Q. I look after my 15-month-old granddaughter one day a week. My son and his wife are both vegetarians, and they bring over a double bowl of oatmeal with yogurt in it for the whole day for the child. I’m like, “Where’s the meat?” I’m worried sick about it. My son and his wife don’t seem to think my opinions are very important. a grandmother in Buffalo, N.Y.
Replace nagging with research about vegetarian diets.
The best starting point: Remember, all of you want what’s best for this growing girl. But ultimately, the parents make the decisions.
“The key to raising healthy vegetarian children is knowledge,” says Elizabeth Pond of Marietta, Ga. “Very few committed vegetarians will be swayed by other people’s opinions of their diet. Instead, arm yourself with information.”
Pond’s family doesn’t eat meat or fish but does eat eggs and dairy products.
“Both of my children, 5 and 7, are in excellent health, are above average in their growth percentiles, have never had a cavity, and excel in school,” Pond says.
Joanne Huntington of Riner, Va., has degrees in food science and nutrition from Cornell University, but she says her real expertise comes from being the mother of six vegetarian children.
“It is perfectly possible to raise a healthy child as a vegetarian.
“Instead of worrying about the absence of meat in the child’s diet, think about the baby’s health in general,” Huntington suggests. “Is she healthy? Is she a typical 15-month-old, exploring the world at full speed?”
A child’s health-care provider needs to know about the family’s nutritional lifestyle, Huntington says, and should watch for adequate growth as part of regular check-ups.
Surprise your son and his wife with an open mind. Learn about vegetarianism and the nutritional needs of children under age 2 in a book such as “New Vegetarian Baby” (McBooks Press, 1999) by Sharon Yntema and Christine Beard. A related Web site is www.vegetarianbaby.com.
Gather tips and recipes from a cookbook such as “The Vegetarian Family Cookbook” (Broadway, 2004), written and illustrated by Nava Atlas.
“Two bowls of oatmeal with yogurt for an active toddler for an entire day may be a bit sparse, but not to worry, your grandchild does not need meat to thrive,” says Atlas, who has written several vegetarian-related books. “Meat provides nothing of substance but protein and iron, which can be easily obtained from other foods.”
If the granddaughter eats yogurt, then she can obviously have other dairy products and probably eggs, Atlas says, which will give her anything she can get from meat.
“Still, oatmeal and yogurt is a monotonous diet,” she says. “Toddlers like finger foods, and they like to graze.”
Appropriate toddler foods include raw or cooked vegetables, diced cheese, raisins, fresh fruits and chickpeas, says Atlas, founder of the Web site www.vegkitchen.com.
“If the grandmother would read up on the nutritional value of foods, she could understand it and have good conversations with her son and daughter-in-law,” says a reader in Atlanta, Ga. “My daughter is very knowledgeable about nutrition and has taught me so much. It really doesn’t matter what the grandmother thinks anyway. They are going to do what they think is right for their child.”
How the parents raise their child, and whether they choose vegetarianism for their family, is their personal decision, says Jo Stepaniak, author of “Raising Vegetarian Children: A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony” (McGraw-Hill, 2002). Her book is for babies to teenagers.
“Vegetarianism is not only a safe option but health-supporting choice that can give her granddaughter a strong advantage for living a long, happy, and disease-free life,” Stepaniak says. “The reason the parents aren’t listening to her is that they may very well have a good knowledge of nutrition, and certainly meat is not a requirement for anyone, especially not a 15-month-old baby.” BETSY FLAGLER, Charlotte.com