How to be a Vegetarian Parent

5 February, 2014

Now. You wouldn’t think I’d need a guest post on raising a vegetarian family, what with being a vegetarian since the tender age of 10 when my plate of sausages I’d ordered in the cafe came accompanied by a little plastic pig and I was traumatised into vegetarianism.

However. The second day of Baby Led Weaning with Ramona I came into the kitchen to see her having a little picnic with her older friends, who had dished out the sausage rolls they’d bought with them and Ramona was gleefully cramming them into her mouth! Ramona now opts for meat, meat and more meat whenever possible…. Although she happily tells everyone as she scoffs that “Mummy doesn’t eat animals!”

So. It is with great interest and delight that I have the wonderful Chris of Thinly Spread contributing to my How To Be A _____ Parent series today, all about her vegetarian family.

I’m delighted to be here on one of my very favourite blogs writing about one of my very favourite things! I have been vegetarian since I was 19 back in 1986 (eek!), my husband cast off his meat eating ways when he was 15 and our children have never eaten a morsel of anything dead. They are now 17, 16, 14 and 8 and are adept at resisting peer pressure, advertisers, well-meaning lunchtime supervisors, friends’ parents and teachers. So – how have we done it?

Thinly Spread’s Top Tips for Raising Vegetarian Children

  • Tell them why: We’ve always been open about why we don’t eat meat. Obviously when they were younger we spared them the gruesome details and just told them that we didn’t want anything to have to die to feed us, as they got older we talked more about the meat industry itself. Living behind a butcher’s has definitely helped with this one – seeing a whole dead pig being carried in on a bloodied man’s shoulder is far easier to connect with a life gone than a bit of meat, sanitised and wrapped up in cling film on the supermarket shelf.
  • Make it Easy: It isn’t hard to find veggie treats and sweets so they don’t need to feel they are ‘missing out’. The hardest bit for my youngest in particular is when sweets are handed out at school (on a fellow pupil’s birthday not just teachers chucking sweets at children) but he’s happy now he knows we will trot to the shop and get him a veggie alternative. They even make vegetarian marshmallows now which has made campfires and hot chocolate much easier!

Baking with Kids

  • Don’t be Too Worthy: Vegetarianism doesn’t have to be all hearty wholefoods and brown gloop neither does it have to be over complicated and time-consuming. Fill plates with colour and flavour and lots of variety think about texture, smell, flavour and appearance – vegetarian food looks so good!
  • Grow Your Own: It is so satisfying to pull a parsnip the size of a child out of the ground and then serve it up in a soup or roasted with sage for lunch. Picking sweetcorn cobs and then racing them to the ready boiling water to make the most of their sweet goodness is a memory maker. We have a very small patch but I’ve always made room for a few veg for the pot – it gives them ownership over their food when they’ve grown it from seed and is a fab way of introducing new vegetables to small children! Even a pot of parsley on a windowsill or some cress grown as a caterpillar to add to an egg sandwich delights small children.

cress caterpillar by

  • Stick to ‘the Rules’ but…: This is the tricky one. Food rebellion is often a child’s first opportunity to flex his/her muscles and test the independence water. One of my children used to store all his food in his cheeks like a hamster and it took all my strength not to make a big issue out of it, another wouldn’t eat carrots for a year – the first is now in his late teens and wolfs down everything at phenomenal speed and the other eats carrots happily. I have tried to allow them freedom to manoeuvre telling them that it’s fine if they want to try meat at other people’s houses but that it won’t be cooked or eaten in ours – none of them have been tempted, so far!
  • Teach Them To Cook: I think this is important whether you are veggie or not. Giving children ownership over their food, allowing them to choose a recipe to cook and helping them acquire the skills to do so encourages them to explore and to discover new flavours. Mine take great pride in producing a family meal even if it’s just pasta and cheese. Cooking with love is one of life’s simplest pleasures and once they have the tools and techniques to drum up some dinner I can kick back and relax!

cooking with kids

I’ve tried to make vegetarianism just ‘what we do’ with no pressure, no drama, just quiet, calm normal every day life. As they’ve grown I’ve gradually introduced more information but made it clear that they can do with it as they wish. I’ve fed them with love with delicious cruelty free food and they are growing into caring, thoughtful adults before my very eyes. In the Autumn my eldest will spread his wings and fly and is contemplating veganism (mainly because he’s not keen on dairy – he used to projectile vomit after a yoghurt as a baby which was quite something to behold – he cleared a whole double bed with a stream of it once) and, at the moment, I can’t imagine any of them popping out for a burger. If they do, I’ll still love them but will bombard them with veggie lasagne, chilli, burgers, salads, soups and cake until they give in!

You can normally find Chris over at Thinly Spread where she blogs about family life and sometimes at her vegetarian food blog Life Is Delicious. She has written about vegetarian food and family life for various sites and publications and you can see some of her recipes on Great British Chefs.

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  • Sonya Cisco 5 February, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    I have been veggie since I was 11, and my partner since he was 18. I have a 17 year old, a 10 year old and a two year old, and have taken a very similar approach to Chris, except that I lost one along the way. My 17 year old eats meat, which is fine, my views don’t have to be her views! My ten year old is a very vociferous vegetarian, far more offended by seeing meat in shops etc than I am, and of course Syd is veggie because he is small enough to have no choice yet!
    We have had some interesting blips along the way, like the time I picked a 5 year old Max up from school after a class party, and the teacher commented how much he loved ham sandwiches, apparently he had been wolfing them down- the lessons I learnt from that were a) Tell school and b) stop calling Quorn ham just ham, tis confusing for a small person to know the difference when you have accidentally taught them ham sandwiches are nice and vegetarian!

  • Katy Beale 5 February, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    Me too longtime veggie! However, my 8 year old son happily scoffs meat into his mouth like he might never get it again… It was a bit weird at first, but I got over it. He now has meaty school dinner (it’s probably better that I can’t actually see these) but we operate a fully veggie home.

  • Chris at Thinly Spread 6 February, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Thanks so much for having me! You’re absolutely right Sonya, telling the school and other parents is vital and then retelling the school every time they change teacher! I’ve also always said ‘veggie sausages’ rather than ‘sausages’ – good point!

  • Emma 6 February, 2014 at 11:12 am

    We are a veggie household too, although as soon as the biggest two (aged 4 and 6) get to a kids party, they seem to stuff as many cheap sausages and ham sandwiches into their mouths as they can. I am on the sidelines resisting running over screaming ‘Noooooooooooooo!’.

    Despite me explaining that ham and sausages come from a pig a zillion times, they still say “Well, I don’t want to kill pigs either mum, but I do like eating party sausages.”

  • Elaine @ 6 February, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    I am a veg have been for 25 years. Since I was 15 might even have been younger. My husband and boys are all carnivorous. Though they do have lots of veg meals too. I love animals even though I am actually allergic to view was always that it’s up to the kids to decide if they want to eat meat or not. It started with baby led weaning.

    My view was always if I can’t kill it then I shouldn’t eat it and this still applies.

  • Meera 7 February, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Hi! I am an Indian & in love with (&in awe of) your blog & parenting thoughts. Here, vegetarianism is a value, most cultural, sometimes religious. Apart from the points in the post, I regularly tell my kids that “our family does not eat non-veg food”. It strikes a chord with (especially) younger kids because they want to “belong” to the family.