Vegetarian Kids – How to Respond When Your Child Wants to Become a Vegetarian
Amidst those formative or preadolescent years, many children or young adults who have developed a strong love for animals decide that they want to become a vegetarian. Sometimes it is a slow build up and sometimes it is triggered by a sight or experience that leads them to making this decision. Either way this is often traumatic for parents and needs to seen in a certain context.
Some questions that need to be answered are how should parents react to this, and what are the difficulties or concerns? First, it is important to respect your child’s choice and to see it as a natural extension to how you raised him. Most families teach their children to have compassion and a concern for people and for living things, often a child or teenager’s desire to become a vegetarian is out of strong regard for life and a realization as to the insensitivity of how the food industry treats animals. Children tend to see things as very black and white, without the many rationalizations of the adult world. When they decide to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle they are really just taking the education they received a step further than their parents. If you see your child’s desire as something based on your educational values it will probably be a lot easier to be supportive.
The next concerns are usually about health and the logistics of a family member having different dietary needs. The health concern may be one that you have to give attention to depending on what kind of vegetarian you child wants to be. Vegetarians need to be more careful about balancing their food; the most serious concern is Vitamin B complex and most specifically B12, which is found most readily in animal products. If your child continues to eat dairy and eggs, meaning he will be a lacto-ovo vegetarian then he will still be getting Vitamin B complex from the animal products he is eating, but should take a blood test every once in a while to be sure he is getting enough. If he wants to remove all animal products from his diet, meaning becoming a vegan, then the he must take care to ensure that he is getting the proper amount of Vitamin B12. This can be accomplished by taking brewers yeast or spirulina plant plankton, eating seaweed, miso and tempeh or by taking vitamin supplements.
The added burden of a family member making new dietary demands is a real one, but can be seen as an opportunity for growth for the entire family. Even a young child can learn to make many things in the kitchen and a teenager can certainly learn to shoulder some of the burdens his new lifestyle will require.
As the parent, you can use this as a chance to discuss wise food choices and to help the child learn about healthier balanced eating. Use your child’s newfound awareness as to what he wants or does not want to put into his body, to help him to take it a step further. It is unwise to stop eating meat products just to fill the vacuum with junk or fast foods. For many new vegetarians it is an opportunity to look at their general eating habits more critically and to become more educated about healthy and wholesome eating. It is best to speak to a nutritionist or to get your child a good vegetarian cookbook that explains about the need for vitamins, balance and healthier eating habits. You can go to your local health food store and look at the books, magazines or bulletin boards for resources. Decisions children or teenagers make are often long- term or life choices. It is best to help them get a good healthy basis in their understanding of nutrition and to show them that you are there to support them.