Photo credits: Kelly Rossiter
Children can be pretty entrenched when it comes to eating habits. We've all known kids who don't like foods touching each other on the plate, who won't eat certain textures, or who like to eat the same foods over and over again. As children get older and start moving into the world more, they can occasionally surprise us by being willing to try things they had previously rejected. Being given snacks at school, dinner at a friend's house, going away to camp all provide kids with exposure to new foods and the experience of seeing their peers eat things they have never tried.As teenagers, they begin to see the larger world outside of their family and friends and they begin to question all kinds of things, including the food we eat. Most of the people I know who are vegetarian began rejecting meat during their teenage years. Some simply didn't like the taste of meat and others did it for ethical reasons. The important this is that they realized they were old enough to make decisions for themselves regarding their diet.
If your child comes home and announces that he or she has become a vegetarian, take them seriously. Don't assume that this is a "stage" that they will grow out of. Sit down with them and discuss nutrition and eating a healthy diet, especially if your child has never been a big vegetable eater. They must understand that when they have lunch at the high school cafeteria, dropping the hamburger and compensating by doubling the amount of french fries isn't the right approach.
Here are a few ideas about keeping your child healthy on a vegetarian diet.
1. Give them some responsibility about choosing their own diet. Together you can work out a meal plan for a week, starting with dishes they enjoy, substituting with meat alternatives.
2. If cooking isn't really your thing, or you aren't sure yourself about nutrition and vegetarianism, make an appointment with a dietitian for some guidance. They can help with nutritional advice and provide you with recipes to get you started.
3. Support your child by having more meat free meals as a family and eat together. It's important not to start cooking whole separate meals. Teenagers often feel like "outsiders" anyway, don't reinforce that by always eating something different.
4. On those days when you do have meat, try cooking their meat alternative, such as tofu, the same way, or using the same sauce.
5. Get them to help out in the kitchen. Learning to cook is an important life skill and makes for healthier eating.
6. Invest in a good vegetarian cookbook that has recipes that would appeal to your child. Encourage them to read through it and make their own menu choices. It's a great way to open up their cooking options. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman is a good all-around cookbook, Veganomicon is a terrific book aimed at a younger demographic, with a breezy writing style and fun recipes.
7. Help them diversify their diet. Adding legumes to pasta sauces is a great way to get needed protein.
9. Don't let your extended family tease your child about their eating decisions. They may think it's light hearted banter, but this is a very big step for your child and they deserve some respect for their decision.
10. Conversely, don't allow your child to lecture others about what they eat. Polite and informed discussion is always good, without hectoring people who continue to eat meat.
11. Be tolerant of your child's decision. It may be a bit difficult for you in the beginning, but if we are open to it, our children have much to teach us.
The challenge this week: Invite a teenager to come into your kitchen to cook a vegetarian meal. Allow them to choose the music.