Growing up Vegetarian

My son and his wife have decided to raise their 15 month old son vegetarian. He is a physician and she is a former nurse. The grandson is just plain adorable!

The parents went vegan several years ago and my son dropped quite a bit of weight. She saw it as a healthier lifestyle and convinced him to try it. To be honest I was very surprised because this guy really enjoyed a good steak; a real carnivore through and through! In fact, I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian for a few years while the kids were in elementary and middle school, and I took a lot of razzing over it from him.

As a nutrition coach I actually field questions from families wondering how they can make

this switch in their own households. 

Here are the tips that I offer to get them started:

It is OK to go slow. This can be a drastic change to your dinner table. Find some recipes that the whole family can agree to try and add to your mealtime rotation. As your repertoire grows you can swap out your meat-based meals over time. Join the “Meatless Monday” movement as a beginning.

Another approach to try is to serve plant-based meals. This simply means that 3/4 of your plate or meal consists of plants: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) recommends a plant-based diet for cancer survivors and as a cancer-prevention strategy. The New American Plate is a tool found on their website that also provides recipes that taste as good as they look. The whole family can reap significant health benefits from eating more plant foods while still enjoying smaller portions of animal protein.

When you reduce the serving of animal protein and increase the plant foods are your plate, you decrease the amount of saturated fat in your diet. This in turn reduces your risk of heart disease and hypertension. It also has the effect of reducing your carbon footprint while helping the environment.

There are many degrees of vegetarian: Pescatarians who eat fish; Lacto-ova vegetarians who include eggs and dairy but no meat, poultry or fish; Vegans who eliminate all animal derived foods; Zen Macrobiotics who in the strictest form limit their intake to only brown rice and green tea. You don’t need to fit into a label at all! Just make the changes that work with and for your family.

Keep in mind that plant foods are typically low in calories and high in fiber to fill you up, which is why my son lost so much weight. But young children with tiny tummies may have trouble eating enough to get the calories and protein needed to support adequate growth. And most of the non dairy milk alternatives are not good cow’s milk replacements for young children (refer to my earlier post “When Milk Isn’t“).

The more food groups that are eliminated, the more nutrient deficiencies that become a concern. Taking a balanced vitamin mineral supplement daily is an insurance policy that all required nutrients are accounted for. Scheduling a meeting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist during this transition can be helpful as well. Don’t forget to include your kid’s pediatrician before making any drastic changes in their diet.


About nadineandadamblog

Nadine and Adam are mother and son. Nadine lives in Florida where she has provided outpatient MNT in a large healthsystem for the past 20 years. In addition, she teaches nutrition to second and third year family medicine residents. She is a past-spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Adam lives in Washington State. His career has largely been involved in recipe development and food production. He is currently developing recipes and menus for the Seattle schools to meet the new federal guidelines for school nutrition programs and he does outpatient nutrition counseling. He is also a voice in PSAs over Seattle radio representing the Washington Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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