Ahead of Worldwide Vegetarian Day on October 1st, we take a look at what it’s like to raise your kids as vegetarians…
When it comes to eating, most parents would agree that we have a responsibility to educate our kids. We want to bring them up to have a positive attitude about food and make the right choices to achieve a balanced diet. We know they taste good, but Hula Hoops and biscuits just won’t cut it most of the time.
For those of us raising our kids as vegetarians, the issues around food, education, nutrition and attitude take on an entirely different meaning. How do you approach the question of why all the other kids are eating cocktail sausages at their friend’s birthday party? Should you ask for a ‘special’ school dinner? And will your kids feel ‘different’ from their friends?
According to the Vegetarian Society there are currently over 1.2 million individuals in the UK following a vegetarian diet (not eating meat or fish). The organisation says that the number of committed vegetarians has actually remained fairly stable over the last ten years. The real growth area however, is in meat reducers. These are people who haven’t given up meat completely, but are making a conscious effort to eat less of it.
One such family are Joel, Alex and Coco Higgs. Joel follows a pescetarian diet (he eats fish but no meat) and Alex only sometimes eats meat. They are raising their baby Coco as a pescetarian. Alex says “For us it’s a combination of health reasons, morals and it being good for the planet, so we both agree that it is a good thing for Coco for now.”
Environmental concerns are often a big factor for families cutting down their meat intake. Founded by Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney, Meat Free Monday is a worldwide movement that encourages people to use their creativity to reduce their meat and fish intake to help the environment and reduce world hunger. Launched in 2009, the campaign came about after the United Nations issued a report stating that the livestock industry was responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector, accounting for 18% of all emissions. Many families are supporting the cause as they feel, like Joel and Alex Higgs, that cutting down on their kids’ meat intake will make a big difference to the planet that they will inherit.
Another huge reason why many parents are choosing to feed their kids less meat is health. Of baby Coco’s pescetarian diet, Alex says “I think she’ll be fine if she chooses to continue with this diet because I believe the next generations will eat less meat anyway as more and more evidence comes out that highlights the detrimental health effects.” Many of the world’s leading health organisations now encourage people to eat less meat. In 2010, a study carried out by Oxford University’s department of public health found that eating meat no more than three times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer and 5,000 deaths from stroke, as well as save the NHS £1.2 billion in costs each year.
On the flip side of the coin, parents raising their kids as full-time veggies often face a barrage of questions from meat eating friends and relatives about the possible negative nutritional impact of bringing their kids up without meat on the menu. Children need protein, vitamin B12 , iron, zinc and magnesium to avoid deficiencies and ill health and meat is rich in all of these things.
Adele Vye and her partner Dan have chosen to raise their baby Elliott as a vegetarian. Adele has been vegetarian for 11 years, but Dan eats meat, although not at home. Adele says “I think there is a common misconception that if you are vegetarian you are malnourished. In my experience, and to the contrary, Elliott is a healthy, happy toddler.”
On the question of vegetarianism and nutrition, the Vegetarian Society says “Vegetarianism is a healthy choice as long as a wide range of foods is eaten. Chocolate and chips are vegetarian, however, they do not represent a balanced diet. By exploring with your child how he or she will maintain a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet, you may just find that your entire family develops a healthier, more balanced diet too.”
Whether you are vegetarian or not, teaching our kids where their food comes from is a great way of getting them more interested in nutrition. Adele says “I hope that involving Elliott in preparing and talking about what we are eating will help him to naturally understand things through hands-on experience.” The family grow vegetables at home in pots, bake bread at playgroup and have taken Elliott foraging for berries to give him an understanding of where some of the things they eat come from.
As kids learn from watching, it seems natural that as parents we would want to feed them the food that we eat ourselves. When it came to the decision of whether to bring up Elliott up as a vegetarian, Adele says “It seemed like the natural progression from nourishing baby in utero, to breast feeding, to eating meals with us, therefore I was quite secure in the fact the decision was more instinct.”
The Vegetarian Society says “Like any other issue, parents have to do what feels right to them, but if you believe that being vegetarian is the right thing to do then you will probably want to share that with your children and explain why.”
As Elliott is still under two, Adele has not yet approached the issue of what to tell him about being a vegetarian. For many vegetarian parents, this can be a sensitive issue. She says “I hope that when he is old enough he will be able to make up his own mind. I think that forcing the matter could be detrimental. I hope I will trust the way I have brought him up and his own judgement to stay true to this, and not become a pushy mum. I wouldn’t want him to feel any guilt or disloyalty if he chose otherwise, but I hope that he will make the decision himself and that I can support that the best I can.”
Like Adele, many vegetarian parents opt to let their child make up their own mind when the time feels right. But in the meantime, how should they approach the issue of their kids feeling different to their meat eating friends?
The Vegetarian Society advises that you can use it as a learning opportunity rather than something to worry about. They say “We all need to learn that people are different and a conversation about your family’s vegetarianism might actually be a really useful introduction to broader issues around diversity.”
As for Elliott, Adele says “I haven’t had the worry that he will feel different. Different isn’t always a bad thing or something to worry about.”
Whether you’re bringing up your kids as vegetarians or to eat meat, we would love to hear your views. Leave us a comment below.
With thanks to:
The Vegetarian Society
Joel, Alex and Coco Higgs
Adele Vye, Daniel McCabe and baby Elliott