CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Have you or your child declared intentions to go vegetarian or vegan as a new year's resolution? Your child may have decided that like the writer George Bernard Shaw, "Animals are my friends...and I don't eat my friends."
Maybe you are making the decision and like former President Bill Clinton, you've narrowly escaped death by a heart attack. You may have been advised to change your diet to increase your chances of a living a longer life.
Maybe your family is going to faithfully follow a "Meatless Monday" menu calendar in the new year? With Centers for Disease Control studies showing 69 percent of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight, this could be a health improving lifestyle choice for you and your family.
You may have concerns though. Your biggest may be what to make for dinner that the entire family can enjoy and how to make sure you are getting the right nutrients.
Whatever your child's reason or yours for becoming a vegetarian, there are a number of resources to help you, your child or family.
If your child has announced this resolution, you should check out "The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian" by Rachel Meltzer Warren M.S., R.D., a national health food writer and nutritionist. Her new book is an agenda-free guide to giving up meat.
Although the book is geared for 12 -17 year old girls, Warren shows young and old, male and female alike how to make smart and savvy choices while shifting into the world of plant-based diets. It is full of useful information, including websites to research, and helpful tips. The 240-page paperback is designed to help teens find the right balance for them -- from vegan to "ethical carnivore."
In an interview with Warren, she talked about becoming a vegetarian at age twelve.
"I think the best thing parents can do is to be supportive of their child's interests. I find that food can become a real struggle and while they are living under your roof, it's important to support their food choices and stock the house with food they can eat. It could become a rebellion. Have an open dialogue. Everyone is better off if you can be as supportive as you can be."
Warren said that understanding your child's reasons for becoming a vegetarian are important.
"There are a number of older books that are very pro-vegetarian. I thought it was good to take a neutral point of view and not alienate anyone and to help them make nutritious choices. You can be a healthy meat eater and you can be an unhealthy vegetarian. It's only partially about what you are eliminating from your diet. It's what you are adding, too. It's really about balance."
"The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian" includes 40 meat-free recipes. "A number of the recipes in my book are great for omnivorous families because they have a 'pop-in' protein, such as beans or tofu, that can replace the meat. These are meals you don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy."
Another informative resource is the website www.vegetarianyouth.com by 16-year-old vegan Chloe Falkenheim. She began writing the website content last February and released the website to the public in August.
In an email interview, Falkenheim had this advice for kids going vegetarian:
"Going vegetarian or vegan is one of the greatest things you can do for animals, the planet and yourself. If you think your parents won't let you go vegetarian or vegan, first learn as much as you can about vegetarian nutrition, vegetarian meal planning, and responses to common objections to vegetarianism before talking to your parents about changing your diet. You'll want to be as knowledgeable and confident as possible when talking to them."
She further advises, "Stay positive even if they refuse to let you go vegetarian at first. Never give up, and eventually you will become vegetarian, I promise. Recognize and always remember that you are doing the right thing for the animals, the environment, and yourself, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Be confident in your own skin. Also, if you are confident about your vegetarian diet, no one will make fun of you."
Falkenheim said that she started her website because there were few resources available to young people about the issues they were facing when going vegetarian or vegan. She has written articles about talking to parents about vegetarianism and how to get enough nutrition on a plant-based diet.
For parents, Falkenheim advises: "First and foremost, be proud, for you raised a very compassionate child! Take your child's vegetarianism or veganism seriously, for it is not a fad -- your child is changing their diet out of compassion. Next, everyone of all ages can get every single nutrient they need easily on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Also, vegetarian and vegan cooking is much easier than you think, and if your child is vegetarian, it's not difficult at all to make a vegetarian version of a meat-based meal so that you don't need to cook two separate meals. Your child will never be deprived for there are many delicious plant-based foods available to them."
If you don't have a child who has declared their intention to become a vegetarian, you may have decided that eating less meat is a good idea for your family's health and to reduce your family's environmental impact. "Meatless Monday" may be something that your entire family can do as a new year's resolution.
"Meatless Monday" is an international campaign that encourages people to not eat meat on Mondays and in so doing, they improve their health and the health of the planet. The idea began during World War I when the U.S. Food Administration asked families to reduce consumption of key food staples to aid the war effort. The campaign returned during World War II when rationing helped to feed war-ravaged Europe. It was revived in 2003 as a public health awareness campaign. For recipes and information, go to www.meatlessmonday.com.
Coconut Spinach Chickpeas
This Indian-inspired meal is the right temperature for spice lovers and haters -- you can adjust the seasonings to make it as hot or not-hot as you'd like. It is from "The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian" by Rachel Meltzer Warren M.S., R.D.
Makes 4 servings.
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (add more or less depending on how
spicy you like it)
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (1-pound) bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup canned light coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
HEAT the oil in a medium saucepan over medium flame. Saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, curry powder, and red pepper flakes, and sauté for 1 minute.
MIX in the diced tomatoes and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until hot. Add the spinach, chickpeas, coconut milk, and salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook for about 10 minutes.