How to cope if your child becomes vegetarian

“Mum, I’ve decided to become a vegetarian.”

Those few words fill parents with dread. Can you stop them? Will they change their mind? Won’t they get ill? And what on earth will you feed them?

My six year old decided to become vegetarian a few weeks ago. It didn’t come as a surprise and having become vegetarian at a similar age myself, I was lucky. Not only could I turn to my own mum for advice on how to cope, I have remained vegetarian ever since. In fact these days, my diet is predominantly vegan because I didn’t fully transition back to normal after veganuary. So, we were already eating vegetarian food at home and coping with my child becoming vegetarian has been surprisingly easy. Here are a few tips from our experience.

child with vegetarian restaurant meal

1. So your child is vegetarian? Don’t panic!

First things first, don’t panic. The more you fight against it, the more likely they are to stick with it. Both of my children have gone through “I’m going veggie” phases in the past. I’ve just accepted it and pointed out what’s veggie and what isn’t when we’ve been eating out. Usually, they change their mind pretty quickly when they realise they can’t have a ham sandwich. But if they don’t, that’s fine too. These days, there are plenty of veggie meat alternatives. Virtually all cafes and restaurants do a veggie option and most home cooked meals are easy to adapt.

Child holding food and chopsticks in YO! Sushi Japanese sushi and street food restaurant Worcester

2. Embrace their adventurous spirit

Since becoming vegetarian, my six year old has become notably more willing to try different foods. She has always eaten well, but had begun to get a bit fussy. Avocados? No. Beetroot? Nope. Chickpeas? Rather not. Mushrooms? Not a chance. Now though, she’s having the veggie option for her school lunch, which means eating what she’s given. And that’s exactly what she does. So when it comes to meals at home, anything goes. It has actually made my life a lot easier.

3. Help them out

This is a big decision for a little person. In the case of my six year old, she’s doing it for moral reasons. Along with trying to reduce her use of plastic (no straw for me thank you), picking up litter and being quite vocal about protecting the environment. So, I’m helping her out where I can. I tell her what’s veggie and what isn’t. I help her to choose the vegetarian options for school and mention it to friends’ parents if she’s going round for lunch. Just as important though, is to avoid putting on any extra pressure. I don’t mind whether she stays vegetarian and I won’t make her feel guilty if she wants to eat meat again. It’s part of discovering who she is, and that’s a tough enough gig without me making it more difficult.

Children on beach holding plastic bottle picked up as litter

4. Read up on how to ensure your child gets everything they need in their diet

These days, there is plenty of advice out there about having a healthy vegetarian diet. There are protein alternatives, vegetarian vitamin and mineral supplements and meat-free ready meals. Even the NHS gives advice on achieving a balanced diet as a vegetarian. Know what foods provide iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and omega 3. If your child won’t eat those foods, it’s worth considering a supplement. Keep an eye on them as well. If their energy levels become low or behaviour changes, it’s well worth getting a check up with the GP. You can also read some great tips on encouraging healthy eating in children.

5. Know what’s veggie and what isn’t

Become an expert on veggie foods. Check labels, find out what unexpected things aren’t vegetarian. Did you know that marsh mallows contain gelatine? Or that not all ice cream is vegetarian? If you don’t check the labels, your child probably will. It’s not worth falling out over, so do try to make sure that what you’re buying for them is inline with their chosen diet.

vegetarian option in Cosy Club restaurant

6. Think about vegetarian snacks for your child

The only thing Libby has found difficult so far about being vegetarian is not being able to have certain sweets. I rarely give my children sweets, but if their friends are eating something like Haribo and offering them around, she does feel like she’s missing out. Most jelly sweets aren’t vegetarian, with the exception of jelly beans, which usually are. I do intend to keep a small packet of vegetarian sweets with me so Libby doesn’t miss out. It will rarely come out of my bag, but it’s good to know I’ve got something for her if others are having a treat.

7. Give your vegetarian child some responsibility

Libby is only six, but she’s not incapable of preparing food. If she’s going to be vegetarian, it’s important that she understands the nutrients she needs to consume. So, she has started helping out in the kitchen occasionally. We chat about why we need to eat certain things and why there are other foods we shouldn’t eat too much of. There will come a time when she’ll have to cook for herself if she wants to eat vegetarian. Maybe not until she’s at university, maybe when staying with friends. Either way, I want it to come naturally to her so I know she will always eat well.

