Photo credits from FriendsForPeace.org
In recent years, a growing trend toward vegetarianism and veganism has arisen among young people due to their increasing awareness of health, the environment and compassion for animals.
According to a recent poll conducted by the independent research firm Harris Interactive, the number of vegetarian youth in the United States has increased 70% in just the last few years. Another poll conducted by a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on vegetarianism, revealed that 0.5% of all U.S. children aged 6-17 are vegan.
Although some parents may be initially puzzled about how to prepare vegetarian food, many families report that having a vegetarian child quickly improves the entire family's eating habits, and some say they wish they had changed their diets sooner.
Due to the improved accessibility of vegetarian foods in the last 10 years, many families with vegetarian children report that it is now much easier to find kid-friendly veggie food items such as soy milk, vegetable broth and veggie burgers in local grocery stores. According to one registered dietitian and mother of two vegetarian teenagers, “It seems to get easier every year. It's not just grocery stores. More and more schools, camps and colleges have added vegetarian options to their menus, as well as many fast-food chains and family restaurants.”
Indeed, the notion that one child's choice to become a vegetarian can have a positive influence on the whole family is well founded. According to a recent survey conducted by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, when 4,746 vegetarian Minnesota adolescents were compared with their non-vegetarian counterparts, the vegetarian youth were more likely to meet government standards for consumption of total fat, saturated fat and fruits and vegetables.
But can a person get enough protein from a vegetarian diet? Some curious friends and family members may pose this question to parents of new vegetarians. Protein is an important nutrient required for the building, maintenance and repair of body tissues, but many people are surprised to learn that the body's protein needs are actually much lower than what an average non-vegetarian consumes. Even for those who need more protein than the typical person, such as athletes and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, an extra serving of legumes, tofu, meat substitutes or other high protein foods can help meet needs that go beyond the current recommended daily allowance.
Countering persistent public concerns, a 2003 American Dietetic Association review of scientific literature concluded that well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets can be appropriate for all ages. “A vegetarian diet can be very healthy if it's done intelligently,” says Elizabeth Turner, executive editor of Los Angeles-based Vegetarian Times magazine. And Myrtle McCulloch, an assistant professor of nutrition at Georgetown University's Department of International Health in Washington, concurs. Her key advice for parents of vegetarians, especially vegans, is to make sure they get enough vitamin B12, and suggests fortified soy products such as tofu and soy milk as an excellent source of this nutrient. To parents with children who express an interest in becoming vegetarian, she advises, “Honor your child's wish.”
In conclusion, as more and more young people go the vegetarian route through compassion and an awakened consciousness, they are providing the righteous foundations for future generations and the world to someday become fully vegetarian.