There are certain stages you expect your child to go through, but I must admit I was taken by surprise when my 14-year-old daughter proclaimed that she wanted to become a vegetarian. I stared at her and asked, “Why?” I was trying to gain control and could not focus on her reasoning. I eventually replied, “Okay, we can do this, but we’ll need to talk about what this will really be like.”
So began our journey with vegetarianism. Annie’s first obstacle was telling her dad. Initially, he was against it because Annie is already on the lean side and he was concerned about her health. However, after further discussions and setting some parameters, he gave her the go-ahead.
What about protein?
The most common question everyone asks is what about protein? “It has been established that if one eats sufficient calories in a varied diet, the likelihood of not getting enough protein is very small,” says Nava Atlas, author of the Vegetarian Family Cookbook.
Protein sources include nuts and nut butters, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), tofu, grains (especially quinoa) and legumes—chickpeas, beans, etc. “Seitan (cooked wheat gluten) is a great protein source, but of course, not for those who are gluten-intolerant,” says Atlas.
Today’s supermarkets have a variety of veggie choices, including vegetarian products made to look and taste like meat. My daughter found the health food manager at our local store to be very helpful in suggesting products.
What about dinner?
Once a week I try to make a non-meat dinner. Most of the meat dishes that I prepare can easily be modified to add Annie’s meat substitutes into the dish. We’ve researched flexitarian cookbooks that include recipes with or without meat and equally delicious. I also ask Annie to make dinner using her recipes. “Learn along with your teen and see what favorite family meals you can convert to a healthier, meatless version—things like burgers, pizza, pastas, stir-fries, wraps and stews,” suggests Atlas.
Show your support.
As parents, we want to provide an environment of teamwork with our children’s interests. I checked out a few vegetarian magazines at the library and eventually found that it only took a few simple steps to change some of our favorite recipes.
My daughter may or may not stay vegetarian, but we didn’t want to deny her the choice.
It’s not always easy.
My initial reaction was one of annoyance because honestly, I knew that some of the extra work would fall on me. Sometimes in my frustration of getting dinner late on the table and in my guilt of forgetting that Annie is a veg, I’ve snapped at her. However, those moments are now rare because, as a family, we have accepted the changes around the table.
We also enjoy trying new vegetables and fruits. It would be easy to load up on carbs and junk food in between meals, but we know that’s not right. “A mistake is to assume that any vegetarian diet is by default a healthy one. Cutting out meat can be a great move, but filling the void with low-quality junk food isn’t a good idea,” suggests Atlas.
- Make sure your child is getting the reccommended doses of essential vitamins.
- As always, discuss any of your child’s dietary changes with your doctor before she begins.
- In the end, Annie’s taught us more about nutrition and prompted us to make healthier choices. So, not only are we surviving Annie’s decision, but actually it has helped us all.