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Raising Vegetarian Kids and Teenagers

If you are going vegetarian, it’s the perfect time for your family to do the same! Vegetarian children and teens have significant health advantages over their meat-eating peers, and teaching your kids about nutrition will set them up for a lifetime of good eating habits. Nutritious vegan diets are typically high in fiber, low in saturated fat, full of vitamins and minerals, rich in healthy plant protein, and completely free of cholesterol.

Vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity than meat-eaters do, and studies indicate that the earlier children are started on a healthy diet, the better off they will be later in life. Read more about the health advantages of raising children on a vegetarian diet, and review the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s guide to vegetarian diets for kids.

When switching kids to a vegetarian diet, it’s easiest to keep it simple and classic. Whether it’s a snack or a meal, try to incorporate ingredients that they already know. Here are a few ideas:

  • Spread peanut butter on graham crackers or celery sticks. Top with raisins.
  • Pack multiple servings of fruit into a tasty smoothie by blending a frozen banana and frozen or fresh berries with orange juice. For a creamier version, add soy or rice milk.
  • Offer Keebler Animal Crackers and a glass of soy or rice milk.
  • Roll up vegan ham slices and soy cheese for a fast snack.
  • For a warm lunch, try vegetarian chicken noodle soup.
  • Stack Keebler Club Crackers with veggie meat slices and soy cheese.
  • Make Funny Face Burritos for a fun and filling dinner—your kids won’t realize that they are eating super-healthy food!
  • Serve Lentil Loaf for a hearty and flavorful main dish. It is packed with protein and fiber and has practically no fat and zero cholesterol. If you have leftovers, sandwich them between bread and spread with ketchup or vegan mayo.
  • Smucker’s Uncrustables Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly sandwiches are vegan, and the crust is already cut off!
  • For breakfast, serve healthy Light Oat Waffles, which are made from oats and whole wheat flour. Several kinds of Van’s Waffles, available at many grocery stores, are also vegan. Top with fruit spread or maple syrup.
  • Serve vegan Fried ‘Chicken’ in small pieces with vegan ranch dressing, mustard, or barbecue sauce on the side for dipping.
  • Many kids love the taste and texture of hummus (if your kid doesn’t like too much “kick” in his or her food, reduce the amount of garlic). Pack into a pita pocket with veggies, or let your kid dip veggies straight into a bowl of hummus.
  • Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans are loaded with healthy plant protein and fiber and have zero cholesterol or saturated fat. They are hearty and have a sweet, tangy taste. Microwave them straight from the can, and enjoy on toast, plain, or with sliced veggie hot dogs.
  • Fries are vegan and go perfectly with a veggie burger or veggie dog.

Of course, it’s a great idea to expose your kids to a wide variety of vegan meals so that they learn to be comfortable trying new foods. Make it fun by having them select a new fruit, vegetable, or ethnic dish each time you go grocery shopping.

Healthy Habits, Healthy Kids
A 2006 article by the Associated Press, “High School Cafeteria in ‘Stroke Belt’ Opens Vegetarian Lunch Line,” details the story of an Atlanta high school that opened an all-vegetarian lunch line as a way to improve kids’ health and reduce childhood obesity (which increases the risk of suffering from heart disease and strokes later in life). The lunch line was a huge hit, with hundreds of students choosing it daily over the meat-based line. One recent graduate who was interviewed said, “My favorite thing was the veggie burger. It was so good.”

Vegetarian Kids and Social Situations
The small social challenges that can arise from raising vegetarian kids around meat-eating families can be handled easily with a little planning. If your child is going to a nonvegetarian birthday party, call the parents ahead of time and briefly discuss your child’s diet. If they won’t have vegan food there, offer to take over some frozen veggie burgers to microwave and a vegan dessert for the kids to share. We have lots of easy dessert recipes to choose from, or pick up some Tofutti Cuties or pre-packaged vegan baked goods.

If your child’s school cafeteria only serves items loaded with greasy cheese and processed meats, you can either pack a lunch at home or take action and work with the school to develop vegetarian selections. Explain to school officials that vegetarian food is much healthier for students.

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  • Eastender says:

    Hi!

    I am a vegan and have been very passionate about the issues involved for quite some time- probably for over six years.

