal without it being animal based. Let her try this and educate yourself on alternative sources of protein.


October 17th, 2012
6:18 am

My daughter, at about age 7, watched a show about animal processing and declared herself a vegetarian. I was very impressed by her dedication to it. She lasted about 4 months. In the meantime, she became a big fish eater (I told her a lot of vegetarians eat fish and it’s very healthy). She also ate a lot of Morning Star and Bocca products and beans. She developed some really good eating habits during this phase and she still completely refuses to eat pork. She loves turkey sausage. I think the difference between her and Lilina is that, because of what she watched (and it was very mild) about the animal processing, the food literally turned her stomach whereas Lilina is just following someone at school. Probably won’t last long. I would tell her she really needs to eat some protein and present to her things like black beans or other things that she might not have tried before. Other than that, you’re doing exactly what I would do. Just let her eat the parts of the meal she wants. I would convince her that eggs are fine if she is a vegetarian and give her eggs or p-nut butter in the morning. Should be enough protein for the time being.


October 17th, 2012
6:48 am

I’d support my child’s decision, wether it be four days, four months, or indefinitely. I told my mom I wanted to be a vegetarian at the age of 7. Never looked back. Obviously it’s not always a whim.

Or think about it this way: Wether you agree or not, it’s a great thing that your child tries to act compassionately. It shows a good character, thinking beyond one’s own wishes.


October 17th, 2012
7:34 am

most likely it’s a phase (note the exception for hot dogs and bacon! LOL) fix your normal meals. she’ll make her choices accordingly. don’t address it or make a big deal about it. no different than the “i’ll run away” phase or when i grow up i want to be…” phase. let it be.


October 17th, 2012
7:48 am

I think it’s a great opportunity to involve kids in selecting new recipes to try and to talk about nutrition.


October 17th, 2012
8:11 am

I think 5 is a little young to be dictating what SHE’s going to eat.

Both my girls tried to be vegetarians about Middle School….it lasted 3 days. I’m not the kind of person to make numerous meals at one time for picky eaters. You either eat what I have prepared, or you wait until the next meal to eat. Beef was basically what they stayed away from. Until the grill came out, and steaks were being cooked…..that was the end of that!!!! we are meat eaters and there is nothing in this world better than a steak on the grill!

However, all three are good eaters, and don’t shy away from too much. And like I said earlier, I love to cook, and I cook healthy meals.

Voice of Reason

October 17th, 2012
8:15 am

We as humans have teeth that are perfect for both tearing meat and crunching vegetables. Isn’t evolution great? Who am I to argue with evolution?

I love animals, they are very tasty.

I love leafy greens, in my salad.

mom of 3

October 17th, 2012
8:31 am

Too many kitchens have become catering kitchens instead of family dinner. You eat what’s on the table or you don’t.


October 17th, 2012
8:43 am

PETA – People Eating Tasty Animals.


October 17th, 2012
8:51 am

@ Beck..I said let her do it for a few days as opt 1. Opt 2 you need to re-read it is that you tell her I am not doing different foods just for you. Now that if TWG does want to prepare 2 different meals that fine.

We do a youth dinner every weekend at our church and we have vegetarians there too. Some do one meat version one not….when I cooked I put the meat on the side. They had a choice of 2 sauces that were vegetarian but not vegan or ovo/lacto. Then they could add meat to either one. The 1 vegetarian there that night said thank you b/c she seldom had choices. It depends what YOU are willing to do and put up with…I am not willing to cook a different meal for a 5 yo ever time we eat.

I am also going to


October 17th, 2012
8:54 am

Let them try it out. They are welcome to just eat the vegetables that are part of the normal dinner.

And if you aren’t making vegetables as part of the normal dinner anyway, well…………..


October 17th, 2012
8:56 am

refer to Mayhem here…”I think 5 is a little young to be dictating what SHE’s going to eat.”

As to the 4 days I would give it that long to see if it lasts if you are entertaining this self assertion. If it does then by all means find really good alternates b/c the kid need protein.

Meanwhile my family will continue to eat pork, chicken, beef and other things that have neither a relgious or other taboo for us.


