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How to talk to kids about vegetarianism and other food choices

How to talk to kids about vegetarianism and other food choices

“Mamma, why is my friend vegetarian?” asked my 5 year old. “We are omnivores, right?”. 

I smiled. He was clearly watching a lot of nature documentaries. But more importantly, was  trying to figure out in his head why our family choices were different from his friends and their families. 

We have a vegetables and fruit forward diet at home, with the occasional chicken, fish and meat options, mostly for social occasions (the hubs is South African, so a braai or barbeque is very much part of a holiday or rugby match). 

While I was raised vegetarian, my parents did not restrict my brother and me from trying different types of food when we traveled or went out for meals. But that was far and few between, specially when we were younger. Now, we raise our kids in a far more diverse and cross cultural environment. They come across different food choices much earlier. Children are more likely to eat foods that their friends are eating. 

Having conversations about these topics help kids make sense of it. 

So, if you’re raising a vegetarian kid  or your children friends who are vegetarian here are a few tips to start having these conversations:

    1. “Our family believes that….”  Talk to your little one about the beliefs and values that underlie your family's decision to follow a certain type of diet. Explain that vegetarianism is a way of showing respect for the environment, but eating meat is also ok….(See below for a few ways to explain questions regarding this)
    2. “Sometimes it can be tempting or difficult …” Let your little one know that there will be times when they or their friend may be tempted to eat meat, especially if other classmates are eating it. Explain that it's okay to have these feelings. Think about whether you’re willing to let them try different types of food as well, and discuss how and when they can do that.
    3. “Let’s make delicious vegetarian food..” More options means less likelihood of boredom! Go to vegetarian restaurants with their friends and definitely cook vegetarian meals together. 
    4. “I’ll support you..” It may take some time for your little one to adjust to a the idea of a different diet. Be patient and understanding, and offer them support. If they have any questions or concerns, be sure to answer them in a way that is age-appropriate and simple. 
    5. “ Different choices are ok..” Let them know each family has different choices and that’s ok. 
    6. “ Should I let them try…”? Think about whether you are willing to be open to let them try meat dishes. Are you ok with them being curious and trying? Giving them information and tools to make their own decisions might be a better approach versus restricting them.

Here are a few popular questions we got from our community, and a few ways to answer them. 

Child: "But why do some people eat animals like fish and goat?”

Grown up - Different people eat different things. Some people believe that meat is good for them. If we want people to care about how we feel, we should also care about how they feel.  

Child: "But is it okay to eat animals?"

Grown Up: That’s a personal choice. Only you can decide what’s right for you. In our family, we believe that eating only vegetables is good for us and we don’t want to eat animals. Other families may choose to eat meat. That’s their choice. 

Child: "Can we still love animals and eat them?"

Grown Up: Yes! We can love animals and still make choices about what we eat. There are many ways to love and care for animals. Some people choose not to eat animals. Other people make sure that the animals they eat are looked after well during their lives. 

Child: "Can I try eating meat?”

Grown up: When you want to try eating meat, tell me and we can talk about it together. I would prefer if you waited till you were older so you can decide for yourself when you grow up.

Hope you find this useful! 

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