Your child has put two and two together and discovered that some of his favorite farm animals are making their way to your family’s dinner table. For some kids, it’s an absolute horror to discover they have been regularly eating animals – cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals from Old McDonald’s Farm.
Then the announcement happens – they passionately tell you that they will no longer eat meat and will, from this moment forward, only eat vegetables. The passion and the idea behind this change in lifestyle is admirable, but when you’re not a vegetarian or vegan household, the person who preps, cooks, and serves your child’s meals, can feel a little annoyed.
Lauren Pambianchi, APRN, CPNP-PC with The Center For Advanced Pediatrics, is here to help you navigate this change. First, Lauren says, “Stay positive and supportive. Your child is discovering what is important to them, establishing independence, and working through some realizations about the world. This is a big step towards growing-up. Take a minute to appreciate this.”
How to support your child’s journey to Vegetarianism
Make sure your child knows the difference between becoming a vegetarian and a vegan. Both are more than diets – they are lifestyles. True vegetarians and vegans also do not wear items that were made from animals, such as leather belts or shoes, and vegans feel strongly about not using a wool blanket either.
From a dietary standpoint, both diets allow fruits, vegetables, grains, and plant-based protein. The difference lies in what is not allowed:
Encourage your child to start slowly. Drastic diet changes overnight often fail and everyone will need time to prepare. Start with the popular “meatless Mondays” for a few weeks to test the waters and find staple meals that are easy to fall back on. From there, continue to add an additional “meatless” day every few weeks.
An alternative approach would be to give up one animal-based protein at a time. Start with a meat that isn’t consumed often in your house. After a few weeks, add to that list. Eventually, there will only be a few animal-based products on your list.
However you begin, research with your child how these dietary changes will mean for your everyday lifestyle. Explore recipes and plan on how you and your child are going to get proper nutrition with your new diet. Inform your child that they will not get proper nutrition by eating grilled cheese sandwiches three times every day.
Yes, you and your child can get all the nutrients like protein, calcium, iron and more that are needed to stay healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet. This can easily be accomplished by eating a variety of foods:
Protein: Beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, peas
Iron: Spinach, chard, cashews. Citrus fruits and juices also help the body absorb more iron
Calcium: Broccoli, Collard Greens, Kale
B12: The vitamin B12 is important for nerve health. Although adults and children need only a small amount daily, going without can cause damage to your health, such as macular degeneration. Make sure you are consuming foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 or are taking a non-animal-derived vitamin supplement.
As you reduce your consumption of animal-based foods, you may find that you are actually enjoying the process and noticing an improvement in your own health. Numerous studies have shown that, when done correctly, a vegetarian diet lowers your risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, and cancer. Studies show that vegetarians are 25% less likely to die of heart disease.
If they reach a stopping point before your child reach that ultimate goal, that’s okay too. If your child has found they just cannot give up the Sunday roasted chicken at Grandma’s, then it’s okay for that to be the one and only meat meal for the week. Reducing animal consumption by any amount in your diet will have tremendous health benefits.
When your child wants to go vegetarian or vegan and you’re confused as to how to feed them to ensure they are getting all the nutrients growing children need, just message us through your patient portal. We are here to help!