October 17th, 2012
9:13 am

Eat or be eaten I say.


October 17th, 2012
9:21 am

I would celebrate by cooking lots of winter greens and beets! :-D

Seriously, I agree with Tired that this is a good opportunity to allow her to help in the kitchen and learn about nutrition. I know many people who tried to become vegetarians at different ages. Most of them made it less than 2 months but two have been vegetarians since they were kids (one age four and the other 12). Neither of them eat flesh nor eggs but both eat dairy and things with egg in it such as cornbread. Both eat lots of legumes and nuts for protein.


October 17th, 2012
9:25 am

I like to eat vegetarians.


October 17th, 2012
9:44 am

Your job is to cook and put on the table good, nutritious food. (With help from them, of course). Her job, and every other person in your family’s job is to decide what and how much of that food to eat. Limit processed foods, limit snacks, and none of them will starve. Don’t turn food into a p—— contest or battle of wills.

The woman who kept my oldest when she was a baby had a son almost a year older–one of the fattest, most pasty-looking kid you have ever seen. She marveled at how my daughter would eat almost anything, and with gusto. She told me, “He will only eat soda crackers and sweet tea.” When I suggested she not buy or fix such, she was shocked! He will cry! He will go hungry! I told her she would have to become deaf, and serve all the family good, healthy food. (It turns out the father would get mad if the boy cried and demand that the mama make him stop by letting him eat what he wanted.)

Warrior Woman

October 17th, 2012
10:21 am

When Lilina does the cooking and pays the grocery bill, then she is old enough to dictate what food is served. Until then, if she was my child, she would either eat the meal I served or go hungry.

Beyond that, it’s clear she’s not serious about vegetarianism, since she made exceptions for hot dogs and bacon.


October 17th, 2012
10:57 am

My thirteen year old decided that he would become a vegetarian three years ago. Since we don’t eat a lot of meat, I wasn’t surprised. However, he then decided that he would eat some meat, just not everyday. So we are actually implementing the flexitarian way of eating. Pros: Because we eat a small amount of meat, lower grocery bills. We also get to experiment with using different ingredients: instead of meat in lasagna, we use lots of veggies including spinach and mushroom, black bean soup, etc. Cons: We have had to come up with some creative ideas, but then again, we are having some very interesting meals. But the one thing that I don’t do is cook another meal. Everyone eats the same.

Penny N.

October 17th, 2012
11:08 am

This sounds like a great opportunity for the whole family to really explore healthy eating! Make some new recipes, try some new foods! Maybe your daughter will love kale chips. Maybe she’ll go crazy for quinoa. (Or maybe mom/dad/brother/sister will!)
It seems like every day there’s a new study on the dangers of processed meat, so bacon and hot dogs probably shouldn’t be on the menu anyway.
I think Mom should support her daughter’s choice, for however long it lasts–whether it’s four days or the rest of her life. Just don’t deny her healthy veggie options just because she refuses the meat dishes!


October 17th, 2012
11:10 am

The girl decided to be a vegetarian about a year ago..It lasted until the first steak was put in front of her, which was maybe a day..:)

I guess I must be a bad Nanny, because I give mine choices of what they want..If I’m cooking, I usually cook a couple of sides and if they want something other than what I;m eating, I will fix them something else..To me, it’s not a big deal..Of course, most of the time, they eat what we eat..It’s not like they are being demanding or bratty..My two aren’t picky eaters..

I have a niece that has two girls, one is 3 and the other one is 18 months..The niece is a vegetarian and neither one of her girls has ever eaten meat..They both seem to be just happy, healthy children..


October 17th, 2012
11:13 am

I was a vegetarian along with my wife. My daughter was bought up vegetarian and has converted many of her friends to stop eating animals. VERY PROUD of her that she did not ever eat meat. I am sure if these slaughter houses had glass doors & the kids were allowed to see how animals are butchered they will stop eating meat. They know animals feel the same physical pain as humans when they are under the knife.


