Thursday, March 24, 2011

Raising kids on a vegetarian diet: Yes or no?

So I'm not close to having kids. I mean, really. That's not going to happen for awhile. But from what I can grasp of what I've come across on my good friend the Internet, many vegetarian or vegan mothers aren't sure when or how to start their children on a meatless diet. Some forums are more lenient on dishing out advice to soon-to-be parents. Sure the internet can be a wonderful source of information, but parents should take all the advice with a grain of salt (sea salt of course—sorry, my friend thought that would make a funny vegan joke). But most of all, young children are susceptible to uneducated parents who control what they eat. For instance, in one unfortunate example, one child died after his parents kept him on a "vegan" diet. Nina Planck wrote an opinion column for The New York Times in 2007 after those two vegan parents kept their child on a diet that consisted primarily of soy milk and apple juice.

According to Planck, when the 6-week-old child died he weighed 3.5 pounds and had been kept on a diet
"When Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds." That shocks me. A child's future depends on its diet--it's tragic that this child died, but it's important for us to learn from that situation.

So what kind of menus are best for children? Should parents focus on providing the nutrients in meats, or should parents be more concerned with their child or children partaking in the diet that the parents prefer? While no one should keep a child on a diet of apple juice and soy milk, it is up to the parents to dictate how their child grows--and it's also the parents' responsibility to make sure that the child gets the nutrition he or she needs in order to grow up to be healthy. To put it another way, parents need to make sure they're educated on how to keep their kids healthy.

According to, a vegan diet is healthy for children.

"Children raised on a vegan diet eat more fruits and vegetables than their meat-eating counterparts They are sick less often and don't have as many food allergies."

Ultimately, nutrition is the answer. But can vegetarianism and veganism provide that nutrition? writer Erin Pavlina believes so, saying that vegan and vegetarian options can be substituted to offer nutrition as needed. Pavlina considers how other students would react to a child bringing in something as weird as tofu in their school lunch. She also suggested that parents plan on bringing vegan or vegetarian options to birthday parties, cookouts, and things like that.

While the last point is a good one, I feel that sticking your child to a vegan diet will restrict them too much; the experience of childhood will be lost thanks to you, the parent, working tirelessly to provide your kid with vegan options. When they go on field trips they’d have to take a special lunch. When parents have to fill out consent forms, you’ll be the parent saying your child has special dietary needs—not to mention that your child won’t be able to eat much of the food offered at his or her school. Your child will feel ostracized and out of place. Do you really want to do that so early on in your child’s life?

Personally I think a vegetarian diet works for me. However, when it comes to passing your beliefs on to the next generation, it shouldn’t be done too intensely.

A friend of mine grew up with a vegan family. His parents were both vegans, made fresh vegan dishes each day and grew their own fruits and vegetables. He kept vegetable plants in his rooms in small terrariums. He’s definitely a great example of a child growing up to be what his parents wanted.

Anyway, back to what I was saying. So it IS possible for children to grow healthy on even a vegan diet. A vegetarian diet would be much easier to accommodate, but neither diet is impossible. Ultimately, it’s at the parents’ discretion. While I would recommend children eat some meat for protein, maybe later in life the parents could give veganism or vegetarianism a chance. Parents need to give their children the freedom to try new foods! So stick to the regular baby food, which is typically vegan, but give the kids a chance to try new foods to see what they like. Admittedly, it may be hard for vegetarian or vegan parents to let their child try meat, but children must be allowed to figure out what they want to eat for themselves.

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