    Unfortunately, by the time I made these changes, my children were older. They are now teens. It is much more difficult to instill inherent vegan values and food choices now than it would be if they were starting as toddlers.

    I do not want to traumatize them with vivid visuals of the true horror of what actually happens to animals murdered for food. However, I do not seem to be able to get them to truly understand the magnitude of the issue. I can barely stand to read about these issues, let alone see it. I know that they will gladly become vegan if they could process the truth, but are there any things that I can do to give them this information without also giving them nightmares?

  • Irene says:

    Hi I been a vegetrain for a yr now. I have 2 children ages 10 and 13. I want them to stop eating animals, but I have family members still feed it to them. I dont know what to do for them to STOP. Should I just let them learn on their own or should I just enforce it on them?

  • GenKen says:

    I learned a few things about meat and the food industry lately that really just scared the crap out of me. I have been a vegetarian for a little over a week now(I know not long but it is a life long change for me for sure) and it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. Both of my parents are only 43 and both have had heart attacks already. I don’t want that to happen to me so that has helped the change. I have 2 kids 3.5 and 6 and I have not completely changed their diet yet but I am being much more careful about the meats they eat. I want to get them to a vegetarian diet to but I was scared from a nutritional stand point. this article helped a ton and tonght I am going to make funny face burritos (something they are kinda familiar with) and hope the change is as easy for them and it has been for me thus far.

  • Ally says:

    Thank you for having this article up.. my daughter(2 years old) and myself were working on transitioning to full vegetarians and I was hoping to be full on by summer, but my daughter had other plans.. she got really sick 2 weeks ago and was admitted to the hospital.. (same time last year she was admitted for the same thing for a week).. they told me last year she had a head cold and caught the stomach flu and its why she couldn’t keep anything in her system and her sugars dropped below 2.. this year I recognized the signs and got her in before it got as bad as last year. Her pediatrician diagnosed her with hypoglycemia. The dietician talked with me and told me that organic veggies and fruit HAVE to be at the forefront of her diet.. lean meat is what they suggested but we had almost eliminated the ones they were suggesting so instead of stepping back and eating the suggested allowed meat, we are going fully vegetarian, she can get the same proteins and vitamins elsewhere.

    I am thankful for this article because as most parents to a toddler who likes the occasional sweet treat, my daughter can no longer have those so looking for “safe, sugar-free” vegetarian snacks is really kinda hard.. but the recipes above have helped and I am looking forward to making the funny faces burritos for her.. she is at the stage that she would get the name and wouldn’t care whats in it.. she would just make funny faces at me with every bite.. LOL

  • Snow Sparkle says:

    Hi.I am a teen, and sometimes being vegan is hard.We were talking about India, and how they are vegan.So, my friend announced to the class, Haley’s a vegan.And ever since, people keep telling me not to eat peanut butter, they think it has actual butter.Kind of amusing, but what do i tell them?

  • Heidi says:

    I am a extremely picker eater myself and always have been. A lot of stuff on the vegan diet does not appeal to me and I am not sure if it ever will like soy milk and a veggie burger for one thing and imagation meat sound gross as well. I want to be a vegan so bad but when ever my Mom cooks she says she will not make two meal and will cokk with dairy products and if I don’t like it too bad. I am 41 and I have full custody of my daughter who will be 12 on May 10 and I have been ordered by the courts to live with my MOm until further notice becasue of my daughters abusive father. Because it is my Mom house I need help to over come my Mom and make her understand that she has to cook when she doesn’t have to work that is the way I want to live and everyone that wants to can add there own butter and if making a cake or brownies she has to not use any eggs or milk and put soy mile and applesauce in them instead and respect me. So I need help with this please as tonight Mom got mad at me at dinner because I wouldn’t eat any meat and my daughter makes fun of my not eating meat by saying thing of the cow that this hambuger came from Mooo or thing of the click click chicken walking around that made this yummy chicken and the smell of the chicken which I don’t like to begin with made me sick to my stomache that I threw up and all I ate for dinner is a baked Potatoe and my Mom says if I continued this she will call my doctor and ask for help as I am going to die eating like this. I need help please?