October 17th, 2012
11:22 am

Try the meatless Mondays. This way the whole family can explore meatless recipes. This is a great opportunity to teach her about nutrition. I would certainly start integrating tofu, beens and other protein rich foods into her diet. Just be careful to not let her rely on pastas to much many children will say they are vegetarian and not eat any vegetables (adults too for that matter). Morning star and gardein are great places to start.


October 17th, 2012
11:35 am

I refuse to give up meat. Not going to happen. I am happy eating beef, pork, chicken, and a little seafood….


October 17th, 2012
11:38 am

My 3 kids, like me and my husband, are vegan, and are among the healthiest, most active kids I know. They get far fewer colds than other kids, are in great shape, and excel at sports. Getting enough protein as a vegan is a laughable issue – who ever heard of a disease associated with low protein?Protein is extremely easy to get in vegan foods- and it’s high quality – beans legumes, nuts, veggies, cereals. How about heart diease, obesity, and diabetes, all directly linked to eating meat – and epidemics in this country? I’d be disappointed and concerned if my kids wanted to start eating meat and dairy.


October 17th, 2012
11:42 am

Theresa, be proud of Lilina for making such a healthy and compassionate choice at such a young age. I made the same decision a bit later – at age 11, after I learned how animals are abused in the meat industry – but my parents supported my choice fully. Some people said it was a phase, but I’ve stuck with it for more than 20 years and I’m fully vegan now. My parents simply made their normal meals and I ate just the veggies, grains, and beans. As I got older, I learned to prepare healthy plant-based main dishes. Protein has never been an issue. As long as Lilina is consuming enough calories, she should have no problem meeting her protein requirements, because protein is abundant in plant foods. Good luck, and congratulations on raising such a smart and kind little girl!

Dennis Carlson

October 17th, 2012
12:00 pm

What did I do? I went online and to the library and stocked up with cookbooks and guides on how to feed her properly. I learned a whole bunch of great new recipes that our whole family enjoys. I opened my mind to trying new products and breaking out of my cooking rut. I watched my daughter grow healthy and whole and glowing skin. I watched her never get a cold. That was 11 years ago. That’s what I did.


October 17th, 2012
12:09 pm

Well said, Ella!

It’s no surprise that many children become interested in eating a vegetarian diet once they find out where meat actually comes from. Our culture teaches us to be desensitized to who we are actually eating- and children, who most are animal lovers, have not yet been brainwashed by this sort of thinking.

I would support any child who was interested in a vegetarian diet because it is by far the healthiest way to be. I wish I had become vegetarian at such an early age!

For those who think it’s funny to make jokes about ‘eating tasty animals’ (yeah… never heard that one before!), I hope you can find a better, more compassionate way to spend your limited time on this earth.

Tonya C.

October 17th, 2012
12:12 pm

I’d laugh and wish them good luck to be quite honest. We are meat eaters in my house, and my meals are built around that. There are veggie options, but I don’t know how much starch and veggies would fill them up. I’m not interested in that lifestyle, and can’t encourage it. Period.

Tofu is soy, and I definitely want no part of large amounts of soy. Beans—oh the gas! And they are picky about vegetables. And I refuse to buy fake bacon or meat when the real stuff exists.

If you want to see where this takes here, try it out. Give her reasonable options.


October 17th, 2012
12:39 pm

@Erin..Vegetarian= Village Idiot that Never Learned to Hunt..I sent this T-shirt to my niece and she loves it..

It doesn’t mater if I’m a vegetarian or a meat eater, I’m going to die..I choose to eat meats and I don’t feel the need to be ugly to anyone that wants to be a vegetarian..


