"I'm letting my son be a vegetarian, but here are the rules."

I blame the fish.

We were sitting down to dinner one night and we were eating a delicious meal of fish fingers, green bean salad and rice when my son Philip, 12, looked over at our new fresh water fish tank. I’d cleverly decided to put it at one end of the dining table and he said, “I feel bad.”

I thought he was feeling sick but he explained that he felt bad about eating dead fish in front of the live fish, like fish fingers contain any real fish whatsoever.

But before I could even begin to explain that to him he’d put his fish finger down, and ate only green beans and rice before looking accusingly at me as I dipped my remaining fish finger in tomato sauce and then asked if I could have his, only if he wasn’t planning on eating them.

Lunchbox politics are a thing. Post continues…

So when, a few weeks later, he told me he wanted to be vegetarian, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was. After all, I had spent 10 years prior to his birth a happy vegetarian with six of those 10 years being a “patchy vegan” due to my occasional consumption of cheese.

I just couldn’t help myself.

He’d told my husband first who immediately tried to talk him out of it but I just said ‘OK’. How can I not respect him for being so sensitive to the feelings of goldfish at such a young age?

But, I told him, there would be some ground rules:

1. Vegetarian, but not vegan.

We started talking about why he wanted to be vegetarian which pretty much boiled down to the suffering of animals. I explained the difference between being vegetarian and being vegan and he asked if it hurts when cows are milked. I lied and said no, because I don’t think I can cope with a vegan child, vegetarian is going to be hard enough.

2.Wear your EpiPen pack everywhere.

I mentioned that I was vegetarian/vegan for a decade and the reason I stopped was because Philip, 12, was born with severe food allergies to egg and nuts. That means he has to be extra careful being vegetarian because a lot of vegetarian food options contain egg and nuts. That means reading ingredients always and wearing his EpiPen pack without fail.

Jo Abi with sons Philip, 12 and Giovanni, 9. Image: supplied.

3. Don't tell too many people.

I recommended not telling anyone about his choice to become vegetarian because people tend to cross-examine your decision and point out any mistakes you are making. Kids have been cruel enough to him about his allergies let alone his decision to not eat meat.

4. Don't try and shame anyone for eating meat.

Our first meal with Philip as a vegetarian involved a platter of chicken schnitzel among other foods and Philip seemed disgusted that we were still meat-eaters. I told him that was not on. He is free to make his choice, but he doesn't get to push it onto others.

5. Eat at the dinner table.

Philip's solution to the problem above was to eat separate to the rest of the family. Um... NO.

Most children at one time or another thinks about becoming a vegetarian. Post continues...

6. Don't complain about the food.

I have a few vegetarian meals up my sleeve but not a lot and while I'll try and come up with some new dishes he'll be happy to eat, I can only do my best. So don't complain, and learn to cook.

7. Give yourself a little wiggle room.

If Philip craves meat, I told him to eat it if he likes. He isn't breaking any rules. And by giving himself some wiggle room he is less likely to develop disordered eating or anxiety over food. By dramatically reducing how much meat he eats, he's already saving the lives of hundreds of animals each year.

8. Take a multivitamin each day.

Just as a precaution.


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