December 11, 2013

The Vegetarian Child.

We live in a fast food era that will never go away unless more is done at the school nutrition level.

The age of advertising and commercialism has affected our youth for many years.

Children grow up with busy parents, busy lives, peer pressure, and easy access to fast-food markets and convenience stores that carry food products so incredibly harmful to the youthful state of advancement in health. It is up to the parents to instill proper eating habits in the child from an early age. Whether the child grows up and utilizes those skills is their choice.

The main ingredient for any parent to teach their children is where food comes from.

If this can be the norm, then children will grow up respecting farms, creative cooking and an ability to protect the planet from harmful chemicals that can enter into our food sources.

Learning to be a vegetarian as a child can begin with the parent. It all truly depends on education and mimicking behaviors. Most vegetarian parents who want to take the time to teach their children proper eating habits will be so satisfied with the results. It may take years for the child to adopt the healthy vegetarian practices on their own, but they have the knowledge and wherewithal to make the correct choices.

It is safe for a child to be a vegetarian.

The key is the same for any vegetarian adult. With proper food combining to maximize necessary protein consumption for each individual and making sure good nutrients enter the body from healthy dietary practices, this is the vegetarian motto.

Children as young as babies begin to eat nothing but soft and strained vegetables, fruits, and legumes. If the child is still breast-feeding, it is reaping the benefits of quality nutrition from the vegetarian parent.

As the child grows up and begins to develop teeth, more solid foods are introduced into the youthful diet. This is where the parent has ample control over what their child eats. This is where good nutrition begins. Soft fish, boiled eggs, lightly steamed vegetables, soft dried fruit, mashed beans and lentils, mashed potatoes, yogurt, and mushy grains, this all makes the child’s diet begin in the vegetarian arena.

If animal protein is considered, then fish is by far the best choice, as it’s the easiest to chew. The child, at this stage of life, has no idea about fast food, lots of heavy meat proteins, inflammatory foods or even alcohol. He or she is developing taste buds and chewing habits that are a direct result of what the parent is feeding the child.

As the child grows up and hormones become involved there is a tendency to rely on peer pressure for pretty much everything that goes into the child’s mouth.

As a vegetarian parent, you have already instilled the knowledge and now it is up to the child to carry through with its principles and habits of the vegetarian doctrine. A child finds his way with food. Schools don’t make it easy for a vegetarian child, especially as the lunch programs are in need of a complete overhaul.

This is easier said than done for both parent and child. There is always a salad bar in most school settings, but children and teens are conditioned to opt for the easiest and most tasty choices when it comes to food.

Whatever one kid is doing, chances are the rest will follow.

The impressionable age of eating starts in grade school.

This is where pizza, macaroni and cheese, and possibly other processed fast foods are introduced. It can become the staple in the vegetarian child’s diet. Children at that age just don’t know any better. Enter parental guidance. These are the go-to meals for any up-and-coming vegetarian child. Even a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread will make a simple and nutritious complimentary protein school lunch, coupled with fruit and yogurt on the side.

The downside to this meal plan during the formative years is that the child might completely ignore and despise vegetables. I know. I was there. I used to wrap my brussel sprouts in a baked potato skin and toss them over the fence when Mom left the kitchen.

After those childhood-vegetable-hating years, I grew up, learned about food, watched my Mom make tons of carrot juice, and became a vegetarian in college and thereafter. Anything is possible, even for a rebellious kid.
Unless the vegetarian parent has a miraculous way of integrating healthy vegetables in the daily meal plan, a potential full-fledged vegetarian child will be a bit undernourished in antioxidants, quality carbohydrates, and healthy protein and fats.

It takes knowledge, planning, patience, and creative cookery for the parent.

Safety and vegetarianism for the child need to go hand in hand. Children are developing vital bones, muscles, ligaments, tissues, and organs, and their diet has to be supportive of this development. The parent could educate the child through healthy vegetarian practices, from meal planning, to shopping, to cooking and presentation.

If there is sufficient growing room in your home area, a garden with fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits can also be part of the child’s life.

Because food is becoming so processed and increasingly difficult to monitor for children, whatever is eaten at home will foster good eating habits and proper nutrition from the onset. As a child develops and learns about food combining and vegetarianism that child can pass along their knowledge and habits to the next generation.

You can’t be lazy with a vegetarian diet, especially when teaching children. If so, this will result in more dental and doctor visits than a parent might have the money to afford. Even taking the time and accompanying the child to the library to learn about vegetarian cooking would help him or her understand the value of making healthy choices in food and meals.

The teenage years are by far the toughest on the vegetarian child.

They inevitably learn more from their peers than they care to admit. As teenagers take these habits into their early 20’s, a parent can continue to prepare healthy vegetarian meals at home and be the role model, but it is now up to the child to separate the wheat from the chafe, so to speak.

Most vegetarian children do represent a growing number in society and as natural food habits are ever-increasing in restaurants and grocery stores, a child has a profound choice to make when deciding to dedicate their nutrition to the why’s and how’s of vegetarianism.

If it is for humane reasons, then the support and lifestyle must go hand in hand.

If it is for healthier dietary practices, then the simple learning of organic foods and what nutrients will benefit the body are needed.

Rolling into the seasonal holiday fare post-Thanksgiving can offer the vegetarian child and parent an opportunity to try new meals from the earth. As we are now seeing, the vegetarian child may just be the wave of the future.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: woodley wonderworks/Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

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