October 17th, 2012
12:59 pm

WOW, the amount of ignorance here is surprising to me. You do not have to eat animal flesh, or even animal products like eggs or dairy, to be healthy and meet all of your nutritional needs. I understand not making separate meals for your child, but this is a great opportunity for your entire family to eat much healthier, cheaper, and kinder to the environment and the animals. Keep meat in your meals if your wish, but make it less. Even meat eaters need no more than 3-4 ounces per serving. Also, focus more on other protein sources. These include nuts, seeds, beans and other legumes, whole grains, and yes, even vegetables have protein! Including MORE of these and LESS animal products in your meals will help everyone in your family. Leaning towards a more plant-based diet will help your family save money at the grocery store and on health care. It helps reduce obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It helps the environment and is kind and compassionate. It is the INTELLIGENT thing to do. I’d do research and let your family participate. Some great movies that are accessible on Netflix are: Food Inc, Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, Healing Cancer, and Change Your Food Change Your Life. Educate yourself and your daughter at the same time, you will NEVER regret it. Knowledge is power.


October 17th, 2012
1:12 pm

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?

I think it’s important we adults remember that we can learn from our kids, too. Your daughter may be following in the footsteps of a girl she thinks is “cool” but if she thinks kindness is cool, bravo! Nobody ever said people can eat TOO many vegetables, beans, whole grains, etc. But too much meat & dairy is always being warned of. It’s not going to hurt anyone to eat less of it, for sure. Try the meatless meals as a family, see how it goes. Show your daughter her opinion matters, get her to help or choose vegetables, and see where it takes you. Yeah, she is only five, but kids deserve way more credit than they often get, and have innate compassion and sense about not wanting to hurt / eat animals. We live in a time when information about health and recipes are at our fingertips – you can find endless inspiration online! Good Luck!

Dan Brunell

October 17th, 2012
1:26 pm

Embrace the change! There is no healthier diet available. There are millions of recipes available. Your child is full of compassion. What could be better? A vegan diet. Vegetables enhance the planet, lower fuel expenses, pollution and reduce climate changes.
This diet fights cancer, heart disease, stroke, even Alzheimer’s. hurray!

Dan C

October 17th, 2012
1:34 pm

Wow! 5 years old?! I wish I had the ability to think that far outside the box at 5. Heck, I wish I could have thought like that at 21. This youngster is going to go on to do great things. The great people of the world start out by challenging the norm and thinking differently. I have not eaten any animals or products from animals in 5 or so years and it was the best decision of my life. It is hard for me to think of all the animals I did consume. I wish I could turn back the time and realize what this 5 year old is seeing. Brilliant. Cheers to her future!! (and knowing our future is in good hands)

Valerie Lyons

October 17th, 2012
1:37 pm

Vegans & vegetarians can be so sanctimonious in their righteousness!


October 17th, 2012
1:47 pm

That’s amazing! I really encourage you to honor Lilina’s compassionate choices. She is learning about her world and opening herself up to new ideas… that’s wonderful. It could be a great opportunity for the whole family to broaden their nutritional horizons, and there are so many delicious, affordable and healthy recipes available. You could try looking on the Fat Free Vegan blog and the Engine 2 Diet website for ideas. The children’s book “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals” speaks to a lot of concerns kids have about this topic, and Dr. Melanie Joy’s work does as well.

When I was a kid, I saw a rabbit carcass in my family’s freezer, and was shocked to learn that a bunny, just like the one we had as a pet, was killed, skinned and meant to be cooked and eaten. That started me on a journey to veganism that has lasted to this day, and I’ve always been grateful for it, and to my parents who let me follow my heart and my conscience. Some kids, like your daughter, might begin by eliminating certain foods and eating more of others, like grains, beans, lentils, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Lasting food choices are very often made gradually, so it’s normal for her to make a hot dog exception once in a while… though a veggie dog could be an exciting option for her to discover. Best of luck, and best of health, to you and your family, and congratulations on your kind, adventurous daughter. Who knows what fantastic places this new journey might lead? :)


October 17th, 2012
1:50 pm

@Erin, All kidding aside, I’m sure to you I’d seem like a psycho. I’ve seen a deer killed and processed (with a chainsaw through the spine no less), and it did not for one second make me think twice about eating venison.

I didn’t care about that deer anymore than I care about piece of lettuce being grown and nurished and then picked for the purpose of being ingested.


October 17th, 2012
1:54 pm

is it just me or are ALL vegans holier than thou?


October 17th, 2012
2:06 pm

@iLoveScience – it’s not just you……according to Colleen, we meat eaters are un-intelligent and ignorant.


