Vegetarian kid/carnivore parents
August 8, 2008 1:15 PM   Subscribe

How do I cook for and manage nutrition for my five year old vegetarian (when the rest of us are carnivores?)

My son came home from his week at his Auntie's beach house announcing that he is a vegetarian like her. After two weeks of watching his behavior, I'm convinced he's really following through with it. It's ok with me, but I haven't been a veggie since college (15 years ago!) and I didn't have very good nutrition then. The rest of us, his Dad, his baby brother, and I, are going to continue to eat meat for the time being. I feel a bit overwhelmed with cooking two meals each time. I have enough trouble getting them to eat healthily now! Any advice?
posted by Elizabethse to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did this to my mother for a while while I was a kid. She would cook one substantial veggie side dish and I would eat that, usually with rice or noodles. If she made lasagne or something, she would leave the meat out of part of it. And we all ate vegetarian once a week. Eventually I grew out of it (by way of eggs and cheese), and only went back to vegetarianism again as an adult for health reasons.
posted by weezetr at 1:31 PM on August 8, 2008

Most grocery stores carry veggie burgers, veggie wieners, etc, that are incredibly simple to prepare (just heat 'em) and have lots of protein. Whole grains are good, too, because of the B12. Eggs of course have lots of protein, too.
posted by Penelope at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2008

If your son is vegetarian, you don't have to worry too much about protein unless he's a super picky eater.

Hopefully I can sneak in the first link to the Vegan Lunch Box. You can find some great ideas there, and the archives are full of foods that cater to kids with sensitive pallets.
posted by giraffe at 1:39 PM on August 8, 2008

Well I'll be the first to suggest that a strict vegetarian diet is probably not such a great idea at only 5 years old. I am not a parent so I will not be so presumptuous as to tell you how to raise your child, but it has been my experience that children at that age have the attention span of your average cat and this may be a "phase" so to speak. However I did find this about vegetarian diets for young children.

I'm a veg-head myself so I'm all for the concept, but I've come to believe that such a diet, for children at least, should probably wait for them to mature a bit. Their young bodies need a whole mess of everything to grow properly and while I think it's entirely possible to heathily feed a young vegetarian, unless you have some serious ethical or moral considerations about diet (something a five-year old most certainly does not) you may want to reconsider.

Okay, off the soap-box. There's tons of great veggie dishes you can make easily. Any pasta or rice-based meals, just leave off the meat. Also, at least when I was younger, anything cheesy pretty much scored big. So start healthy with, say a simple stir fry and sprinkle some cheese on it. Heck I even ate brussel sprouts (which I still loathe) as long as they had cheese nearby. Also, dont skimp on the seasonings. Meat tastes good, so when you leave it out of the meal, be sure to season well, or it can turn out bland (at least to the reformed carnivore).

Simple and complex vegetarian meals that will please a whole family can be found at, among other places.

Good luck!
posted by elendil71 at 1:49 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've been a vegetarian since I was 8. The rule in my house was that if I wanted to maintain a diet different from what everyone else in the house was eating, I had to eat all of my vegetables, whether I liked them or not, and that I couldn't make my mother cook entirely separate meals for me just because I was being picky. For her part, she made sure that each meal contained a substantial veggie side dish that I could eat as a main course, or that I had the opportunity to "cook" with her and make something for myself. If I really didn't like what was being served, I was allowed to make a PBJ sandwich as long as I still ate my vegetables.

My mother told me when I was older that she actually thought that the amount of meat I forewent myself was substantially less than the amount of meat my family ended up not eating just because it was easier for my mother to cook more fully vegetarian meals than it was for her to figure out how to integrate a meat dish and a veggie side dish. My family ate a lot of stir fry, a lot of pasta dishes, and a lot of casseroles.
posted by decathecting at 2:31 PM on August 8, 2008

So maybe your family typically eats a main meat dish and two vegetable side dishes, or one vegetable side dish and a salad, with dinner. If your child is not eating the meat portion of that meal, your primary dilemma is how to replace the protein in that meal. You will also need to pay some attention to protein combining or making sure you throw in a complete protein.

You have things like veggie burgers, obviously, but you can also do things like boil a few eggs at the start of the week and put them in the fridge and then add chopped egg to his salad.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:31 PM on August 8, 2008

When I was little, straight-from-the-can garbanzo beans were my favorite side dish. Beans are generally a pretty good alternate source of protein and not too difficult to prepare, so hopefully you can find a variety or two he likes. (He might really like edamame.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:49 PM on August 8, 2008

I also had a vegetarian friend who used to blend silken tofu into spaghetti sauce - it was in tiny enough bits that you can't really taste it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:52 PM on August 8, 2008

Please don't worry.
I am a vegetarian who has raised a perfectly healthy 12 year old daughter as a vegetarian. However, she also became a picky eater which made things a little more difficult. We taught her very early about food groups and protein and vitamins and vegetables etc. and she knew about healthy eating before any of her school mates. Even at 5, he could take some responsibility for knowing if he has had any protien today, any fibre etc.
We do tend to eat a fair bit of "fake" meat products and my daughter loves milk and cheese (we get organic because of the issue with hormones in regular dairy products).

