by Rebecca Coleman
“Mom, Dad, I want to become a vegetarian…”
We are the parents of Generation Z; the first generation to be brought up in a fully-digital era. They are the most connected generation yet, and feel a deep social and ethical responsibility.
All joking aside, the digital era is helping us to raise kids that are more aware of issues in the world, and many of them feel empowered to take action.
Like many of you I’m sure, I grew up in a home where we ate what was put in front of us, and we ate it quickly. I had three older brothers, and there was very little waste in our house, so if you wanted to eat at all, you ate what was presented, and you downed your food fast.
Our kids as a generation are way more “woke” than we were at their age. Additionally, here in BC, nearly 40% of the population under 35 is vegetarian or vegan, according to a recent survey from Dalhousie University.
What are the reasons your kid might decide to give up meat?
- Environmental. Raising animals puts a much bigger tax on the environment than growing vegetables. Animals consume greater quantities of water (arguably our most precious resource) and also create methane gas, which contributes to environmental pollution. Vegetarianism (especially if combined with eating locally) is a more sustainable diet for our planet.
- Compassion. We’ve become quite removed from our food sources. We go to the grocery store, buy some nice shrink-wrapped chicken, take it home, and cook it. It doesn’t feel much like we’re eating animals, it’s just another ingredient. Kids are realizing earlier and earlier these days that, just like the pet dogs and cats they love, pigs and cows are animals too, and they equate eating meat with consuming a beloved family pet.
- Celebrities. Our kids are heavily influenced by celebrity culture, and they see their heroes becoming vegans or vegetarians. Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Casey Affleck, and many, many more, are making veganism trendy (for better or for worse).
What’s a modern parent to do?
Your kid comes home from school one day and says they’re done with meat. On one hand, you want to support them, but on the other, it creates challenges around time, shopping, meal prep, and concerns about nutrition and social situations.
Here are some tips to help you support their choices:
- Support them. “We viewed it as a feminist issue,” says Peggy Richardson, whose daughter, Elizabeth, decided to become vegetarian at the age of 5. “She controls what goes into her body.” If your kid’s decision is based on their latest celebrity crush, it likely won’t last, but for Richardson and her husband, Geoff Clay, whose daughter is now 12, it has simply become a part of everyday life.
- Educate yourself and them. It’s important that they get a well-rounded diet, and both of you need to educate yourselves on how to do so effectively. A great book to read is “Becoming Vegetarian,” or “Becoming Vegan,” both by Vesanto Melina. There is, of course, and abundance of info and vegetarian/vegan food blogs on the internet as well.
- Be prepared to go above and beyond (at least a little). Obviously, no one wants to cook 4 different meals every night for dinner. In the Richardson-Clay household, dinner is vegetarian, but sometimes meat is cooked and served on the side for those who want it. Richardson notes that they do have an extra frying pan and cutting board dedicated exclusively to meat to prevent cross-contamination. Elizabeth is a Girl Guide, so one challenge they had to overcome was managing campfire s’mores (marshmallows contain gelatin, an animal product). The good news is, vegetarian and vegan specialty products are easily found these days, even in smaller communities, like Gabriola (where they live). They also make sure to have on-hand snacks like nuts, cheese and granola bars whenever they go out or travel, in case the options available are limited.
What about nutrition?
I put the question to Victoria-based Registered Dietician, Marianne Bloudoff (evergreeneats.com).
“As a general rule, children and youth need between 0.85 – 1.05 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day,” she says. “But don’t get bogged down by the numbers! Most kids will meet or exceed their protein requirements if they are offered a varied and balanced diet. Focus on offering protein-rich foods with every meal, and allow your kids to choose how much they eat based on their own hunger cues.”
There are tons of protein-rich food sources that aren’t meat; like pulses (beans and lentils), tofu, tempeh (similar to tofu but fermented), meat substitutes made from soy or seitan (wheat-based) and nuts. Of course, if your kid is a vegetarian, then eggs, cheese, milk and other forms of dairy will also help meet their daily protein needs.
Bloudoff suggests simple, kid-friendly dishes like mac and cheese, curries, stir-fries, pizza, burgers (you can cook both veggie and meat versions), chili, tacos, or other pasta dishes made with tomato sauce. You can always serve meat on the side.
Her final piece of advice: “involve your kids in choosing recipes and meals that appeal to them, and get them to help in the kitchen preparing and cooking. Exploring vegetarian and plant-based meals can be a healthy and fun experience for the whole family!”
So, congratulations on your vegetarian kid. Yeah, it’s going to take some adjustment, research and work, but raising an ethically-conscious, compassionate kid is totally worth it!