  • KriBen says:

    I loved the article. I am 27 years old and live veggie for 2 years now. It was Jonathan Safran Foer who made me stop eating this crap. The two only things stopping me from living totally vegan is a little milk and my beloved cheese. It is really hard to give up these two but I won’t stop trying until I am there. Until then I buy these things only in a little organic farmers market next to my hometown in Germany. With my daughter it is more difficult. Her dad (we live separated) really tries to sabotage me in raising her vegetarian. He feds her the worst salami etc. Also the lunch in kindergarten is mandatory and totally non-”veggie”. For my 4-year old daughter it is impossible to stand up against her other family etc.. I try to help her and make her choose the non-meat parts but at the moment she is not really aware of the problem I have with meat. So I have to wait and try over and over again. ;o) I wish me and all the other mums and dads enough strenghth and nerves to make “veggie-kids” ;o) happen against all odds.

  • Andrea the Vegetarian says:

    go to http://andrea.myefoods.com for gourmet 100% vegetarian prepared meals, just add water! They have textured vegetable protein to ensure your vegetarian is getting enough protein. And at less than $1 a serving, it is way more affordable that most vegetarian food.

  • Jennifer says:

    This is a great article! I’m 24 (no kids yet) but when I do eventually have children, I plan on raising them as vegetarians. No rotting flesh will be in their intestines, that’s for damn sure.

  • VeggieBoy says:

    If I ever adopt or marry a person who has children already, I would most definitely want my children to eat a vegetarian diet. However, when they become older and will want to rebel, I want them to be able to choose what they want to eat. With that being said, I believe having a meat product in my house is horrible karma so I wouldn’t feel right with that. Also, I believe in eating animals and killing any living creature to be an enormity. If my children grow up and think anything different, it is their opinion. I respect everyone’s opinion. I would also raise my child to know of many religions and cultures. Ignorance is the worst sin because it is also the most easily amended.

  • Jessanimal says:

    I believe being vegetarian or vegan is the right thing to do, but im such a picky eater, which means most of the vegan stuff does not appeal to me so i do not eat it, i do eat meat, but only on occasion.

  • Anne N says:

    My daughter and I have recently given up meat. She is 9 and she so proud of herself (as am I) even my son (who is still eating meat) has been really happy eating our new diet at dinner times.

  • jacey mcdonald says:

    I don’t belive eating meat is wrong, i think it is a natural part of life. However i think eating meat from farm factories makes me a disgusting person, and i wish to stop immediately. However my mother has always been against me becoming vegan.. its always her way or the highway. But the animals are worth it (:

  • Ashley-P says:

    Hi Rocker940 – The baby you mention, Crown Shakur, died because he was not fed enough, not because of the type of food he was fed. Leading health experts agree that babies can thrive on a balanced vegan diet. According to the American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada, “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.” Further, PETA has no qualms with the natural predators of the wild who kill animals. Wolves could not survive otherwise, but the same is not true for us.

  • Rocker940 says:

    This is a form of child abuse… I have seen news stories where a newborn dies of malnutrition after its vegan parents refused to give it animal products. Children shouldn’t be misled to believe they are superior to their peers because they dont eat meat. In nature, animals eat each other for food, so does that make wolves horrible, abusive creatures? No, eating meat is part of a healthy ecosystem, not exploitation.

  • MIMI says:

    hmm MY son is 3 yrs old, and im a vegetarian and 23yrs old. I want him to be one 2 but no one else around us is. So its me against everyone especially his dad lol who loves meat, we talk about it alot. They say he wont be healthy if i dont give him meat. I think he would be better without it. Guess i have to wait until he is older so he can express his feelings about meat himself. Because i am for sure letting him know were it comes from. He loves animals so it shouldnt be too hard. peace :)

  • Loreena says:

    This is a great article!
    I’m 15 (almost 16), and I’ve been vegan for almost two months, and it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done for myself. I’ve also got a close friend of mine going vegan! She absolutely loves my cooking and it’s encouraging her to go vegan.
    I can honestly say, when I have kids, they’re going to be vegan.

  • Jessica @Vegbooks says:

    Great tips! Kids making the transition to a veggie diet can also use emotional and moral support. One way to help is to offer them veg-friendly books. From cookbooks for kids to veg-oriented storybooks, parents and grandparents have more and more choices. Among our favorites are ‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey and Granny Gomez & Jigsaw by Deborah Underwood.

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