I guess my most important revelation from raising this picky vegetarian is her desire, nay demand, to eat the same (balanced) things day after day after day. If he is also like that it might take some of the work out of it for you.
posted by Toto_tot at 3:02 PM on August 8, 2008

When I swore off meat because my mother had served us rabbit (bunny?!?), I dined happily for a year on "potato and egg." Put an oven-baked potato into a bowl, cut the potato in half, crack a raw egg into the hot potato, stir with a fork and eat. YUM! The baked peel is good, too.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:22 PM on August 8, 2008

I also wanted to mention that "protein combining" is now considered unnecessary. (I'll let you Google it yourself as there are too many websites to choose from.)
posted by Toto_tot at 3:23 PM on August 8, 2008

Eh, I would stay away from most fake meat, because it's often very high in sodium, though a veggie corn dog now and again is a fun thing. There are plenty of other sources of veggie protein: 3 tablespoons of peanut butter has as much protein as the average veggie burger. Here's a table of vegan protein sources. It's not that hard to get the amount kids need into their diets. What's more difficult is preparing separate food- the side dish plan is the easiest. You don't need to make an entire vegetarian dinner each night.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:37 PM on August 8, 2008

I also wanted to mention that "protein combining" is now considered unnecessary.

Cool, good to know. I have not eaten a vegetarian diet in many years now, so that sounds like an easier life if I ever want to go back :)
posted by DarlingBri at 3:39 PM on August 8, 2008

He's five. You're the adult. Tell him that he will be able to make that decision for himself when he is an adult, but for now, as he is a SMALL CHILD, you and his father make such decisions, and your decision is that he will eat as the rest of the household does, with you continuing to prepare healthy and nutritious meals for your family--and that those meals include all sorts of different foods, including meat.

I was a vegetarian for several years - I started in my late 20s and went back to being an omnivore a few years ago - so I do have an affinity and respect for the vegetarian diet and lifestyle choice. However, I firmly believe that children need a diet rich in all vitamins and nutrients, many of which can be obtained/absorbed most efficiently via an omnivorous diet. Don't let your son become a spoiled and fussy eater, expecting you to bend at his every whim. When it comes to nutrition and health matters, parents know best.
posted by parkerama at 3:40 PM on August 8, 2008 [9 favorites]

one of the easiest things to cook with for a vegetarian diet is TVP. you can make him a can of vegetable soup, add the dried bits of tvp while it's cooking, and serve. also, many dishes with meat (tacos, pasta, chili) can be cooked where you make everything that doesn't have meat in it in one pan, prepare the meat in another, separate out little johnny's portion and then combine the meat with your family's meals.

also, i absolutely detest peta, but the peta kids website might have some good information for you.
posted by nadawi at 3:45 PM on August 8, 2008

A word of warning, simply replacing meat with another protein may not be sufficient. Meat is highly nutritious (though it is becoming less so) and provides many vitamins and minerals in addition to protein. If the rest of your diet is not well balanced replacing the protein is not your only concern.

That being said it is not terribly hard to eat healthy regardless of your diet. I would recommend Michael Pollan's new book "In defense of food" where he provides a few simple rules to getting a balanced nutrition without having to read nutrition labels.

Eat plenty of plants grown in healthy soil especially hardy greens, legumes, and fruit (visit your local farmer's market). Avoid too many processed foods. Eat traditional ethnic meals/diets (they have withstood the test of time in providing enough nutrition).
posted by tweaqslug at 3:45 PM on August 8, 2008

ehhh...this is easy. Your the parent, make what your FAMILY wants and don't cater to him only. This will cause issues, believe me I have 4 kids and my wife WAS a vegetarian for like, ever and after a time she realized the FAMILY needed and wanted and deserved to eat fish, steak, chicken...etc.

Your son WILL eventually stop doing this...I also have experience with that as well. It's a family, so unless he has a disease, dont cater to him. It really is that simple.

Take Care
posted by TeachTheDead at 5:39 PM on August 8, 2008

I think your respect for his wish to not eat meat is nice, even though he's only five.

meat is full of crap anyway: hormones, antibiotics, etc. I have friends who's parents raised them vegetarian (MINUS eggs) since birth and they're healthy adults now.

