From Burgers to Black Beans: How to Wrangle a Kid Gone Meatless

Energy Express


June 2020 Issue
by Marilynn Preston

It can happen in the best of homes. You think you've done everything right as a parent—good schools, restricted screen time, all-cotton underwear—and then one day at dinner, your world explodes.

Your kid goes veggie. She stops eating meat. "I've decided on a plant-based diet," little Lindsey explains, turning her nose, knife and fork up at the beautiful burger on her plate. "How can you eat somebody's mother?"

Some version of this drama plays out every day in homes across America as more young people become aware of the face on the plate and how it relates to the planet they live on.
I hope we can blame schools, but however it happens, kids eating green is trending up, and meatloaf-loving parents need help, strategies, patience and sometimes pharmaceuticals.

Step one? Don't panic. There are experts to advise you, and one of them is Lisa Barley of Vegetarian Times, a great resource for 100 things to do with chickpeas.

"Your child's new diet doesn't have to make your life more difficult," she explains in calming, reasonable tones. There are ways to be supportive, less stressed. Here are some of them, along with my own embellishments:
DON’T WORRY. Your kids health won’t suffer if they’re following a well-planned veggie diet, say the authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. They can get all the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy and strong, but it requires some study.

LISTEN UP. Ask your kids to share the reasons they’re giving up meat, Lisa suggests. Keep an open mind. If they’ve gone on YouTube and seen the horrible things that happen to cows and chickens in the name of factory farming, take a look yourself. Sit down over a plate of edamame and talk it over. More important than talking is listening to your child—listening without judging. “Think of it as an opportunity to get to know their values and worldview,” Barley writes.

ASSIGN HOMEWORK. Lisa wants you to get your kids involved in whatever eating changes they want to make. Have your newbie vegetarian “make a list of nutritious snacks and meals and draft a shopping list, “ she says in a state of mind some parents will regard as delusional.

Another strategy: Go over the vegetarian food pyramid together so all involved can see what a well-balanced diet looks like. In case your vegetarian food pyramid has gone missing, you can always find it again at

BE A STUDENT. When a child goes veggie, it’s smart to have a couple of reliable resources you can turn to with your questions and concerns. But beware! There is a lot of confusing, conflicting and corporately designed nutrition information online. Barley recommends parents check in with two nonprofits I’ve trusted and admired for years: Oldways Vegetarian Network and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Going to your family doctor with nutrition questions is usually fruitless.

Rule No. 1: “Make it clear that junk food vegetarianism won’t fly,” Barley says. Eating real food should be the focus, not bags of chips and cookies that are vegan and packed with sugar. If you need help with meal planning and prep, ask your child to pitch in. (Why do I hear you laughing?)

And keep the drama over food choices to a minimum. Declare the dining table a no-war zone of peace. Nothing puts a bigger chill in the air than a heated discussion about tortured and stressed industrial chickens ... while half the family is chewing on them.

COOK AND EAT TOGETHER. I’ve saved the best for last. It’s also the most idealistic, but so what? Help create a world where everyone respects everyone else’s food choices. Start in your own kitchen. Focus on foods you can all eat together, like make-your-own tacos with different fillings or pasta with one meat sauce, one veggie sauce. DIY pizza is good, too.

The crucial thing is your attitude. A kid’s choosing to go meatless isn’t the end of the world. It’s an introduction to a world you might want to join yourself someday.

As one mother told Barley, “There are many bad choices that a child can make in this world, and being a vegetarian is definitely not one of them.”

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, the whole world would be vegetarian.”
- Linda McCartney -

Marilynn Preston is the author of "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new Amazon best-seller "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being" is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit ©2020 ENERGY EXPRESS LTD.

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