There is a growing trend toward vegetarianism and veganism among young people. I recently read that in the past several years, vegetarianism has increased substantially among those under 25 years old. My anecdotal experience is similar. My friend’s eleven-year old decided to become a vegetarian at the age of six, despite no one else in her family being one. Seeing a whole pig being roasted on a spit at a young age was enough to convince her not to eat meat, for ethical reasons.
Another good friend has a high schooler who has been a vegetarian since she was 10 after watching a documentary about animal cruelty. She stopped eating meat soon thereafter. My nephew, now in his teens, announced several years ago he is a pescatarian, though his parents eat everything. Just today I learned that my collage-bound niece has been a vegetarian for over a year. More than ever, kids seem to be making big decisions about what they eat, and why.
After college, I tried my hand at being a vegetarian for a few years, mainly for health reasons. That ended abruptly when I entered culinary school. I’m a firm believer that, whatever we eat, we should be purposeful about it. Vegetarians, vegans and pescatarians are doing just that: they are being thoughtful eaters.
There is a lot of information available about the health implications for raising your child as a vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian. We know that foods derived from animals are rich in protein, fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium and vitamins D and B12. But research is showing that young children raised as vegetarians grow and develop at the same rate as meat-eaters, receiving almost the same amount of protein, energy and other key nutrients that children need.
According to the American Dietetic Association: “Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes.” The trick here is a well planned diet that includes legumes, in particular soybeans and lentils, which provide much-needed protein, iron and zinc. Whole grains, seeds and nuts will also provide protein, essential fatty acids, zinc and B-group vitamins.
Below is a delicious recipe my friend with the vegetarian daughter sent me for Coconut Curry Lentil Soup. It is absolutely delicious. The original recipe is from the vegan blog, Vegangela, I have only lightly adapted it. Yes, this soup is vegan, but the meat-eaters in my house all love it.
Coconut Curry Lentil Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 small fennel bulb, small dice
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 2 small cans tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons yellow curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)
- 5 cups vegetable broth (if you are not a vegetarian, you can use chicken broth)
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
- one (24-ounce) diced tomatoes with their juices
- 1 1/2 cups dry red lentils
- 3 cups baby spinach, plus more for garnish
- salt and pepper to taste
- chives, finely chopped, for garnish
- Step 1 Place the olive oil in a medium size stock pot over medium high heat. When hot, but not smoking, add the onion, fennel, garlic, ginger and cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
- Step 2 Add the tomato paste, curry powder, and red pepper flakes (if using) and cook for an additional minute.
- Step 3 Add the vegetable broth, coconut milk, diced tomatoes and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are very tender.
- Step 4 Season with salt and pepper. Right before serving, stir in the spinach and allow to wilt. Thinly slice some additional spinach for garnish, top with chives.