Many vegan families struggle with explaining to their children why they are vegan. When children inevitably begin to ask questions about their diet, the harder question to answer is "Why are we different"?
Parents that decide to become vegetarian/vegan do so for varied reasons. The enormous health benefits, environmental issues, protests against farm animal abuse or religion may all be a part of the reason parents make this very important and personal choice. Relating to your child your reasons for this decision may be difficult at times. Especially with younger children or those with different needs or beliefs.
Different Kids Require Different Answers
Explanations of why your family is vegetarian should vary with each child because every child is unique. Using the same ole, "eating veggies because they're good for you" may not always work. Dr. Debbie Glasser is a clinical psychologist, mother and vegan. "
"Because I have kids ranging in age from toddlers to teens, my explanations about why I'm a vegan vary greatly," says Glasser. "With regard to my toddler, it's very simple. He's only two, so he eats what I serve him and doesn't ask why [but] now that my daughter's older, she's asking more complex questions about the what's and why's of veganism and making her own informed decisions. I have shared with her that one of my reasons for becoming a vegetarian is because I don't want to eat animals...and [she's] interested in learning more."
It's very important for parents to develop their own way of explaining to their children why their family chose to become vegans or vegetarians. Because some children are more sensitive than others, it may be wise to offer positive examples of why you're vegan. Younger children may be okay with simple answers such as: it's healthier for you; it's better for the animals we love; or it tastes good.
If your child asks for more information then it is best to tell them in details your reasons for your lifestyle change. Because of her open conversations with her daughter, Glasser says, "Now the choice to be vegetarian comes from her, not me."
Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University suggests explaining the nutritional value of both plant and animal products. "Plants have the right kind of chemicals to keep people healthy whereas animal products generally don’t," says Campbell. Helping your child compare animal products with plant products will help your child learn the importance of knowing what's healthiest for their bodies and what food sources provide the best forms of immune system supplements to keep them healthy and strong.
Many of your child's questions will begin when they begin to observe other eating habits when spending time with friends outside the home or at school. If your child asks a question like, “Why don't we eat meat or drink milk like my other friends?" answer them honestly and informatively.
"Milk is not necessary for good health" states Campbell. In fact, for many children, acne, hyperactivity, other allergic reactions, and lactose intolerance all may be problems, to say nothing of the future risk of breast cancer and heart disease. "
You don't have to scare your child into accepting vegetarian lifestyle. This is why it's so important to accept their food choices as they mature. As a parent, it's best to give them good information about being a vegan/vegetarian if they ask for it and when they are old enough to decide for themselves.
Remind them that it's okay to be different from other people. Pressure from their friends may make them feel like they have to eat meat to be accepted by their peers. Let them know that standing up for what they believe in makes them brave but don't force them. Sometimes as parents we have to let loose of our children’s’ hands and know that it will all be okay in the end.
Don't Forget it's Yummy
Most importantly, don't forget to stress how good vegetarian food tastes. Vegetables and grains are great tasting, good for you, and you can create so many different recipes and creative dishes with these healthful ingredients. Let them know that fruits and vegetables are loaded chock full of the natural immune system supplements that children require for optimal health.
Hands on cooking is another great ways to explain the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle to kids. Select a variety of different foods and teach them about the health benefits of fresh whole green foods. Discuss animal products with them and why they may not be the wisest choices. This works great for younger kids. Let them ask any questions they might have. Once you set the tone for questions and answers time, your kids will feel free to talk to you about their questions and concerns.
In spite of your personal reasons for being a vegetarian, accept your child's beliefs as they grow up. If they decide to become a meat eater even though you've taught them differently, don't constantly remind them of the down side of eating meat. Be respectful. Chances are as in most cases, they will return to the healthful lifestyle you lovingly raised them on.
- Explore lots more healthy eating tips on VegKitchen's Veg Kids and Teens page as well as in the Nutrition area.
Dr. Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND: Is an avid animal activist and nature lover. She owns a 10,000 square foot state of the art nutritional laboratory where she produces nutritional health supplements that are free of animal products.