FOR ME, the child of a family that originated in Ireland, that had incredibly strong Irish links, I found my transition from the world of meat-eating to veganism to be particularly hard. Not in the sense that I wasn't supported, but in the sense that all day, every day I was surrounded by people eating meals I'd grown up with, meals I'd grown to love as a kid, most of which were heavily meat-based, that I knew I wouldn't be able to have again. Things like steak pies, or chicken and mushroom pies, or even things as simple as champ (mashed potatoes, cabbage and bacon, at least in my family.)
The idea of becoming a vegetarian in a family of meat eaters is incredibly daunting, and veganism even more so, however, and that's the biggest problem that many people nowadays face. Not necessarily the transfer over to a plant-based diet, or the notion of never being able to eat meat again, although this can pose a problem, but the idea of saying to family and friends that you would rather not eat meat and/or dairy products. This fear is entirely understandable too, nowadays veganism especially is painted in a negative light which makes those wanting to switch to the diet feel even more at risk of being ridiculed.
Speaking from a personal perspective, I would like to give anyone reading this, whether that be the parent(s)/guardian(s) of a child that wants to go vegetarian or vegan, or the child that would like to swap over to a plant-based diet, some tips on how to deal with this shift, because the chances are this change in eating habits will not only affect the child, but it will affect the family, too.
FOR A CHILD THAT WOULD LIKE TO SWAP TO A PLANT BASED DIET:
- Be sure to be understanding of any problems that your parent(s)/guardian(s) may bring up in regards to the diet change. Sometimes, changing your diet can be expensive. Be willing to compromise.
- Be entirely willing to learn how to cook for yourself, rather than expecting them to cook for you. Often times, I find that children expect their parents to cook them their meals, despite not eating the same thing as the rest of the family. If it takes the strain off, offer to cook too.
- Be willing to take the lifestyle one step at a time. Sometimes it is easier for those who take care of you to adjust slowly. Though the ultimate goal may always be vegetarianism or veganism, perhaps try cutting things out gradually. For example, cutting down on red meat, poultry, and lamb to leave you with a pescatarian diet before switching to a vegetarian one.
- Although you may be eating different meals, do not feel as though you need to avoid involving your family in your new lifestyle and diet. Cook and bake for them, offer them things to try. You may find that you end up eating the same meals again a couple of times a week, if they enjoy them.
FOR ANY PARENT(S)/GUARDIAN(S) WITH A CHILD WISHING TO SWITCH TO A PLANT BASED DIET:
- Listen to any reason your child may give for wanting to switch to this diet. Children are far more likely to be affected by stories of animal cruelty or killings than adults are. Understand that hearing stories like this and knowing what they mean may lead to a child feeling guilty for eating meat.
- Have an open mind towards the idea of incorporating more plant-based food into your diet.
- Do not brush your child's want for a change of diet off as simply being a phase. It may well be, but encourage them to try it.
- Cook with your child, teach them to make things. Make sure they understand how to make simply foods, how long to cook things for, what to cook them in.
- Be active in your child's relationship with food. Do not try to control what they eat, but taste what they may make, try some meals that they enjoy. Encourage the rest of your family to join in. A sense of support may make it easier for the child to stick to their diet, as well as feeling as though they are not being forced out of a decision they had made on their own accord.
- Do not get angry at them for suggesting the idea of a plant based diet to you! Allow yourselves to have a discussion about it. If you feel you can't immediately begin to support a plant based diet, suggest a compromise. If you remain calm, have a discussion and actually figure out what you would all like to do, you will find that adapting to what your child may want out of their diet becomes easier.
I understand that perhaps this all sounds rather biased in favour of the child, however, I believe in allowing kids the freedom to discover new things and try new things. A plant based diet is one of these things I believe children should be allowed to enjoy and explore. It is a fantastic opportunity to teach and learn from each other, and the range of recipes it gives you are incredibly vast. By allowing your child to have this small freedom, you allow them a small amount of independence. Again, from personal experience, it feels as though you are respecting their decision.
Children are so used to hearing "no" in regards to food, however, saying "yes" to a child's suggestion of a plant-based diet is certainly not a bad thing. It encourages a healthier lifestyle, it encourages a child to learn to cook, it is the perfect opportunity for a much more mature discussion than you have, perhaps, ever had with your child before and it is the perfect way to bond over something. It gives the guardian(s) the chance to learn from the child and vice versa, and if it is a phase, there will be no real damage done.
A plant based diet is inherently positive, and does the body good when done properly. Before adopting one, I do highly advise doing some research into it all and discussing this with your parent/child. Find out if this lifestyle fits you, and if you think it does, please do not think twice about suggesting adopting it. It can only do good, at least in my eyes.