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Raising Vegetarian Kids
Review of Raising Vegetarian Children

by Joanne Stepaniak, M.S.ED., and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D.

Reviewed by John Borders, Jr.

If the title of this reviewed book catches your eye, it's likely that you have found yourself in one of these scenarios at some point in your parenting life:

Scenario One:
Your teenage daughter comes home and announces that she is now a vegetarian. All of the usual questions fill your mind: "What in the world will I fix her to eat? Will this diet be safe? Will she influence her younger brother?"

Scenario Two:
You've eaten a vegetarian diet for 5 years and you've just learned that you're pregnant. You wonder whether you're doing your baby a favor or irreparable harm if you follow your diet throughout pregnancy. And since nobody in your family has raised a vegetarian child, where will you find the knowledge and support you need to successfully feed your children the diet which you believe is best for their physical, emotional and spiritual well being?

Scenario Three:
You've just read The Food Revolution by EarthSave founder John Robbins and you've decided that you'd like your whole family to eat a plant-based diet. Your wife will probably go along with you, but what about your teenage son and your eight year-old daughter? How will you help them to eat a healthier diet in the face of mass marketing of fast foods and lots of pressure from peers?

Whether you've found yourself in one of these scenarios, or whether you would just like helpful tips on raising healthy children, renowned authors and educators Vesanto Melina and Joanne Stepaniak come to the rescue with the answers to all of your concerns in their new book, Raising Vegetarian Children: A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony.

There are several good books currently available to educate adults about eating healthy vegetarian diets (including Melina's Becoming Vegetarian and Becoming Vegan), but there hasn't been much up-to-date assistance for raising children on vegetarian diets. Raising Vegetarian Children changes that, addressing every issue you could imagine related to children and healthy diets. Indeed, Melina and Stepaniak are so thorough, it's like having a dietitian, a child psychologist and a good friend at your disposal all of the time. They do everything they can to make this easy, short of cooking dinner for you!

Raising Vegetarian Children addresses the nuts and bolts of vegetarian nutrition in terms that anyone can understand. Yet, even if you're a lifelong vegetarian, you'll certainly learn new things from this up-to-date information that will help you to make the best decisions about how to feed your children. Most parents of vegetarian kids face opposition from grandparents, friends and even their doctors. This book provides you with all of the nutritional information you'll need in order to feel confident that you're making great choices for your family. This book shows how vegetarian diets are not only safe for kids, but how they can protect your children from obesity, and from many of the pre-conditions for diseases they would otherwise likely face as adults.

Obesity is a growing problem for American children, and signs of heart disease are showing up in children younger than 10. Furthermore, children are acquiring Type-II diabetes-historically reserved for adults only-at alarming rates as a result of poor diets and lack of exercise. Raising Vegetarian Children teaches you how to minimize the chance that your child will experience these problems, and how to maximize the chance that she will develop healthy eating habits that will stay with her for life.

Raising Vegetarian Children balances Melina's impeccable knowledge of nutrition with Stepaniak's expertise on the social, ethical and psychological effects of food. They teach that being healthy means more than eating healthy. To this end, this book offers practical parenting advice on how to talk with your kids about animal issues, how to handle social pressures, and how to teach your kids not to judge friends and family members who eat animal products. Stepaniak and Melina know that a balanced life means more than a series of balanced meals.

This book is broken into three primary parts: Approaches to Vegetarian Living; Nourishing Our Children; and Recipes for Every Occasion. The first part deals with practical matters related to vegetarianism and kids: tips on living in a non-veg world; how to keep a healthy psychological approach to eating; setting good examples for your kids, etc. The second part handles the basics of vegetarian nutrition. And the third part provides recipes and suggestions for enjoying cooking.

The nutrition section is separated into chapters related to stages of development for kids. The authors first go through the basics of healthy eating: balancing carbs, protein, fat, etc. They provide plenty of evidence of the safety and health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. And they answer more difficult questions related to matters like Vitamin B-12, Omega-3 fatty acids, etc. Next, they walk you through your journey, from pregnancy to infancy to childhood to adolescence. The meal plans are particularly helpful, and illustrate the types of foods which they recommend for growing kids.

The authors also provide helpful tips for special challenges: picky kids, food allergies, weaning from breast milk and/or formula, children athletes, and eating disorders. Since each child is different, and each parenting style is unique, Melina and Stepaniak provide you with the tools (and not just the rules) for successfully addressing these issues.

The last section of this book handles the "proof in the pudding." All of the nutritional knowledge and practical tips in the world mean nothing unless the food is tasty for your children. And nobody has more experience with tasty vegetarian recipes (especially simple, everyday ones) than Joanne Stepaniak. You'll find recipes for healthy, kid-friendly foods like mock cheese spreads, sandwiches, burritos, smoothies, soups, pastas (including a delicious Cheez-A-Roni), stir-fries, pizzas, tacos, burgers, desserts and many more staples for growing families. There is also a very useful table of basic substitutions for dairy, eggs, meat and sugar.

The first chapter of Raising Vegetarian Children sums up the whole book: "Raising vegetarian children is an exciting and rewarding adventure. It presents a remarkable opportunity to help construct the future we all yearn to have for ourselves and our children-a world brimming with vibrant good health, loving kindness, peace, tolerance, and compassion for all." With this book as your guide, you'll be well on your way to creating such a future, starting right in your own home.

John D. Borders, Jr. is the father of two vegetarian children who eat anything and one vegetarian picky eater who puts all of Stepaniak's and Melina's work to the test.