I have been a vegetarian since I was a little girl. It was something that was entirely my own idea, and when we had kids, my husband I agreed that we wanted to raise our children as vegetarians.
Vegetarianism has come a long way since I was a child. It used to be much harder to find fellow vegetarians or vegetarian options at restaurants, and there were nowhere as many fake meat products as there are now. I hope, and I think, that my children find it a lot easier to be vegetarian!
Here are some tips on raising vegetarian kids.
~ Try different cuisines. Just because I am a vegetarian does not mean that I have a boring diet, which seems to be a common misconception. One of my favorite cuisines is Indian food, which offers many vegetarian dishes. You can learn to make simple Indian foods at home if dishes at restaurants are too spicy – such as dal or palak paneer. Exploring a variety of cuisines gives you plenty of variety to work with, from recipes to vegetables you might not normally incorporate into meals.
~ Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). In a CSA, farms offer shares to the public. For the season, you receive a box or basket of whatever crops the farm offers. Depending on the CSA, you can get vegetables, fruits, herbs, and so on. With vegetables, I found that I learned a lot about different vegetables, by trying new foods (such as garlic scapes or celeriac) and a variety of new recipes. In turn, the whole family eats healthier and learns more about veggies. It is a good opportunity to get the kids involved – they can learn about when certain veggies are in season or even what a stalk of Brussels sprouts or soybeans look like when it comes straight from the farm.
~ Go berry picking or vegetable picking to help get kids excited about fruits and veggies. It can be fun and educational to be a part of the harvesting process. My kids are usually pretty excited to dig right into what they have picked!
~ Have fun and be creative with meat substitutes. My kids love meatless burgers, chicken nuggets, breakfast sausages, bologna, and more. You can substitute meatless products in non-vegetarian recipes – one of our favorites are fake meat crumbles in things like lasagna or in taco salad or burritos. And get the kids involved in cooking!
~ When your children are old enough, explain them what it is to be a vegetarian. By the time my daughter started kindergarten, she was able to explain that she is a vegetarian to others. In addition to giving her the tools to be able to find vegetarian food, the school was able to mark her lunch account explaining that she is vegetarian (they do this for any students, whether it is food allergies or food preferences). When her name comes up on the computer in the lunch line, the lunch server automatically knows to help her find vegetarian food or modify what they offer, such as a salad without chicken strips on top.
~ Continue to educate your children about vegetarianism as they get older, including reasons to choose this diet and how to eat healthy, well-balanced foods. There are plenty of resources online as well as books for children and parents.
~ Make sure that vegetarian kids get a balanced diet, such as enough iron. There are many resources for vegetarian kids and vegetarian families, and parents can discuss this with their doctor or pediatrician for further guidance as well. We make sure to get a good variety of vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods, and also supplement our diet with a multivitamin.
~ Be prepared for questions or even criticism. This could be from friends, family, or someone you may not know. I get asked many questions about being vegetarian – from “how do you get enough protein” to “why are you a vegetarian”. Do your research and don’t let others intimidate you or questions the choices you make.
Vegetarianism is a growing trend, and it is becoming easier to adopt this lifestyle. Take advantage of all the resources you can and have fun with it!