No Meat For Me!

istock_000006218900xsmallCan you really “go veggie” with young children? Is it safe? How do you make sure they get all the calories, vitamins, and protein that their growing bodies need if you ditch the meat?

It’s an important question because according to the CDC (and our own totally unscientific research) more and more kids are saying “no thanks” to the burgers and ribs and chicken, too. In fact, they estimate that one out of every 200 American kids refuses to eat anything with a face, and many of them are from NON vegetarian families. It’s definitely a growing trend.

But is it healthy? The answer, with qualifications, is yes. If you are a vegetarian yourself you probably know how to mix foods so that you get everything you need. Nutritional requirements are different for growing children though. So if you want to be sure that your child’s diet is safe and balanced, you’ll need to do your homework. Talk to a dietitian or your pediatrician to get the facts.

On the other hand, if your family isn’t vegetarian and your child suddenly announces that he no longer eats meat, then it’s time for a talk before you start cleaning out the refrigerator. You need to make sure that his idea of being “vegetarian” isn’t just a clever excuse to follow a toast, cereal and pasta diet of his own creation.

Kids can be tricky this way and when it comes to healthy eating, color counts. All white is no good. But if after talking, you feel that he is truly serious and is willing to eat a lot of VEGETABLES and non-animal protein to replace the meat, you can certainly support him if you want to.

Vegetarianism can definitely be lived with great results, so if you’re up for it, go for it. It’s certainly nothing new. People all over the world have been living long, healthy lives without the benefit of meat for thousands of years.

Just make sure you monitor your child’s growth with your doctor and watch for the red flags that can point to a nutritional deficiency. For example, if he starts getting lethargic or low on energy, or if the skin around his mouth or eyes is tearing, or his hair, skin or nails aren’t growing or are breaking down, check with the pediatrician.

But if, after a few months, the veggie-child from the non-veggie family changes her mind and decides to go back to meat cut her some slack. Resist the urge to say “I told you so” because trying things out is an important part of growing up. For some good ideas on how to support a vegetarian child, watch this.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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One response to “No Meat For Me!”

  1. Bonnie

    My oldest (“Tiger”) decided he wanted to be a vegetarian when he was 6. My hubby is a dedicated carnivore, so I ended up cooking two main dishes every meal, like pot roast and cashew nut loaf, or tacos with a choice of ground beef or veggie crumbles as a fillings.

    We soon discovered Tiger did not want any of the veggie offerings. He didn’t want veggies, either! Tiger only wanted bread, noodles, and sweets, just like Ellen mentioned.

    I took the egghead approach and spent many afternoons explaining what vegetarianism was really all about, showing him articles and cookbooks and videos, and I argued with him, too, but Tiger dug his heels in, refusing to eat anything but white flour products and fruit.

    One day Hubby told me he was going to solve the problem. That evening Tiger ate roast chicken. When I asked why, he said that Dad told him he could have a kitten if he gave up his “vegetarianism”.

    That’s what he told all his friends, too, who told their moms, who all asked me how come I didn’t support my child’s vegetarian leanings.

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