“You’re bringing her up Vegetarian?” … The typical response I used to get when it became apparent that our daughter was not of the meat-eating variety. This question was often accompanied by a raised eyebrow indicating a need for further information. And my response was always: ‘Yes – we raising her as a vegetarian as we do not believe in eating animals. And yes, we’ve anticipated that at some stage she may choose to eat meat. This would be her choice. We will inform her, and let her make her own decisions’. This is usually followed by some sort of agreement (on their part) that it would be very likely she will want McDonalds like her friends, etc. I have never felt this would be the case. And she never has.
My experience with children is that most would never dream of eating a lamb they see playing in the field or the chicken prancing around out in the farmyard…or a part of a cow or pig… Most (there are always exceptions) children have no idea that the meat they are eating was once an animal and is now on their plates. If you were to disclose to them exactly what they were eating… that it was previously a living animal, and was killed to become food for them, do you think they would still want to eat it? To be honest, I find that most adults would feel the same way if they were asked to choose the animal first and partake in its demise. I’m thinking back now to times when past friends have watched Babe or any other animal-based movie and sworn never to eat that meat product again… But meat has been very cleverly packaged and rebranded, where the connection of meat to the animal is almost lost.
However, back to the original question about raising a child vegetarian: The most challenging argument I get (or would get – my daughter is 11 now, so it is less about whether we made this decision these days) was whether she would get enough nutrients… enough…(here it comes) PROTEIN… How many of these people pose that same question to children sat in a car with their parents at the ‘McDonalds or KFC Drive-thru’ (“ugh” to both the places and the spelling!). Yes, the Diet Police are out in force when you have a vegetarian child, but strangely avert their gaze from the fast food families.
It is not hard to raise a child vegetarian… In fact, it is incredibly easy. More so in the early days (baby food – blend your own wonderful veggies and fruit and beans). Gets a little trickier as they grow into fussy phase. My daughter was not too bad until about 8/9 yrs. When she turned 8yrs old, we moved to another country, and although I found similar foods to her favourites from the UK, she became a bit of a tricky/picky eater. Common in all children, I know, but as a parent wanting to make sure she is healthy, and under the scrutiny of the diet police, it can be a cause of anxiety for sure.
And so we have had regular discussions about eating a varied diet. We have frequent chats that it’s ‘time to try new things’, and vacations are almost always the times when she will actually venture into tasting and trying out new foods… Which is great, until we get back home and my versions ‘don’t taste the same’! Ah well, I try! I have started taking/making more time to go through our vast array of vegan recipe books and to encourage our daughter to get involved in choosing, and helping prepare/bake/cook with me. And I find that as she is getting older, that she is showing more interest in the food itself, and what it is made from, where it comes from. She’s a good kid… but she is just a kid… fussiness and all. 🙂
My daughter has always been curious, always caring. She LOVES animals. I cannot imagine having ever fed her meat. If I try to picture such a scenario, this is how I can see it going: She would have asked me why I didn’t eat it. I would have told her because I did not want to eat an animal. She would have cried and would have been very upset at me for a while (possibly a long time), and she would have asked me why I gave her an animal for food when it was not necessary? She would have been heartbroken to find out that an animal died to become food for her. And after all that (and I am 99% sure this is the way it would go)…she would say she wanted to be vegetarian. I learned a valuable lesson when I was a young girl – that you didn’t HAVE to eat animals. I feel I owe it my daughter to share my knowledge and research and to bring her up respecting and loving all animals.
I remember when my daughter was a little toddler and in nursery school (preschool equivalent) whilst I did teacher training. She was only around 3 yrs old, and if she didn’t like the look of any food they offered her at lunchtime, she would shake her head and say: “I can’t eat dat….I’m Begetarian” (pronunciation was tricky… but she tried her best!). The poor childcarer would say “But these are just peas!” “No – I begetarian!” would be the response! Her ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card for anything unsavory (in her eyes). Ahh that made me smile so much when I heard it!
So there we have it… a vegetarian child. Easy to feed. Happy in what she eats. We have always spoken to her about other people and different diets, in order to help her make friends, to not offend others, and to be accepting of people’s choices. Yes we are vegetarian/vegan, yes we would love if all the world became vegan. But that is not the world we currently live in. Most people in western society eat meat. Most children are brought up eating meat. We have to accept that, we tell her. We can open their eyes to alternative diets like ours, but we do not preach to them. They have parents who make the decisions on what they should eat, just like we did with her, we tell her. We have tried to impart a sense of understanding of other people’s situations, and a kind of reconciliation of that. But it’s not easy. Kids are more direct. Having never eaten an animal, my daughter simply could not compute why anyone would.
When family have previously visited and discussed eating specific meals containing meat, whereas I have taught myself to turn my mind off at the thought of it, to our daughter, to hear them speak of eating an animal is almost barbaric. And so we have had many conversations again and again about accepting differences and not being able to force people to think our way, nor shame people… But by just being who we are, by being vegan ourselves, we are quietly influencing future decisions in others. She is changing the world just by being who she is. She can be proud of being vegan, of caring about animals and the planet and her body, and she should be. And there will be those who come to that awakening themselves purely by having known her.
It can be a tricky time… when our child’s friends can and have been influenced by our daughter being a vegetarian. Most have been brought up on a diet that includes meat for most meals. And they are naturally curious as to what she might eat. One or two of her friends have then gone back to their own family and stated they would like to be vegetarian. Some families have accepted this (whether they think it a fad, or not), some families I know have negotiated with their child on the subject, and I do unfortunately hold a suspicion that at least one family appears to have asked their child to no longer play with our daughter. This saddens me. This is why we try to bring our daughter up with an understanding of other people and their rights and decisions to eat what they wish. But it is hard to explain to her why a friend is being punished for not wanting to eat an animal, to be vegetarian, and how that has resulted in the loss of a friend. There could be other factors at play here too, of course… but still.
Young children take to the vegetarian diet easily. You might have slightly older children considering becoming vegetarian. You might be concerned. They might not currently eat many vegetables… or you might be worried about protein intake. There is so much information, so many books, so many choices out there. When our daughter was an infant, I bought a couple of books on the topic:
Raising Vegetarian Children : A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony by Joanne Stepaniak et al.
“When parents choose a vegetarian lifestyle for their child, it can set family fingers wagging in dietary disapproval. It’s no easier on steak-loving parents when Junior announces he’s sworn off meat. With the strategies in Raising Vegetarian Children, parents can ease family tensions and learn to accommodate the nutritional and emotional needs of their vegetarian offspring.”
New Vegetarian Baby by Sharon K. Yntema et al.
“…this book incorporates all the latest information to answer questions and lay to rest any lingering doubts about a vegetarian regimen for infants.”
The first book was especially helpful in dealing with other people’s reactions and for helping plan our own responses to our child’s questions and concerns.
If you are concerned about your own child; maybe you could take them to see a nutritionist or doctor to discuss their new diet and what they will eat.
Vegetarian children tend to have more focus (in general) on diet and healthy eating. My daughter would not dream of going to McDonalds, KFC, etc. – even though she is aware some of the chains have veggie/vegan burgers now, she is also aware that this kind of food is not a healthy option for her.
So good luck with your vegetarian child. You will have to do some coaching on interacting with others, not offending friends, and accepting people’s choices. But you are also raising a child who cares about animals, the planet and her/his health. Support them. They are doing a good thing. 🙂
My now-vegan daughter is a healthy, happy, caring, loving child… What more could you want?