So your child or teenager announces to you that she is now a vegetarian. What do you do?
First and foremost you want to understand what has prompted this decision.
- Has she read something that suggests a vegetarian diet is the most healthy?
- Does she just not want to eat animals?
- Does she see a vegetarian diet as a way to lose weight?
It’s very important to learn what she means by “vegetarian?” Her reasons for becoming a vegetarian and how she defines that make a big difference in how you will deal with it.
This decision to make such a major change in her diet can be a red flag for an eating disorder. Common signs to look for include:
- Your child/teen is becoming overly obsessive about what she will and won’t eat
- Skipping meals entirely
- Cutting way down on foods consumed at meals and snacks.
If you see these indicators, we recommend starting with a physical examination by your healthcare provider, followed by a consultation with a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist who has experience with eating disorders.
Too often, kids see a vegetarian diet as just not eating meat or animal products. They think that they can just eat around the animal products in family meals and be fine.
This can be nutritionally disastrous, especially during childhood or adolescence when the body is still growing and developing, and bones are mineralizing.
It is very common to see vegetarians, especially vegan vegetarians who are anemic, have signs of poor bone mineralization and vitamin B12 deficiency.
Rather than just nix the whole idea, you and your child should do some research on diet options. Here’s a couple of great places to start:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen examines eating in general, where our food comes from and how to eat a sustainable, healthy diet. He goes through his own decision process regarding whether or not to become a vegetarian.
Becoming Vegetarian and Becoming Vegan books by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina are excellent primers on healthy vegetarian diets. The review all of the nutrients one should be concerned about and how to meet needs with a Vegetarian or Vegan diet.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has several publications for consumers on how to plan for a healthy vegetarian diet. You can find them here: Eatright.org
You can also find many great vegetarian recipes and cookbooks on the internet, or at your local library. Working together with your child/teen on improving your whole family’s diet and compromising on family meals may actually be a very positive experience.
Check out our category for vegetarian recipes
Watch for my next post explaining the types of “vegetarian” diets!