I don't buy that kids NEED meat - most kids I know eat total crap (chicken nuggets etc) anyway, better a healthy vegetarian than a crap-eating omnivore.
posted by beccyjoe at 6:23 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know. I kind of disagree with the "you're the parent. He'll eat what he gets" camp. This isn't a situation where the OP made pork chops and the child refused to eat them because they wanted pizza. This is a child exploring food choices based on the behavior of an adult member of his family. There are plenty of ways to give your body sufficient protein (beans, soy, lentils, cheese, nuts, milk, etc) without eating meat. And, as others noted, many meat sources kids consume don't tend to be the healthiest options.

I'm not a parent yet, but I believe that the less restrictions one places on a young child in terms of what they may or may not eat the better. By this, I don't mean that children who want to eat M&Ms for dinner every night should be able to get their way. I also don't mean that parents should cater to fussiness. What I do believe, however, is that parents should provide their children with a variety of food options and ask them to try things. If they don't want to eat the broccoli (or in this case, the steak), there's no need to force them. Just keep offering them the opportunity to try new things. Trying to force a child to eat something they don't want to only makes food into a power struggle and sets them up for problems later in life. If anything, I believe the "make them eat what they get" way of feeding kids make them MORE fussy. As you can probably tell, I am speaking from experience.

If I were you, I would continue to support my child's interest in a vegetarian diet. There are lots of cool vegetarian dishes you can make for your family. Pair the dishes with a meat source and everyone's happy. I really like the Moosewood cookbooks for vegetarian food.
posted by theantikitty at 7:22 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, by the way...I think TeachTheDead's mindset about his wife's vegetarianism is totally out of line. Maybe your family DOES need and deserve to eat meat, but that has nothing to do with your wife's decision about her OWN diet. Unless she was the principal cook and refused to make any meat dishes for your family, I think you should have respected that her needs and the family's needs might be different.
posted by theantikitty at 7:25 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

the FAMILY needed and wanted and deserved to eat fish, steak, chicken...etc.

But your wife is catering to you, and you're old enough to cook for yourself, no? Why is it any different for this parent to consider the desires of her child when she makes dinner?

I firmly believe that children need a diet rich in all vitamins and nutrients, many of which can be obtained/absorbed most efficiently via an omnivorous diet.

Do you have a cite for this? Because all vitamins and nutrients are available in lacto-ovo vegetarian diets. So I would be interested to know how the addition of meat means that vitamins and nutrients are obtained and absorbed more efficiently.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:30 PM on August 8, 2008

I firmly believe that children need a diet rich in all vitamins and nutrients, many of which can be obtained/absorbed most efficiently via an omnivorous diet.

I'm not a vegetarian and I'm fairly confident in predicting I will never be one but this is simply absurd. There are many cultures which are exclusively vegetarian. Meat is not a necessary component of a healthful diet at any age.

Don't sweat it too much is my advice. Get into some good vegetarian cookbooks like Lemlin and work up a good roster of candidates that can do double main-dish/side dish duty. And make Auntie do some of the work figuring it out for you. It's her fault, after all.
posted by nanojath at 9:14 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your son WILL eventually stop doing this...I also have experience with that as well. It's a family, so unless he has a disease, dont cater to him. It really is that simple.

Rubbish. I became a vegetarian at age 6. I'm still a vegetarian now at age 34. Since I'm not dead, I suppose it's remotely possible that I will eventually "stop doing that," but I doubt it. My parents are omnivores. As a child I mostly just ate whatever they were eating that wasn't meat.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:38 PM on August 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

There are so many ways you can modify meals to make them vegetarian I'd be loath to start listing them all. When you go to cook your regularly planned dinner, just think - "how could I make this vegetarian?" It may be as simple as substituting a meat-based main course with a Boca "chicken" patty, making some extra beans on taco night, or cooking some tvp or "beef" crumbles to add to spaghetti sauce. You don't need to prepare two meals.

Read up on nutrition, too: I found this with a quick google for "vegetarian kids" (there are lots of other articles out there too) - but whether it's vegetarian-specific or not it will benefit you and your family. The basic rules are the same for everyone: lots of fruits and veggies, fiber-rich non-refined carbs, and lean proteins. This can be done on a vegetarian or omni diet.
posted by AV at 6:46 AM on August 9, 2008

Major props and thanks to you. I'm confident you can ignore the naysayers in this thread and elsewhere. :)

Yes, protein combining and "incomplete protein" are persistent myths, worth a google.
posted by kalapierson at 6:14 AM on August 10, 2008

« Older McDonald's Filter: Do any of you recall happy meal...   |   Diavlogs for the masses! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.