Help! My Child Wants to Become Vegetarian!

Families - January 23rd, 2009
Child-vegetarian

by Elise Mori

Gordon Ramsey is a UK restaurateur with Michelin stars to his name who will not have vegetarians in his restaurants. He once had his family’s two pet pigs slaughtered on national prime-time television to prove that he could stand to watch them die then cook and eat them. He has even gone as far as to say that if his children ever became vegetarian he would disown them. But if your children do decide to become vegetarian, you don’t have to take it personally—it can even be done in moderation. Afterall, “evolutionary science confirms that our ancestors were serious omnivores,” claims www.beyondveg.com The site deals frankly with case-by-case situations of various “alternative diets,” as it calls them, an example of which is Sandy Wharf, a teacher and long-term vegetarian who writes: “I am trying to balance compassion for animals with my own nutritional needs. Ethically, I would like to return to a completely vegan diet, but am concerned it may be unnatural and nutritionally deficient. I used to think a high-carb vegan diet was the best one for everyone. It may work well for many but I have more respect now for peoples’ individual differences and needs.” The Dalai Lama is not a full vegetarian for precisely those reasons—he developed hepatitis and has had to include some animal products in his diet. If you have concern for your child’s vitamin intake, an excellent resource is www.health-science-spirit.com/deficiency.html where the physical symptoms of specific deficiencies are explored. It’s grimly fascinating, be warned: dim vision, brown skin around small joints, and a burning, sore tongue are all signs of vitamin B12 deficiency, for example. However, all is not doom and gloom:

  • Modern nutritionists now realize that all essential amino acids (complete proteins) may be obtained from a variety of vegetables or grains eaten over a one to two-day period. Complete proteins can be found in lentils and rice, bean burritos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, vegetables, and rice. Buckwheat, hempseed, soybeans, quinoa, and spirulina, for example, are complete protein foods.
  • Quick and healthy vegetarian snacks include: popcorn, egg on toast, hummus and olives with vegetable sticks, nuts, seeds, grains and dried fruit; muesli and soy milk or cow’s milk or yogurt, bombay mix, sprouted seeds (such as broccoli sproutsl on rice with soy sauce, and a diced avocado with a lemon and olive oil dressing…
  • The most common dietary deficiency worldwide is iron, affecting half a billion people, with women and children being at the most at risk. Iron is better absorbed when it is eaten at the same time as Vitamin C—so a fried egg sandwich and a few strawberries is an excellent source of iron and complete proteins. Some vegetables such as spinach and parsley contain iron and Vitamin C at the same time.
  • Tannins in tea and coffee inhibit the absorption of iron, so if you can, wait for half an hour between eating an iron-rich meal and drinking tea or coffee.
  • A great many indigenous Japanese foods are excellent sources of protein. Try natto on toast, diced tofu in miso soup; the red bean paste an that is used to stuff buns, Chinese steamed buns, and other Japanese sweets, red beans in rice called seki an, or the sweet almond-flavored tofu dessert known as anin dofu to name but a few. Traditional monks’ food, shojin ryori, is strictly vegetarian, but macrobiotic cuisine is not because it includes fish.
Parenting Tip Not looking forward to the idea of uncomfortable waistlines on top of spending the last few months of your pregnancy looking like you’ve swallowed a basketball whole? Head to a branch of the Yuzawaya (www.yuzawaya.co.jp) craft store chain in Tokyo. Their wide tubes of hyper-stretchy cotton jersey fabric are just right for making into a stretch-to-fit pregnancy skirt. Put in an elastic at the top and a zig-zag hem at the bottom and you’re done.

Carrot Don’t worry if you and your family take time to adjust. This is completely normal. You can also have great fun exploring new and exciting foods. There are more vegetarians in the world than omnivores—most of the population of India is vegetarian—and nowadays enough is known about nutrition and supplements to be sure that your child has everything they need to stay healthy as a young vegetarian. If you are frightened by your child’s decisions, finding out about vegetarianism might help you to understand their new direction, www.viva.org. uk is a fun yet well-informed website with resources on how to become vegetarian in a sensible, healthy way. Also useful is www.peta.org, who have a section on which companies do and don’t test their products on animals. If you need inspiration, remember this quote from Sir Paul McCartney: “If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That’s the single most important thing you could do. It’s staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty.” Temper tantrum You know you’re no longer in Japan when everywhere you go you hear the sound of exasperated parents trying to cajole and negotiate their children out of a tantrum that has already gone off the seismic sca.e. What’s worse is when it’s you. I laughed like a drain at the opening of the film The Negotiator watching a hapless Kevin Spacey, who plays an FBI agent trained in hostage release negotiation techniques, trying to get his teenage daughter out of the bathroom.   In the next issue of the Weekender, we will feature anecdotes from four parents on dealing with the dreaded temper tantrum in: Tantrum Traumas: Avoidance and Bomb Disposal Techniques from Four Parents Just Like You. Stay tuned!