Tips for Families on Becoming a Vegetarian

Considering eating greener? Here is advice on how to help your family forgo meat if they're interested in switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

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So you’re considering scrapping meat – maybe just a type or two, or perhaps any animal product, period. Whether the family is headed toward casual vegetarianism, all-out veganism or any step in between, parents’ attitude and involvement are crucial toward making the shift for kids (practically, and health-wise, since you’ll have to seek other ways to meet certain nutritional needs). Here are a few tips to get you started.

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Get educated

Visit Internet-based sites and bookstores for diet guidelines and recipes. Here in southeast Michigan, the nonprofit VegMichigan provides links to plenty of information. GoVeg is also loaded with resources.

Have a discussion

Most vegetarian-geared websites emphasize knowing your family’s personal reasons for making the switch. Health? Environmental? Moral? Discover and discuss these motivations with your kids, and listen to their feedback.

Grow your food

You’re switching to a plant-based diet; why not let your kids know exactly where their food comes from? Grow a small garden plot at home, starting with simple seed-grown veggies, like tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers (get a few insights on the Michigan growing season here. The area also teems with farmers markets, where you can get acquainted with the folks who actually grow the food. Get connected to Michigan’s bounty here.

Learn how to shop

Check out natural-food stores and health-food stores to find the largest variety of vegetarian foods. National chains with local stores, such as Whole Foods, or Michigan-based markets like The Better Health Store, Nino Salvaggio’s and Hiller’s markets are great spots to start. Seek out our local independents near you, too. Browse, and come armed with questions! Folks are happy to help.

Swapping foods

Gradually substitute plant-based ingredients in family recipes. For instance, instead of chicken in your stir fry, try tofu. Or swap out pasta for zucchini and squash in a veggie lasagna.

Get the kids involved

Let children help prepare the meals, so they’re part of the process and see how the dishes come together. Snip and save favorite recipes and put them in a special book.

Build up gradually

Start by eating a vegetarian meal one day a week. Then make it two meals a week, and so on. The same goes for whittling down your meat intake: Cut out a specific type and build from there (red meat is often recommended, since it’s often considered a less-healthy meat).

Smart snacking

Keep cut-up fruits and vegetables on hand for a quick snack, to avoid the temptation of grabbing junk. And, as a general rule, serve kids the healthiest food when they’re the hungriest.

Getting what you need

Vegetarian diets can offer healthy perks while being nutritionally beneficial – if you’re mindful. Be sure that kids and teens are getting enough vitamin B12 and D, along with calcium, protein, iron and zinc. Click here to discover veggie-friendly foods that are great sources.

Encourage kids to eat want you want them to eat. Ultimately, your example goes a long way in setting any family lifestyle change – food included!

This post was originally published in November 2009 and has been updated.

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