When I entered sixth grade, I announced to my family that I intended on becoming a vegetarian. My mom agreed, but stipulated rules. Firstly, I had to research vegetarian nutrition. I didn’t know any vegetarians, so I had to use the internet to find all my information. When I proved that I had done the legwork, I was able to start phasing meat out of my diet. Rather than just giving up all kinds of meat in one fell swoop, I gave up one animal at a time until I was fully vegetarian. I started with pork, and gave up beef and turkey shortly thereafter. Chicken and fish proved the most difficult, but within a year I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian (which means that I still consumed milk and eggs). I was responsible for helping my mom find appropriate foods on grocery trips, but she was in charge of most of the meal preparation. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I decided to try veganism, that I became responsible for more of my own cooking.
I can’t thank my parents enough for how helpful they were in my transition into vegetarianism. Rather than just dismissing me as a silly, idealistic kid, they listened to my reasoning and helped me come up with a realistic plan to put my ideals into action. By making me do research, my mom helped me strengthen my convictions. If I had given up when faced with the first challenge, that would have proven I wasn’t serious enough about the change to stick it out in the first place. By making the change gradual rather than immediate, the transition was easier for everyone. By the time I was a full lacto-ovo vegetarian, everyone was used to the fact that I was eating different foods. Instead of eating my grandma’s famous spare-ribs, I would bring along some Morning Star Riblets and eat the side dishes my grandma made. That isn’t to say that becoming a vegetarian was simple. There were definitely rough spots. But the support I got from my family made all the difference.
So if your child comes to you and says that he or she wants to become a vegetarian, be supportive. Set up a timeline that you can both live with, and speak openly about your feelings on the subject. Many people don’t realize that eating has a lot of cultural connotations, and I certainly didn’t realize that my decision to become a vegetarian might have made my parents feel that I was rejecting their values. Freaking out and saying an immediate no won’t discourage your child–it may do exactly the opposite. Rather than making the decision of whether or not to eat meat a battleground, make it an opportunity to let your child make an adult decision, with all the preparation and dedication that such a decision requires.
What advice do you have for parents whose kids want to become vegetarians?