The Vegetarian Child
by Gerry Ellen
The age of advertising and commercialism has affected our youth for many years. We live in a fast food era that will never go away, unless more is done at the school nutrition level. 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 the 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 complete 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.
Once children grow up and hormones become involved, there is a tendency to rely on peer pressure for what the child eats. The vegetarian parent has already instilled the knowledge, and now it is up to the child to carry through with its principles and habits of vegetarianism. This is easier said than done, once the child has more freedom and is possibly relying on school menus for healthy nutrition. There is always a salad bar in most school settings, but children and teens will opt for the easiest and most tasty choices when it comes to food. This is where pizza, and macaroni and cheese become the staple in the vegetarian child’s diet. Yes, it is animal protein-free and humane, but the overall nutrition content of this meal is sorely lacking. 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 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 completely ignores and despises vegetables. Unless the vegetarian parent has a miraculous way of integrating healthy vegetables in the daily meal plan, the vegetarian child will be a bit undernourished in antioxidants, quality carbohydrates, and healthy protein and fats.
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 the 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 the child, whatever is eaten at home will foster good eating habits and proper nutrition from the onset. As the child develops and learns about food combining and vegetarianism, that child can pass along their knowledge and habits to the next generation. Laziness and inertia have no place in a vegetarian diet. If so, this will result in more dental and doctor visits than the parent might have the money to afford. Even taking the child to the library to learn about vegetarian cooking would help the child 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 they take these habits into their early 20’s, the 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. 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 vegetarianism and why. If it is for humane reasons, then the support and lifestyle must go hand in hand. If it is for healthier dietary practices, then adopting the overall wellness habits won’t go unnoticed. The vegetarian child may just be the wave of the future.
About the Author
Gerry Ellen is an author, freelance writer, and wellness consultant. Her first novel, Ripple Effects, was published in March 2012. She is currently a columnist for elephant journal, The Good Men Project, and Be You Media Group. A former personal trainer for twenty-eight years, she has been writing publicly since the mid-nineties for wellness trade journals and health publications. Her passions are writing, yoga, cooking, walking dogs, and nurturing her friendships. Her forthcoming novel A Big Piece of Driftwoodis due in spring 2014. Gerry Ellen currently resides in Austin, Texas.