Remember when this video was being passed around social media? It caught the attention of lots of moms and dads, and it's still pretty noteworthy. It features a little boy asking about his dinner, which happens to be octopus spaghetti (he's Italian). What follows is a conversation that raises questions about what we eat.
A 2010 Vegetarian Resource Group poll stated three percent of youth ages 8-18, or an estimated 1.4 million young people, are vegetarian, or at least abstaining completely from eating meat. While most vegetarian children follow the diet because the entire family does, that is not always the case.
When Nejla Abbed’s middle child became a vegetarian, she was not surprised. Her son Kaiden Spiro, 11, began to eliminate meat at age three after connecting the source of the food with what was on his dinner plate. An encounter with a grocery store’s seafood department ended with Spiro refusing to eat the “dead” fish he saw in front of him. This stood out to Abbed as the point when her son began his vegetarian journey.
In the eight years since, Abbed, Spiro, and their family have worked to make compromises at mealtime to keep the family’s dinner ritual intact.
Moral vegetarians, like Spiro, place parents in a challenging position by requiring special meals. For Abbed, respecting her son’s vegetarian lifestyle meant small changes to family meal planning, such as preparing meat separate from the rest of the meal.
Abbed said, “If he were just being picky, if it were just that, then I wouldn't cater to it.” Instead, Abbed works to find ways to get protein into Spiro’s diet throughout the day. She does however, put her foot down at his request that meat be removed from the table altogether since the rest of her family continues to eat meat.
An even bigger challenge though? Eating out.
The fact is “kid fare" is not vegetarian friendly. Most restaurants offer chicken fingers and hot dogs, leaving non-meat eating children with few choices outside of a grilled cheese sandwich.
While finding nutritious food at restaurants can be hard, vegetarians can easily maintain a healthy diet with a bit of planning. As Brown University notes on its Health Promotion website, “The key to any healthy diet is to choose a wide variety of foods, and to consume enough calories to meet your energy needs.”
For moms like Abbed, having a vegetarian child simply means that a bit more creativity and flexibility are required from the whole family, at least when it comes to food.