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.