My wife and I have both decided to change our lifestyle and become vegetarian.
Our main issue is our 4 yr old son. We ate healthy before we decided to stop eating meat all together.
I guess our concern is will he be getting everything he needs on a vegetarian diet, and what to expect while we become vegetarian. Any advice will be greatly apppreciated. - R.W.
For the first part of your question, will he be getting everything he needs on a vegetarian diet, the answer is yes, depending on several factors.
You already have a healthy diet. If you are ovo-lacto vegetarians, if he has no food allergies or sensitivities, and if he's a 'good eater', he should easily get enough protein, Vit B12, and other essential nutrients on a vegetarian diet.
If you are vegan, there's more of a challenge in his going vegetarian, and I recommend that you not jump straight into a vegan diet for your four year old. Those are all big ifs. Whatever the variables, if you don't already, I would consider giving him kids daily vitamin supplements. Rainbow Light Vitamins makes an excellent chewable one.
For the second part of your question, what to expect while you become vegetarian, the answer is to expect the vegetarian transition to take much longer than you would think, and that there could be some going back and forth between veg and non-veg, for all of you.
Don't expect your four year old to just get with the program and be happily vegetarian for the rest of his life. That could happen, in which case, congratulations on your saintly child!
My experience with four year olds is that they are distinctly individual, and have formed definite opinions about what they want to eat. Ultimately, it will be up to him whether he goes vegetarian for the rest of his life - don't make it an issue in your relationship.
Take it slow and easy in introducing new foods. Make it fun, get him involved in food prep, shopping, meal planning, and encourage his cooperation by giving him choices and rewards.
When it's easy and welcomed by him, introduce the concepts behind vegetarianism, being careful not to overwhelm or frighten him - think education, not indoctrination. I know of one father who showed his young children pictures of slaughterhouses - it gave them nightmares for years.
Nava Atlas has written many excellent family oriented vegetarian cookbooks, such as Vegan Express.
'Raising Vegetarian Children', by Vesanto Melina and Jo Stefaniak, is a good support book, as is 'The New Becoming Vegetarian', by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis.
Please read the free Savvy Veg report: 10 Tips for Beginning Vegetarians.
No matter what I or anybody else thinks, you are responsible for your child and his upbringing, and must follow your own feelings and best judgement with regard to his vegetarian diet. As with all parenting, there isn't really a map or a manual, except in your own hearts.
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian