Written by: Fiona Denton
Vegetarian kids? And you thought they’d got past the fussy eating stage…
I spent the first eight years of my son’s life trying to get him to eat vegetables. It didn’t matter how much I rubbed my tummy and licked my lips as I ate mine, or how cleverly I camouflaged them, if he so much as saw a flash of green or a cube of carrot, the whole meal would have to go in the bin.
Now he’s 14, and becoming truly independent – and he’s just decided to become vegetarian. His best friend is a vegetarian, and to be fair, his reasons for giving up meat are valid: Eating animals is wrong, plus he knows it will be healthier – both for him, and the environment.
Concerned about nutrition
I’m a busy mum with very little time in the kitchen, so I’m finding it hard to accommodate his new dietary requirements alongside cooking for the rest of the family. Plus, he’s never been the fittest lad: He gets asthma, and is underweight for his height and age – and I’m concerned about his nutrition.
However, with a little research on the Internet, I discovered that a properly monitored vegetarian or vegan diet can be just as healthy, if not more healthy than an omnivorous diet. But now I’ve got to ensure he gets enough calcium, protein, and vitamin B12. This is because plants are not a good source of this vital nutrient, and I’ve discovered that I’ve got to feed him multivitamins, or fortified non-dairy milks like story or rice. You must consume at least 10 micrograms of B12 each day.
Thankfully, my son isn’t considering going totally vegan (yet), but if you have a vegan child, you must ensure they get enough protein. This can be found in most foods including vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
Vegetarian short cuts can equal an unhealthy diet
I was a vegetarian for several years in my early 20s, and I found that for convenience’s sake I would often munch dairy products and fried food such as chips to keep my energy levels where they needed to be for my hectic lifestyle. Also, many vegetarian options in restaurants are cheese-laden – vegetarian lasagne being the classic example. I soon found the weight creeping on, and discovered it was due to my increased intake of dairy and chips, so instead I opted for lighter choices like salad and baked potatoes – and regained my old shape rapidly.
Encourage your vegetarian child to eat healthily
I’ve also bought my son a vegetarian cookbook. Until recently, microwaving a mug of beans is the most adventurous he has been in the kitchen, but now I’ve told him to start planning his weekly meals, and to come with me when I go shopping. He finds it a bit of a drag, as all teenage lads would, but I’m finding that is becoming increasingly more enthusiastic about concocting creations in the kitchen. This week he’s going to try a vegetarian ratatouille, full of delicious and healthy vegetables like tomatoes, onions, and aubergine, and the entire family will sit down to eat it. And for his birthday, I’m planning to send him on a vegetarian cooking course.
Who knows: I could have discovered the next Jamie Oliver…