October 17th, 2012
2:09 pm

One of my girlfriends and her kids’ father sneak and eat meat while feeding their children a healthy, vegetarian diet. They figured it would be easier for them to return to their vegetarianism (is that a word?) than to transition the kids to that type of diet. After all, it is the best diet for a person (according to some). I don’t know about him (he’s out of the picture), but last I checked she still hadn’t transitioned back to her vegetarian ways and her oldest is 8. I guess sometimes you just want to have that shrimp and chicken!

I am too picky (i.e. I don’t eat many things) to go vegetarian and I couldn’t make it on a vegan diet. I only eat a few vegetables and there is not that much green beans and okra in the world! LOL! I would support a child by offering choices. I would not think that adding an extra vegetable to the meal would cause Mom or Dad too much hardship. One thing to consider is that you don’t want to fill her up on carbs. Too many carbs (pasta, rice) is bad. Good luck to you!


October 17th, 2012
2:10 pm

@iLoveScience…it may not be ALL but…umm…it’s enough of them to turn you off from listening to their probably-valid arguments.


October 17th, 2012
2:30 pm

“Worried?” She should be proud! Even if a 5-year-old is a bit young to fully comprehend the decsion, she is at least trying to help animals. Good for her. Literally, too. Plant-based foods are inarguably healthier than meat and cheese. Top health experts say that a vegetarian diet is beneficial for people of all ages. I think parents are often the ones who need to be better educated. Hopefully the child will set a good example for her mom and mom will hopefully learn that many plant-based foods are packed with protein and other nutrients.

Old Man

October 17th, 2012
2:42 pm

My daughter became a vegetarian in high school. She would eat eggs (cage free), dairy, etc, just “not anything with a face”. She doesn’t really like vegetables, but does eat legumes, rice and grains. She had plenty of vegetarian options through high school (salad bar mainly) and college. Her health has been very good. I actually like vegetables, and probably cut down my intake of animals over the years.

Bobbie Matthews

October 17th, 2012
2:43 pm

I wanted to be a vegetarian when I was a kid and my mom refused. It always made me kind of resentful, especially since I was willing to cook my own meals and she never cooked! This and other battles may have led to my moving out of the house as soon as I could. Parents, don’t turn this into a battle. It’s easy enough to make some dishes that are mostly vegetarian (e.g. spaghetti with tomato sauce, stir fries with veggies, etc.) and set aside some for the vegetarian before adding the meat for everybody else. Or else make some vegetarian meals that everybody can eat. You’d be surprised how many meals lend themselves to being vegetarian, especially ethnic meals (Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, etc.). Shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s helps, but you can even find lots of vegetarian ingredients at Walmart nowadays. Find nutrition information and cooking and shopping tips at PETA.org/living and VRG.org.


October 17th, 2012
2:46 pm

Voice of Reason

October 17th, 2012
2:52 pm

Colleen is why we cannot have nice things…..


NOT a Vegan.....

October 17th, 2012
3:06 pm

How to word this question: Of the vegetarians/vegans here on the blog, how many of you own anything leather? Wear makeup? Actually belong to PETA?

Driving a car is bad for the planet. Have you given that up yet?

Are you contributing to the land fills?
Are you purchasing gasoline?
Are you supporting companies that are big air polluters?

If you are SO concerned about “healthy living”, concerns about our environment, and animal kindness, which products are you willing to give up?

Do you use weed killer on your lawn? Insect killer? This stuff gets in our water……

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

October 17th, 2012
3:08 pm

New blog up from the presidential debate — What do working moms need from an employer??


Salette Andrews

October 17th, 2012
3:26 pm

I’m a vegan. I do not use leather. I gave up my car. I walk to the farmers market with my organic cotton produce bags. I don’t use synthetic herbicides or insecticides.

Tonya C.

October 17th, 2012
3:34 pm


No you aren’t. I have watched all the documentaries, seen animals processed (and killed), and still LOVE meat. I am unemotional about it. There is always going to be a food chain whether I opt into it or not.