My formerly meat-loving seven-year-old has recently declared himself not quite veggie but 'pescie' – a pescetarian. Basically, he now eats fish but not meat. This is not especially surprising as his dad is a non-meat eater who has been harping on about, erm sorry, I mean talking about, his perception of the health benefits of a meat-free diet for some years.
Slightly more problematic though was when a friend told me the other week that her child - previously a hearty carnivore - had turned pescie too and it was all down to my husband (although she is far too nice to blame him – at least not openly).
Our two families had had dinner together and her son was party to a conversation in which my husband was extolling the virtues of avoiding meat. Whether my friend's son was thoroughly convinced, or just thought it'd be fun to wind his meat loving parents up, weeks on, he's still refusing his mother's lovingly made, and doubtless delicious roast chicken dinners. My friend meanwhile, is not amused by her new-found over-familiarity with tofu.
It's not unusual for children to suddenly go against their family's dietary habits, be it turning veggie if their parents aren't or starting to eat meat if mum and dad don't.
When kids go vegetarian, it's more often than not because they twig that meat isn't just random chunks of food that magically appear wrapped up on Tesco's shelves but, put bluntly, dead animal. Yes kids, that lamb really is the same cute little one you saw frolicking and gamboling in the fields last spring. It's a realisation that some children, understandably, don't find very palatable.
Whatever their reasons though, if their new eating patterns don't match the rest of the family's, the question is, should you force feed them bacon sandwiches (or perhaps some Quorn casserole if they've gone carnivore) until they switch back, or respect their view?
The usual advice is to let them be, don't make a fuss and hope that you aren't stuck eating tofu for too long (assuming you're a meat-eater yourself...) Most kids do revert to family type.
Why are they doing it? This might well be something of an experiment with independence from you. Or equally, it could be that they have become more aware of animal rights issues - in which case you will probably find them more resolute.
When you understand their side of things, provide your own point of view in return. You can't reasonably force them to change their mind but sometimes providing the other side of the coin can tempt a meat-eater back to vegetarianism or a veggie back to meat.
If you're a meat-eater yourself, you might not be used to considering how to ensure a vegetarian diet provides the necessary nutrients.
This is easily done but does need thinking through, especially for a growing child, according to nutritionist and author, Sally Child:
"Nutrients most likely to be in short supply for vegetarians are iron and protein. Increase foods with pulses and beans and nuts and seeds if they are not allergic. Quorn is a good low fat option for replacing protein and iron is found in fresh green vegetables and lentils which can be hidden in stews and soups."
If you really can't stand your child being vegetarian for a single mealtime longer, you could go with another friend of mine's tactic: "When he was eight my eldest came home and said he'd turned vegetarian. I won't mind when he's older but I do whilst I'm cooking.
"I'm afraid I pretended to be supportive...then made bacon butties – hence it only lasted five minutes!"
If that's not for you, really, I promise you there are some super things you can cook up with a tub of Quorn mince. Honestly.
Liat is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years
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