Raising a Vegetarian Family

As parents, we do everything we can to raise happy, healthy children. We immunize them against diseases, fret over their runny noses, and consider it to be a national emergency when they have a fever. Unfortunately, many parents don’t know that they are risking their children’s health by feeding them drug-laden, meat-based diets instead of cholesterol-free vegetarian diets.

Feeding meat to your children is likely to adversely affect their health in both the short and the long term. Meat is packed with hormones, dioxins, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and other contaminants. Some of the drugs that are commonly found in chicken flesh are even arsenic-based. These chemicals are ingested by the animals who are exploited on factory farms and then accumulate in their flesh and fat.

Herbicides and pesticides are also dumped on the crops that are fed to animals on factory farms. This means that these poisons are concentrated in the meat at a level that is up to 14 times higher than what is typically found in vegetables. Furthermore, since these toxins are in the animals’ flesh, it’s impossible to wash them away.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the consumption of meat causes 70 percent of the food poisoning cases in the U.S. each year. This is not surprising when you consider that meat can be contaminated with a host of dangerous bacteria—including E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter. Sadly, adults aren’t the only ones who feel the ill-health effects of this contaminated food. Recent outbreaks of E. coli have shown that these pathogens can be deadly when consumed by children.

The late Benjamin Spock, M.D., author of the landmark parenting guide Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, wrote, “Children who grow up getting their nutrition from plant foods rather than meats have a tremendous health advantage. They are less likely to develop weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.”

Indeed, the saturated fat and the relative lack of fiber in a flesh-based diet can make your child overweight and lethargic in the short term and can contribute to the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in the long term.

In contrast, a healthy vegetarian diet gives children all the protein, calcium, fiber, and vitamins that they need to be strong and healthy. Vegetarian kids are free from the cholesterol and chemical toxins that are found in fish, chicken, pork, and other meat.

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  • Judy commented on May 1, 2011 at 10:36 am

    There is an interesting speech before Congress by the head of the agriculture department at the University of Georgia in which he points out that Americans eat much of our food, daily, that is imported from places where farmers (and corporate business owners) are allowed to use even more pesticides, hormones, and poisons than are allowed or used anywhere–at any time–in the U.S.–despite weakly enforced regulations and laws, including those allowing only certain percentages of contamination, in the United States. The Agricultural Educator makes a sharp observation that Americans suffer more than economically by paying for imports rather than supporting small farms and medium-sized farms in America. The food most Americans eat is not clean–by any standards.
    I live in an area of the South where cotton was raised until recent years. Instead of continuing to improve the methods of farming and the working conditions in mills and factories, Americans sent these crops and jobs to other countries–some of the first ‘outsourcing’ to places where people did not try to get better working conditions or higher wages. Now, those countries are ‘outsourcing’ to other, less-‘developed’ countries!
    Eating our ‘fresh’ food that makes it way to the grocery stores this way is, as the agricultural expert points out, downright dangerous.
    I would like to see a network posting, similar to the one you have about cruelty-free clothing on your site, about where the small farms are located, including the market times and places where local people are bringing goods to market–eggs, honey, vegetables.
    I have not learned to grow vegetables, herbs, fruits, and nuts; but my grandparents and aunts and uncles all had gardens. The food is very different when you look at it on the vines and then take it to your plate. If you are fortunate enough to live with your loved ones and family, and you put together meals together with herbs and food from your garden, together with friends and family–something spiritual happens–whether you cook eggs with thyme and serve it on homemade olive bread, like I watched a couple do on a video–or invite a crowd to tables set up in the fields, as I have also seen on video about an organic farm in Georgia. Take it from someone who eats ‘out’ much the time and enjoys doing so for social reasons (even alone: Eating the simplest meal at ‘home’ from home grown food is bliss. Scrambling those eggs (or fresh mushrooms, plucking basil or cutting thyme to stir in, tossing the mixture of greens with olive oil and vinegar, and toasting the bread with someone you love is even more sublime. It’s home, rich. Find your local farmers. Some of them (even the hippies from the sixties who are now in their sixties) have websites.

  • Angel commented on November 2, 2011 at 8:58 am

    I have been a vegetarian for almost six years now and it is wonderful what it has done to my health. I love the decision I made because I couldn’t contribute to what is being done to our animals. I do have a daughter, she is eleven years old. I do not restrict meat from her diet though. I want her to be able to make her own decisions and I want her to do it because she wants to do it. This is a lifestyle change and I don’t want to impose something temporary on her. As she has gotten older she has decided to tremendously reduce the amount she eats and I am proud of her for that. My point is, I think it is important to allow our children to make a decision liket this on their own because it means so much more. In the meantime I only buy her meats from local farms.

