by Courtney Drake-McDonough
The problem: My child announced that she wants to be a vegetarian. How can I support her decision and keep her nourished in a family of carnivores?
The expert: Jan Hangen, clinical dietitian in the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Children’s Hospital Colorado
Although the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Academy of Pediatrics both agree that well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy for children, it’s important to pay attention to certain nutrients that may be lower in both diets and to understand how to create a balanced diet that is meeting their needs. It’s imperative to consult your pediatrician to see if a vegetarian diet will provide what your child needs to grow properly.
Certainly, the goal is to be supportive of your child in their overall goal of eating right, not only to support their growth and development but also to preserve and even enhance harmony in the home. I’d also suggest that the family have what I call a “nutrition summit” where not only healthful eating is discussed, but how to pursue it in a respectful and non-judgmental way.
Kids sometimes make the choice to become vegetarian or vegan for moral reasons too, such as animal rights and welfare. The “summit” should also include a discussion about supporting each other in moral choices. Fortunately, you can also consult primary care physicians, psychologists, or dietitians who are available to provide guidance to ensure that the food is used for nutrition, and not as a venue for emotional discord.