According to a recent Los Angeles Times health blog post, curiosity and social awkwardness about meat can be major stressors for kids raised in strictly vegetarian households.
It’s not that veggie parents have bad intentions. Lots of parents build a home around specific moral codes that they feel strongly and positively about — a spiritual faith, for instance. Ultimately, though, the decision to adhere to dietary restrictions (or belief systems) should be an individual choice.
Now, if you’re a vegetarian with wee ones, that doesn’t mean you have to start frying up bacon in your home — it means it’s important to let children know they aren’t disappointing you if they experiment with meat elsewhere:
“You need to be able to support your child in situations where he is going over to Tommy’s house and Tommy’s family is not vegetarian,” [Jennifer] Nelson [of the Mayo Clinic] says. “Are you going to tell the child he can’t go to Tommy’s house, or are you going to raise your child to deal with that so that he doesn’t feel like he’s trapped between two world war events?”
Nelson says that while it’s important to communicate to your kids — in an age-appropriate way — why meat isn’t a part of the family diet, it’s also vital to explain that they don’t have to feel the same way, and that they aren’t “bad” if they choose to eat meat in social situations.
“The last thing you want your [child] to do is go into the world and feel distressed that ‘I have to be just like Mommy and Daddy, and I’m not seeing anything here I can eat,’ ” Nelson says. “Early on, you do not want to set your child up for failure.”
According to Meredith Renda, a pediatrician at Doctor’s Pediatrics in Wilton, Conn., “Food is a huge area where peers fit in together and bond.” As a result, for school-aged children, “[r]esentment can build up if foods are forbidden completely.”
Parents should be ready to make compromises, Renda says, such as:
… allowing kids to eat meat at friends’ houses or restaurants or packing snacks and lunches that look like chicken nuggets or hot dogs but are actually made from soy or wheat gluten.
So, to all the vegetarian, Zelda Lily-reading parents out there, what are some of your tactics in raising well-adjusted kiddos? Any products of veggie homes who feel completely wonked by the circumstances in which they were raised?