  • Ashley-P commented on November 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Angel: But isn’t making your child eat animals also making a choice for her? Just some “food” for thought! 🙂

  • Ann commented on December 28, 2011 at 3:42 am

    I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years. My husband is not. We both raised our son to be respectful of all living things, and he grew up seeing two different eating habits. As a child he did not eat a lot of meat and did not really like it. I have read several articles that state this is common when vegetarian mom’s nurse their infants. I was pleased that he did not eat a lot of meat, but never pushed. I have always just explained my own reasons for NOT eating meat. We have a lot of rescued animal friends in our home, and a couple years ago we got some chickens. They are wonderful animals! When they were about 5 months old my son decided to stop eating chicken. He said he couldn’t eat chicken any more since it reminded him of our chickens. (We will eat their eggs as long as they lay them but they are pets and will live a long and happy life in our garden!) Two of our chickens grew up to be roosters and after 2 stressful months of trying to find homes for them (where they would not be food or used in cock fighting) we found a wonderful farm animal sanctuary that agreed to take them. We drove 3 hours to take them to their new home, and cried all the way back. But at the sanctuary we met a number of other rescued farm animals, including some hormone filled ‘fryer’ chickens that had fallen off of a truck on their way to slaughter. These poor little animals were extremely obese and forced to grow so quickly that their short little legs could barely hold them. We were told that they would probably die within the year since their hearts just cannot support their size. (My son thought that ‘fryer’ was an aweful way to refer to them and he still calls them ‘Earth babies’.) The whole experience made a huge impression on my son, and he felt good about the fact that he no longer ate chicken. A couple months later he asked if it was OK if he stopped eating all meat because he just didn’t want to eat animals any more. He was 11 years old, and I am very proud of his continued compassion and committment. As parents we each need to decide how to teach and guide our own children. I would highly recommend providing opportunities to care for and spend time with animals. For my family, visiting a farm animal sanctuary and sharing our lives with chickens has made a positive difference to both us and to animals.

  • Heidi Dickson commented on March 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Ok I am going to say that letting kids make therown decisions of what to wear or how to fix there hair in the morning is one thing but allowing kids to decided if they should eat meat or not is not a deciaion I care to make my almost 12 year old in May make. We as parents need to stand up for what is right and what isn’t for the animals sake and teach our children that when they become an adult then they can choose if they want to eat meat or not but as long as they live in your house I think the parent should say in our family we don’t eat meat and that is just the way it is going to be weather they like it or not. They will be healthier and thank you for it in the long run and while explaining to them why our family doesn’t eat meat.

  • katalina commented on June 16, 2012 at 1:36 am

    When i had my first kid i rose her from the time she was born to present time to be vegan like me, she is 12 now and she is vegetarian. This article is explains exactly why i did that. Just sayin’.

  • Tiffany commented on July 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I’d love to be a vegetarian family, but my 16 yr old son refuses. I’ve had him watch educational movies, read books, research and he loves animals, but he will not give up meat or milk. I wish I had learned all this stuff much earlier. I feel at some point it’s just going to have to be his own journey. I can’t force him into becoming a vegetarian.

  • Ariette commented on July 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    What bothers me is when omnivores say that vegetarian children cannot possibly be healthier than meat-eating children. My husband and I have raised three vegetarian, well one vegan son and two vegetarian daughters, and I am extremely happy as a mother to see my 17 and 15 year old children to be healthy, happy, and guilt free. Being vegetarian is the most “green” thing you can ever do, for yourself and for the environment!

  • Jo commented on August 16, 2012 at 12:31 am

    I always wanted to be a vegetarian but had to wait until I was 17 as my parents were worried about my growth as a child. My husband (who eats meat) and I agreed that we would raise our baby vegetarian but if he chooses to eat meat once he’s old enough to understand the arguments for and against, we will allow it. Like Ann said this will involve educating him to respect animals from a young age. I’d rather not allow him to eat meat and then choose not to later, if it was me I would be upset that I had been made to eat meat when I didn’t understand the connection with the animals that all children naturally love.

    However, it has been a lot more challenging than I anticipated. He is only 8 months. He is intolerant to dairy, though I will give him free range eggs. He is an extremely fussy eater – something I wasn’t prepared for. It is hard as a parent not to panic when his growth drops off and wonder if you are doing the right thing.

  • buds commented on December 30, 2012 at 6:51 am

    My husband is a non vegetarian while my I am a vegetarian. I want my 2 kids to be vegetarians. Please help me on what I should do?