by Lorie Lewis Ham
So your teenager just came home from school and announced to you they are becoming vegan/vegetarian. What are you supposed to do? What does this even mean? What will you feed them? Will they be healthy? So many questions. Often a parent’s first response is to get angry. Your child is going against your way of living and you feel like it’s just a form of rebellion.
Before you respond to them, let’s first find out exactly what this means.
There are actually several different classes of vegetarians—here is a brief overview of each one.
• Vegans restrict their foods exclusively to the plant kingdom. This means they also do not consume dairy products, eggs or honey. They also abstain from use of any animal products found in every day living, which can include soaps, clothes, etc. What drives those who choose this life is an all-encompassing philosophy that promotes a dynamic respect for all life.
• Total Vegetarians are similar but often consume honey, and it doesn’t extend as much into other areas of their lives.
• Lactovegetarians are vegetarians that include dairy products in their diets.
• Ovovegetarians include eggs in their diets but not dairy.
• Ovolactovegetarians include both dairy and eggs in their diets.
For now let’s assume your child wants to be a vegan because most likely at this age their reasons are coming out of a passion for life and all living creatures.
Now that you know a little more about what your child is telling you, it’s time to take a deep breath and rethink. It may be different from your way of life, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Becoming vegan is actually quite common among teenagers. They are starting to think for themselves. Sometimes they are just being influenced by the media or those around them, but sometimes it’s a realization they’ve come to on their own. Eating Molly the cow or Peter Rabbit doesn’t sound so appealing anymore. To them it probably even seems cruel.
How you handle this could strongly affect your relationship with your child whether they stick to being vegan/vegetarian or not. If you can accept the fact that they can think for themselves and make choices that are different from yours, you may be forming a new kind of bond with him/her that could last for the rest of your lives. Treat them with respect and love in this situation, and they may be more willing to discuss other areas of their life with you. Perhaps you’ll even be able to derail possible bad choices.
On the other hand, if you do like some parents and refuse to support them in this—tell them they are stupid and wrong—it could have dire consequences. Not only may you irreparably damage your relationship with your child, but I have seen kids who respond by not eating at all, seriously putting their lives in danger.
Besides, if you’re like most parents, haven’t you spent the first several years of their lives trying to get them to eat their veggies? Now they actually want to—how can you beat that?
Okay, you’ve decided you are going to help and support your child in their decision. What next? Here are a few suggestions to help along the way.
1. Demonstrate your support by helping your child plan healthy, plant-based meals. If they are the only vegans in the house and you don’t want to make separate dishes for them, try to plan dishes that can be done either way. Such as dishes where the meat can be added in the end so they can be served first without the meat. You can also do some experimenting with protein rich vegan foods you can all enjoy. If your child won’t feel left out by eating something different, there are many great vegan frozen meals and choices available. However you go about it, do it together and never make them feel like you or other family members don’t approve.
2. Learn to cook vegan recipes together. Both the planning of the meals, and the vegan cooking, can be great bonding experiences. If they are old enough, this will help them learn how to make their own meals and snacks when needed. A great gift might be a subscription to a vegetarian magazine or a vegan/vegetarian cookbook. This can also be a great learning experience for you both, and will help you make sure they continue to get the nutrition they need. It can also be a great experience to let your older child prepare a vegan meal for the whole family. But make sure everyone is willing to give it a try and won’t make any negative or hurtful comments.
3. Stock your refrigerator and pantry with wholesome vegan foods and snacks, and take your child with you to pick them out. Some of those items may include soy milk, juices, fruit products, beans, peanut butter, olive oil, bagels, cereal—all easy things to find. There are also many vegan substitutes in the stores for dairy and meat products. If you have any trouble finding vegan products, a great place to check out online is at www.healthy-eating.com
4. When going out to eat as a family, find vegan friendly restaurants. There are even guides available to help you in those choices.
5. Be certain there are plenty of vegan choices for your child at holiday gatherings. This may be one of the hardest things to deal with, especially if other family members are unsupportive. Unfortunately, there is only so much you can do, but you need to at least try to help this remain a pleasant experience for your child. First make family members aware of his/her choice and that you support it. Then make a point to ensure there are plenty of foods for your child to eat by bringing them yourself to the family event. Be sure to bring enough for everyone. You may be surprised how many people give it a try.
It all comes down to love, support and education. At an age when many children are drifting away from their parents, this can actually draw you closer together. You can either support your child and do this as a team—deepening your bonds. Or you can fight them over it and possibly sever those bonds forever. There is a vast amount of information available to help you make this work. Just a few of the many great websites you can check out together are:
In a world where more people are trying to be healthy, vegan/vegetarian cookbooks are abundant. A couple books to get you started are The Teens Vegetarian Cookbook by Judy Krizmanic, and The Accidental Vegan by Devra Gartenstein. The later does have one error in that it has honey in some recipes which if your child is truly vegan you will have to substitute. But it has an awesome variety of recipes from different cultures as well as holiday recipes.
If I could pick one book to recommend all parents in this situation go out and purchase immediately, it would be Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! by Carol J. Adams. This book explores the situation in greater depth.
Lastly, let’s touch briefly on some concerns I’ve heard expressed by some Christian parents. Is being a vegan/vegetarian wrong? Is it some sort of a cult? Should I be afraid for my child? The simple answer is no. There are some who take the vegan lifestyle to the extreme just like anything else. But as an informed parent you can help guide your child against that and in how to eat vegan in a healthy way. Being vegan often comes from a concern for how animals are treated, and since animals are God’s creatures and He cares about them, it would be hard to say that this is a bad thing. In Luke 12:6 we read how God even cares about the sparrow.
I had the joy of spending two years with a vegan child in my home, my adopted son Antonio, and I learned a lot through that experience. Enjoy the journey! Let it be an adventure you get to experience with your child!