More and more people are embracing veganism and vegetarianism (or at least incorporating them into their diets), but making the decision to raise your child primarily or purely on a plant-based diet can be challenging to explain to your carnivore family and friends.
While family members usually have the best of intentions, sometimes they don’t understand why parents would leave meat out of our kids’ diet, especially if they themselves raised their children as meat-eaters.
Comments such as, “A little bit of meat won’t hurt,” and “They’ll be nutritionally deficient,” while meant to be kind, aren’t supportive or helpful in your decision to raise your child as vegetarian or vegan.
WATCH: What to do if your child wants to be a vegetarian. Story continues below.
We chatted with Aviva Allen, a nutritionist and founder of Healthy Moms, and Laura De Sanctis, a nutritionist and founder of Go With Your Gut, to get some expert tips on how to share your family’s dietary decisions with your loved ones, whether it’s for health reasons or ethical reasons.
Explain but don’t impose
As much as you (and your partner, if you have one) feel passionate about your decision to raise your child vegan or vegetarian, the goal here is to share your choice, not impose it on your family and friends.
“Some family members will be supportive of your choices and others won’t,” Allen tells HuffPost Canada. “Those who have questions because they are genuinely interested can be engaged in a conversation about the subject. Other family members will try to challenge your decisions or debate the merits of your choice. They may even go as far as to criticize your choices out of concern for your child’s well-being.”
“I recommend you don’t get preachy about your views but simply let [friends and family] know that you take your child’s health seriously and are ensuring a balanced diet to meet all of their nutritional needs,” Allen says.
North American diets are mostly meat heavy (although that’s changing), so don’t be surprised if you’re met with skepticism over your decision to raise your child as a vegetarian or vegan.
You’re within your right to not have to explain why plant-based diets are healthy and nutritious, but a little demystifying may go a long way to helping your family come around.
“Explain that eating plant based is not a sacrifice, but a switch of perspective,” says De Sanctis. “Mainstream marketing concepts, like calcium has to come from dairy, can be reimagined by understanding that rich sources of calcium are found in a wide variety of plant-based foods.
“Even traditional dishes can be prepared by swapping meat and dairy ingredients for plant-based substitutions that cause less inflammation and bloating,” says De Sanctis, who notes that many of her clients come to her complaining of these irritants. “Slowly weaning those clients off meat and dairy has had a hugely positive impact on their health,” she says.
To put your family at ease, explain that you’ve done your homework, whether it’s consulting with a nutritionist and/or your family doctor. And if that doesn’t convince them, just say that you consider a vegan or vegetarian diet to be the most healthful choice for your child, end of discussion.
However, there’s a good chance your research will set their minds at ease.
Respect the connection between food and community
For many of us, community, connection, and even nostalgia are all intertwined with food.
Moving away from a meat- and dairy-heavy diet to vegan or vegetarian might feel like a personal rejection to family members.
Respect how connected they may feel to a particular dish, but offer an alternative that aligns with your dietary guidelines.
“Share vegan/vegetarian recipes with simple steps and accessible ingredients,” De Sanctis suggests. “Even traditional Italian meals can be veganized with a couple of easy swaps.”
Share with others
Eating with friends and family is a universal pastime we all enjoy, so if you still want to make them see what they’re missing, tempt their tastebuds with a lovingly prepared meal that highlights your plant based-diet.
“Let the host know that you appreciate them making accommodations for your family and ask if there is anything you can bring,” says Allen. “Or better yet, tell them you’ll make a great (insert dish here) and you’d love to bring it along to share. This ensures at least one dish that meets your needs and takes the pressure off of them.” This gesture can be an inclusive way for them to ease into understanding your decision.
If they still don’t understand your family’s choices, that’s on them, not you. Stand up for your decisions, and do what’s right for your own family.
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