Raising Vegetarian Kids

Guest post by:  Olivia Van Buren

“That is MEAT!,” my four-year old daughter will loudly exclaim every time we pass that aisle, the one I prefer to avoid for this very reason, in the supermarket. “SOME people eat meat. Those are cows, chickens, and pigs. See, there’s even a poster on the wall showing you what part of the dead animal you are getting.”

My children are third-generation vegetarians. My mother decided that she wanted to stop eating meat for ethical reasons when she was a teenager, and as a result I am a life-long vegetarian. For me, eating meat has little to do with ethics. Thinking about the bio-industry, I could certainly find many objectionable aspects of meat eating, but not eating meat was not a conscious choice I ever made. I was raised as a vegetarian and now I, too, am raising vegetarian children.

Answering questions from concerned meat eaters, I prefer to take up the viewpoint of the vegetarian former child. A meatless diet does not have to be any less nutritious than one that contains meat. Vegetarian children are not anemic by default, and they do not survive on a diet of salad and bread. Yes, vegetarian children are, sometimes, teased by their omnivore peers. But no, I don’t think they’ll grow up and blame their parents for depriving them of the pleasure of eating dead, often hormone-ridden animals. At least, I didn’t – I did try eating meat as a teenager, but I gagged every time I attempted to swallow a piece, so that adventure came to an end rather quickly.

Raising vegetarian kids requires no fantastic knowledge about nutrition. Vegetarian cooking can fantastic, exciting, and can provide a human being with everything they need to survive and thrive, including small souls. There is very little to say about the specifics of cooking healthy foods for kids who do not eat meat, beyond the universal “healthy and balanced diet” advice that is suitable for everyone, whether they eat meat or are vegetarian. Oh yes, proteins. We can get them from beans, tofu, cereals and grains (quinoa has been a wonderful recent discovery for us!), and fruit and vegetables.

The social aspect of raising vegetarian kids is more fascinating. As a vegetarian parent of vegetarian children, the one thing that worries me is how to instruct my children on not making meat-eaters feel bad about their choices, as they have recently been doing. Because eating meat is a valid choice, and there is nothing wrong with it. They might even want to try it themselves.

If at any point one of my kids decides to try eating meat, they are welcome and I will make no attempts to stop them. I will not, however, cook meat for them. As a life-long vegetarian, I would have no idea how. Actually, I think a meat meal I cook might have the power of putting anyone off meat for life, if they happen not to die of a listeria infection first! But so far, neither child has expressed any interest, although they have seen plenty of people eat meat. I am going to watch with interest to see if there will be a fourth generation of vegetarians in my family one day!

Olivia Van Buren is a journalist, feminist, and a mother of two. She blogs about pregnancy, labor, and birth, with a special focus on natural childbirth and unassisted homebirth at Write About Birth.