Encouraging Your Teenage Vegan
I was vegan for three months. Religiously, I loaded my plate with leafy
greens, deep reds, soy this, soy that, and a sprinkling of nuts and berries
any mother would be proud of. I experimented with egg substitutes, dairy
alternatives, and even a sampling of foods I couldn't pronounce. I was
beaming from my newfound accomplishment and noticeably healthier. It was the
drive-thru that did me in.
by Tammie Ortlieb
Four kids in the back of the van and baseball practice to get to, I would
attempt to concoct some sort of creation from the inevitable "meat and
potatoes" menu. Usually my dinner consisted of buns and veggies, tacos with
beans and lettuce, or supersized fries and a pop. Boring to say the least.
And where was the nutrition in all of these white paper bags? Was I missing
something or just creatively constipated?
This frustration with the fast food business caused me pause and motherly
reflection. If I, an experienced, self-assured adult, found myself
stammering at the burger joint order window how must my teenagers feel as
they step to the counter with a group of friends? How must they feel when
they frantically search a menu where the one or two vegetarian options are
loaded with cheese? How do they make smart choices when they feel that every
eye in the restaurant is on them and the clock is ticking?
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Adolescents are by nature social creatures gifted with the talent of
maturing physically almost at the speed of light. They eat. They hang out.
They party. They eat. Then they browse the mall and eat some more. Friends
are the lifeblood that keep them running. Food is the medium with which they
cement their relationships.
My older two were dragged into the herbivorous lifestyle by their militant
animal rights activist cousin. Quick converts to the plant based ways, they
now shun companies that employ animal testing, choose book report topics
decrying common circus practices and the fur trade industry, and absolutely
refuse to wear any clothing made of leather, wool, or silk. Understandably I
was not surprised the day my fourteen year old asked for soy milk on her
But asking Mom to use bananas instead of eggs the next time she bakes a
batch of cookies is a far cry from interrogating a minimum wage employee on
the ingredients of a bun. And most likely he doesn't know any more than you
do anyway. Even the best of intentions can go awry when the heat is on and
the steaks are down. Oh, I believe I meant stakes.
My struggling herbivores have learned to do a little web surfing before
visiting a new eating establishment. By clicking onto websites of local
restaurants, they can learn not only menu options, but all sorts of
nutritional information including ingredients. This lessens the stress of
going to an unfamiliar place and helps them establish a few "safe" foods
As a proud mama, I must say that my children's' friends have been so
impressed with their strong convictions and obvious self-confidence that a
few have even been converted themselves. This has only served to reinforce
the benefits of the vegetarian lifestyle. Not only do my teenagers now enjoy
a renewed sense of competence and a deeper relationship with their friends,
but they are experiencing the more grown up feeling of pride in contributing
to the well being of the planet and those who live on it.
As parents we should not underestimate the incredible impact of peer
pressure and significance of exploration in the development of our child's
identity. You may occasionally find your daughter taking two steps forward
in her quest toward veganism only to fall back three more steps when
confronted with a dairy laden menu on a marching band stop over for dinner.
Encourage your teenager through these fits and starts. Remain positive and
avoid pressure at all costs. This is not a contest. Slipping back to
scrambled eggs and grilled cheese is not failing or losing the race.
Instead, reward a successful switch to soy milk and tofu scramblers. Applaud
your teen for filling her subs with more veggies and less cheese, topping
her toast with jelly instead of butter. She is coming to terms with the big
question of life at this stage: Who am I when nobody else is looking?
And who are we as adults to expect perfection from our children? After all,
didn't we get to where we are through years of research, trial and error,
and occasional, or not so occasional, slip ups? Why should we expect any
less from our own sons and daughters?