My child says she’s now a vegetarian. What now?

Article at a Glance

  • Dietary changes aren’t always a bad thing.
  • Reasons for eating a vegetarian diet can be multifaceted.
  • There are several ways to accommodate plant-based diets at mealtime.

Children, especially starting in middle childhood, make many changes on their road to adulthood. In what seems like days, kids can stop liking shows, music, or even friends that they used to enjoy. As random as these changes may seem to you, change is not always a bad thing. The same is true when your child announces she’s now a vegetarian.

Why Children Change

To better understand why a child might suddenly become a vegetarian, it is important to understand why children change in the first place. According to a study by the University of Minnesota, children in middle childhood begin to pattern their behavior based on each situation and who they’re with. Friends and media are both influences that become more powerful during the tween and teen years. Experimenting with vegetarianism is also about twice as common among girls than boys.

Why Vegetarianism?

Your initial reaction may be to discourage or argue with your child about this sudden change. After all, you don’t know any tofu recipes and you just did the shopping. But try setting that aside and asking what led to their choice. According to Harvard, these are the most common reasons:

  • Healthier lifestyle.
  • Concerns about animal welfare.
  • It’s more popular and accepted than ever before.

And we have good news: tofu is not synonymous with vegetarianism.

How to React to a Vegetarian Manifesto

Even if bacon is a staple in your house, you can use your kid’s newfound vegetarianism as an opportunity for bonding and growth. Let your child take ownership of their choice by learning to cook food, research recipes, help with shopping, and be more helpful in the kitchen. When your child communicates a desire to be vegetarian, they’re making strides toward independence. Your supportive, open-minded reaction could help her feel safe opening up about future interests, concerns, and perspectives.

Mealtime Tweaks to Support a Vegetarian Diet

Mealtime changes may feel intimidating at first, but the tweaks are worth it. Not only will all that help in the kitchen be great, you’ll have an opportunity to eat a more plant-focused diet. Here are some tips for tweaking mealtime:

  • Alternative proteins – There are many alternative protein sources. Many recipes can be adapted to use alternative proteins like nuts, textured vegetable protein (TVP) beans, and (yes) tofu that are delicious and, in many ways, healthier than meat.
  • Meat on the side – Instead of having meat as the main source of caloric intake during meals, reduce the amount of meat and increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. This will keep your child’s plate balanced, even if they skip the meat.
  • Have your child help in the kitchen – Your teen can learn to plan and prepare their own meals on nights when you’re cooking a meat-focused meal. Granted, this will make more dirty dishes, but teens can help dishes too.
  • Research new recipes together – There are many delicious, meatless recipes. With the popularity of vegetarianism, many cooking shows, social media influencers, and YouTubers have published hundreds of free, mouth-watering recipes.

Finding out your child wants to be a vegetarian can be a surprise. Whether this is a phase or a lifelong decision, doesn’t matter as much as how you react. Showing love, interest, and support can strengthen your relationship with your child. And, if you have nutritional concerns, this is also a great opportunity for the two of you to meet with your child’s pediatrician.

Reviewed on March 1, 2022 by: Kevin Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.
Kevin Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.
Board-certified Pediatrician

Dr. Nelson's practice interests include asthma, behavioral health, nutrition, and special healthcare needs.

Payson Office
Full Bio

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