Thursday, August 12, 2010

My so called vegetarian life

I've noticed something about teenage girls and some boys. It seems that being a vegetarian is the cool thing to be. Suddenly as if a counsel meeting were held teen girls are coming home to parents claiming a new dietary lifestyle. Several people I know have been experiencing this phenomenon with their daughters, nieces or neighbors. At first I didn't think much about it, no big deal to me. Except now that I have been hearing of so many parents struggling with this new lifestyle change I am beginning to wonder if this is becoming a trend with that age. Now, I didn't say I am not supportive nor have I said I am supportive. I am if anything sympathetic to all involved. I too was a so called vegetarian. Way back in college it was a way for me personally to avoid eating overly fatty cafeteria food. Thankfully it was the best choice I made for my health as I did not gain excessive weight as many first year college students. Rather it was the inspiration for me to become a better cook. I became more aware of my nutrition and as a result I made better choices. Although I was generally vegetarian I did not make it a big deal when coming home or visiting people. I still ate my Granny's cabbage rolls, Great Aunt Margaret's stuffing and turkey and Mom's chicken. I'd say I was more flexitarian. I ate little meat but would not refuse meat entirely. I could not be vegan. I tried. It was not possible for me at the time to maintain the fullness and blood sugar levels for my body. I became too cranky and having to eat every 2 hours was not possible for my lifestyle. That's an important point to consider.

Becoming a vegetarian or vegan is not like going out and changing your hairstyle or clothing. Eating habits are something that take great effort to change. Specifically changing your habits dramatically takes incredible will power. You have to know your body and its needs. If you are sensitive to blood sugar dips then you will need to factor that in to your decision. If you are an athlete that too will affect your caloric intake. This is not to be taken lightly as most teens will treat it. For many teens it's just something to do, something to be, easy like pie. That's why I understand the reaction some parents give. For many a severe change in family eating routines will be upsetting. Especially for the parent who is doing the food purchasing and preparation. So naturally they slightly panic. To them it's just one more problem to add to the daily food plan. Then their teen will brood and pout about not being understood leaving a frustrated and angry parent standing alone in the kitchen. 

Being positive when your feelings are hurt can be trying. If a teen you know so very much wants to be vegetarian then you should be supportive. But, I didn't say be obsequious. If this is something a teen wants to do then it should require some substantial effort on their part to implement. Most teens are going to assume that after their proclamation Mom or Dad will just make that vegetarianism happen. Magically everyone will sit down to eat a meal getting their preferred food, as if eating at home were like a restaurant. The reality of the change needs to be made apparent. If you as the parents are not quite ready to take on this new eating lifestyle then make it clear that you will not be joining in 100%. I suggest that be done gently as in "At the moment your father and I as well as your siblings will not become vegetarian with you. We will still eat as we have and on occasion we will join you but don't expect us to be as diligent as you." Being open to the new vegetarian is good but you shouldn't have to forgo your eating habits too. Nor should anyone be made to feel insulted by their food choices. Your teen should not criticize their siblings/parents/friends/family/guests for murdering cows nor should they be criticized for lack of meat eating. I should point out the other important aspect of opinionated teens. Family and friends inviting them over to supper. I'd make it clear to the new vegetarian that being a guest at someone's house means maintaining manners. As in they cannot make a big dramatic moment at the supper table if there does not happen to be anything they can eat. (Which I seriously doubt but the attempt to point that out is indeed on their mind) That is not the moment for what the attention seeking teens desperately want, to be noticed as being unique and special. It will happen. I've seen it and it's never received well.*

