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Inspired by what we have learned about the carbon impact of animal agriculture and inhumane effects on animals, my husband and I made changes to our diet several years ago and by effect, so did our children. Of course there is no issue when our kids are at home but now my son is getting to an age where he is spending the night at other kids’ houses. My son mentioned to me that he had a burger the other night at his friend’s house and that he ate it because he didn’t have any other choices. How can we stick by what we believe is right but also respect that other parents may not feel the same way?
Dear Veggie Parents,
As parents, you play the primary role in what your child consumes. Choosing to be vegetarians means you are are also accepting the responsibility for the diet choices of your children. This may be the first time your child has encountered a situation where a vegetarian option was not available, but is certainly will not be the last. However, with preparation and planning raising vegetarian kids around carnivorous families is possible and can be painless.
As a child I was raised vegetarian. I will never forget the first time I had a Whopper. I was with a friend and her family after a sporting event in elementary school and her father ordered burgers for all. I felt pressure to eat the hamburger and my stomach hurt for hours after that. I can relate to your son. I felt as though I had no other option and I didn’t want to get teased or explain myself.
Although my parents decided to slowly integrate meat into our diets it was more of a decision of social pressures and us (kids) not being self initiated vegetarians. We still ate a largely vegetarian diet at home, but my parents did not dictate what we were eating outside of the home. Because I ate so nutritiously at home I was often overly curious to try what other kids were having at lunch. I would trade my multi-grain sprout, hummus and avocado sandwiches for friends lunchables and my carob-chip vegan bars for their oreos. I was not a child-initiated vegetarian and I was overly intrigued by what was not allowed in my home; junk.
If your son is on board with vegetarianism and making the decision autonomously, then be prepared to equip him with an option.
I think it comes down to communication. Have you asked your son how he responded when he realized there was not a vegetarian option? How did the situation make him feel? You and your husband made the decision to become vegetarians, but has your son vocalized that he wants to be vegetarian? If vegetarianism is something he feels forced to be taking part in, he could establish resentment or in my situation, go crazy over sweets and junk food because it was never available.
If your son is on board with vegetarianism and making the decision autonomously, then be prepared to equip him with an option so he doesn’t run into the same uncomfortable predicament. If you send your kid to someone’s house around mealtimes, don’t expect that household to cater to vegetarian needs. If a cookout is going on, send your son with veggie burgers, or a salad to share with all. There will certainly be social challenges that arise, but careful planning and discussing your child’s diet with parents beforehand will make it easier on everybody.
Dear Veggie Parents,
You had a look at science, had a dedicated conversation, and then took a reasoned stand on an issue that is important to you. Many times in life it seems so challenging just to make it through the week including going to work and maintaining a household that it can be quite difficult to make drastic changes in your day to day living. Congratulations to you. Your family made a big change and have maintained it for several years now.
The challenge here is that many people haven’t made the same decision and may even have negative feelings about your diet. The hope is that everyone can respect your decision but it may take some assistance. If you’re not already doing so it might be helpful to briefly remind his friend’s parents about your diet. I don’t think you have to proselytize but if they ask it could be helpful to mention why you made the decision in the first place. Given that it can be challenging to integrate vegetarian options when trying to feed a bunch of hungry kids, it could also be a good idea to provide your son with food to bring with him. If so, you should try to send him with enough to feed several people so it doesn’t seem too isolative or insular.
Have a conversation with your son about your decision for eating vegetarian but when the time is right, support his autonomy.
Lastly, as your son is getting old enough to sleep at friend’s houses, he is likely getting old enough to make independent choices about his diet. Have a conversation with him about your decision for eating vegetarian but when the time is right, support his autonomy. We can all work to make the world a better place through our lifestyle but let’s be sure to make our homes a supportive place first and foremost. –Dr. Ryan