Girl operating food mixer

8. Eat together and eat the same thing if possible

Most meat meals will have a vegetarian alternative. Switch out mince for quorn or soya mince. Replace chicken with vegetarian chicken pieces. Buy veggie pies, burgers, sausages or ready meals. Veggie alternatives are often a bit healthier than meat. So instead of making an issue of it and cooking different meals for everyone, why not switch up what the whole family is eating? If this isn’t possible, ask older children to help out by cooking the vegetarian part of the meal. Alternatively, batch cooking can work really well. Cook up a few batches of vegetarian alternatives to what you usually eat. Freeze them in individual portions and heat them up when you’re cooking the family meal.

How to cope when your child becomes vegetarian | As a veggie myself, it didn't come as a shock when my six year old announced that she was going to become vegetarian. Here are my tips for ensuring your vegetarian child has a healthy, balanced diet and how to support their decision as a parent. #vegetarian #veggiefood #vegetariankids #veggiekids #healthyeating #eatveggie

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  1. Love this post Nat! It was only last night I was thinking of trying to incorporate more Veg into Emma’s diet! She’s so against it haha, she’s ok with fruit but not with veg! Such a struggle! Xxx

    1. Ahh thanks Amy! I wouldn’t worry too much, Emma’s tastes will naturally change as she gets older and it’s great that she eats fruit, it will keep her healthy until she decides to try a bit more veg!

  2. Really good advice! My eldest has been vegetarian pretty much since birth, but wasn’t always good at eating a balanced diet. There are so many more options these days, especially with the rise of veganism. M&S do a huge range of veggie sweets. I literally hadn’t eaten sweets since I was 17 until I discovered those. Sadly my two carnivores refuse to eat vegetarian, so we’re always cooking two (or three, or four) different meals.

    1. That must be really difficult. I do feel very lucky that we’ve always just eaten together and eaten the same thing even when I was the only vegetarian.

  3. Great advice. I remember when I became vegetarian aged 12, I not only got no support from parents and my school, but they actively tried to make it difficult for me by just giving me the same food as them minus the meat. Because in those days school meals often consisted of meat with boiled vegetables, most of my meals had no protein and were very deficient in various vitamins. The one person I did get support from was my grandmother, who was a vegetarian, and she convinced my parents to take me seriously and to provide me with nutritious meals.

  4. I became a veggie at a young age too, I’ve only started eating meat in the last 3 year’s and I still don’t eat a lot. I did have added pressure with being veggie, I found my veggie eating family would be quite rude aboit meat eaters, my aunt is a strict vegan and even though it’s been 3 years she still has no idea I meat because I don’t want to upset her haha.
    James is always changing his mind which is funnier than it sounds, I prepare his veggie meal then he looks about is upset there’s no fish or meat on it, I’m not sure when at 8 he fully understands! No matter how many times we tell him haha.

    1. Ahh bless him! It’s difficult for them to understand isn’t it? Libby is fully aware I’m veggie and we always eat veggie at home and still always asks if what she’s eating is veggie! Sorry that your family struggle to respect your decisions. I hope I’ll always respect the girls’ decisions even if I don’t agree with them.

  5. This is timely, as my son’s just announced he’s vegetarian, too! It came the same time as him wanting to cut off his long locks, so I think it’s to do with him finding himself. So we’re being very supportive – Dave’s vegetarian, anyway. It’s been a bit tricky as my daughter’s very picky, and meat was the one thing she’d always eat. So I’m working on recipes for mix-up meals at the moment, so they can both get the nutrients they need.

    1. Oh that must be very difficult. I totally agree with you though, it is part of them discovering who they are and we can’t stand in the way of that.

  6. What an amazing young lady she is having such good morals already. I have learnt a lot from this post alone – I knew about the marshmallows from the children doing cooking club (my son was delighted to get the extras as he was working with a vegetarian girl) but I had no idea about the sweets! I have just read how offensive jelly babies are – so I will not offer you some on Sunday! Off to check that what I have got is suitable now!

    1. Thank you Karen! I know it’s a challenge for a lot of people. I was lucky that my mum was completely on board when I went veggie and she ended up becoming veggie with me.