Many teens will think being a vegetarian is easy that all they will need to do is eliminate meat from their diet. Yes and no. First they need to decide which type of vegetarian they are going to be. If they claim vegan then I'd make sure they actually understand what being a vegan means. Many people don't have a clue about the complexity involved with being a vegan. I suggest that one way to encourage your new vegetarian recruit is to demand that your teen learn about becoming a vegetarian. Uninformed teens just presume that they'll be able to eat pretty much what they have been enjoying and carry on with the vegetarian badge. That's why I think it's important that once your teen has decided what vegetarian they want to be that you take them to the store and show them the wonders of reading food labels. Begin with the food products your teen loves. Cereals, snacks, etc. Point out the hidden dairy and animal products with big fancy names. Caesin is a milk protein, Whey contains milk protein, Cholecalciferol is vitamin D3 from fish liver, waxy coatings on non-organic produce often contains animal byproducts, sugar is not considered vegan. It is often processed using bone char an animal product. A good list to look at here gives some more examples. If after all that information has sunk in and your teen still is on the veg wagon then the next step is to ask yourself two things: How will this impact your family food budget? and How will they participate in this new diet?

Being vegan will increase your food expense. There's no way around it. Finding tasty replacements for non-vegan products can be difficult and costly. Are you willing to spend money trying products that no one will eat for lack of taste? More importantly do your supermarkets carry those products? If you can't afford a budget increase to accommodate a vegan then you will need to state that fact to your teen. Your teen will have to alter their go vegan choice and try a more semi-vegan diet. Or your teen will need to get a job to pay for those vegan products. Being vegetarian may not have too much impact on your food budget. If anything one less meat eater may save some money but you will need to spend that on produce. The participation aspect is the single most important part of their desire to maintain the vegetarian diet. I firmly believe that if a teen comes home with the plan of being a vegetarian then it is time for that teen to learn how to cook for their new dietary needs. The most successful vegetarians will need to learn how to make food according to their needs, well balanced and palatable. So it might as well start right off. Have your teen go to the public library and select several vegetarian cookbooks. (I suggest the library because not all vegetarian cookbooks are worth their cost. Preview free and figure out which ones are good before buying something that ends up being not quite your taste.) Give a few recipes a test run. Finding meals that are easy to make will greatly improve your teen's success. My favorite books are below.

Next is the family plan. Your teen will now need to plan the meal they will eat every day. The planning includes all meals and snacks for the food budget time frame. If your family shops for groceries weekly then a weekly plan should be put together and given to the shopper. Review the list and have your teen learn the costs of those ingredients. If possible take the teen with you to the store. Show them how to select those items and point out the cost. I would emphasize the necessity of using what is needed to prevent waste. Getting the food is easy. Getting the teenager to actually cook those meals will be more of a challenge. Stick to the plan. If they teen is too tired, cranky, or what ever make it clear that they will have to eat what can be found on the table. Without complaint. It may be harsh but being vegetarian is their choice and they must understand the consequences of that choice.

Maybe your teen will continue this new vegetarianism, maybe they won't. It does not have to be a problem. Determining if this is something your teen wants to do for positive reasons rather than negative reasons is important. Laying the ground rules in front of everyone is the key to confusion and frustration. Those rules will prevent much of the attention seeking aspect of this trend with their peers. At the very least this will encourage your teen to take on a more active role in their nutrition. If in the process the rest of the family benefits from more vegetables and fruits on the table then everyone wins.

*Teen girl did this at a gathering I was at. Made a big fuss whining about how there was not a thing there this perfect vegetarian could eat. Not 10 minutes later after learning about this teen's new lifestyle I had her a plate full of food and a very large slice of humble pie to go along with it.


Good books to try:


Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone this one is excellent but does require a more skilled level of cooking

So Easy this author has great food that is easy to make and is mostly vegetarian, a great phase in book

Quick Fix Vegetarian great meals made in under an hour

Moosewood there are several of these that have great recipes to try

Viva Vegan great for Mexican and Latin flavor

Accidental Vegan some recipes require more cooking skills



Voluptuous Vegan good variety of choices


Cooking Light Essential Dinner Tonight recipes not all vegetarian but are easy to be made so and are quick to make

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