Thursday 15 August 2013

Is a Vegetarian Diet for Kids Tantamount to Child Abuse?

I was recently told by someone I know that bringing your child up as a Vegetarian is selfish, abnormal and akin to child abuse... They suggested that making a child adhere to your own nutritional ideologies limits their growth and may make them a social outcast.

So what do you think of this statement? Is forcing another person to adhere to your own ideologies abuse?

Would it be the same if we "forced" a grown-up or an older person to only eat a vegetarian diet? Would we complain if we were forced to eat a carnivore diet?

By being vegetarian, you are choosing to go against the norm, and when you go against the norm, you are sometimes likely to be subject to negative opinions from others.

As parents, we all make the choices which we think are the best possible for our children - and this may include feeding them a purely vegetarian diet, or it might include feeding them a mainly vegetarian diet, with meat thrown in when they choose. You have to ensure that your child is receiving the right amount of all food groups in their diet. Vegetarians will typically replace the meat and fish proteins with other proteins - so I don't think that Vegetarian children are necessarily more unhealthy than other kids - if anything, I think they are healthier.

I must admit that my personal opinion is that we should let our children choose whether they want to be a vegetarian or not. I am trying to bring my kids up to have a healthy relationship with food - including fruit, vegetables, dairy, grains and pulses, but also including meat and fish when they choose. They eat more vegetarian food than their carnivorous counterparts, as I cook vegetarian at home, but I don't begrudge them the odd hamburger or roast dinner when we are out at a restaurant or visiting family.

My one concern is that if you force your kids to be Vegetarian, then a few years down the line, once they are old enough to make their own choices, they may be running off and scoffing hamburgers on the way to school as a method to rebel against their parents. However, many kids exist happily on a vegetarian diet and turn out to be well-balanced individuals. I think that perhaps those who eat an exclusively vegetarian diet fall into two camps - those who eat a vegetarian diet including foods which emulate their meat and fish versions, and those who will only eat non-processed food, such as more lentils, grains, fruit and vegetables. I think we are very lucky that there are meat-free substitutes for everything these days, and so kids are not necessarily going to be social outcasts for eating vegetarian food - they can tuck into veggie sausages and veggie nuggets along with their friends, and eat gelatine-free sweets instead of Haribo. However, if a child only ate grains and lentils, and other foods which are weird to kids, then this is perhaps when they may receive negativity from other children.

I think that if you explain the reasons why you choose to be a Vegetarian or Vegan to your kids, and educate them about how a vegetarian diet differs to a carnivore diet, and why, then hopefully, they will be able to make their own good choices. My eldest will often come home and tell me she chose the vegetarian option for school dinners so that she didn't have to eat an animal, but the choice is there if she wants it. Right now, at their age, I would rather this, than them resenting me for not being able to eat what their peers eat.

But what do you think? Is forcing your child to be vegetarian child abuse? I would love to hear what those of you with completely vegetarian children think.

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