Vegetarian: To Be or Not to Be? | Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Janet from Ann Arbor, Michigan asks

My 10 year old daughter is talking about becoming vegetarian.  Is it unhealthy at this age and is there a specific way to introduce her to this diet?

Honestly, I love it when children start to question their diet.  It means they are open to a real discussion about healthy eating.  I can’t stress this enough: NO diets!  Seriously we have to stop thinking about food in terms of dieting.  Consumption of food is about healthy living.  Getting the most out of the foods we eat in order to maintain a healthy body and mind.

I encourage open discussion.  That means recognizing and actively listening to her side.  Why does she want to be vegetarian?  Remember no reason is a bad reason!  Here are the main points to discuss and for both of you to understand.

Macronutrients

Specifically protein.  Yes it is possible to get all the protein you need in a day with a vegetarian lifestyle.  It becomes about completing the protein.  There are 20 amino acids that the body uses to form proteins; 9 of these are essential because the body cannot produce them.  While every meal does not need to contain all 9, we do need to ensure we get a complete set of amino acids throughout the day.

Excellent sources of protein include:  quinoa, buckwheat and soy.  Dishes such as beans and rice provide complete proteins because what rice lacks beans such as lentils, chickpeas and black beans have and vice versa.

This leads us to…

Willingness to Eat

So one of the major problems with kids choosing their own diet is often fussiness; likes and dislikes.  Now depending on the reason for not wanting to eat meat we can use this to our benefit.  When my daughter decided to be vegan she refused beans.  Obviously this doesn’t work so we reasoned…

A picture of a beautiful cow with big sad eyes versus a bowl of rice and lentils.  “Which one do you want to eat? You need protein to support growth; to provide the muscles and energy needed to do gymnastics”.  Well, she now loves lentils and is constantly coming up with new ways to enjoy them!

Pickiness is a choice.  If you provide the right circumstances it is possible to “like” anything!  A great way to get kids to eat a variety of foods is to…

Get them in the Kitchen

Ok yes I know, I have said this before, at least a hundred times but it IS very true.  More true than ever when the child is consciously choosing a particular way of eating.  Take her grocery shopping, check out the vegetable isle, grab a favorite and at least one vegie she has never had before.  Google it!  Kids are so connected with everything online.  Let her choose a recipe and get cooking.

Finally

If this brand new to you, the family and her talk to your doctor or a dietician to help her get started on creating balanced meals without meat.


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