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What to Do When Your 4-Year-Old Goes Vegetarian

Photograph by Tracy Brown Hamilton

Even before witnessing a dead wild boar be hung on hooks and gutted on a recent trip to France, my four-year-old daughter was growing skeptical about the practice of eating meat. “I don’t want to eat animals,” she told us, “because they’re cute.”

I expected this to be a passing phase—she had, after all, only recently put together that chicken is actually a chicken and that fish is actually a fish, which came as a bit of a shock to her. Everything on her plate is now in question: “Does ham come from animals? Do potatoes?”

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She's never liked the texture of a hamburger, but she's made sacrifices for her cause. She used to love salami on pizza, for example, or meatballs in spaghetti. But not anymore. And she is showing no signs of backing down.

This made my husband—who doesn’t really understand a diet without meat—a little nervous. A man who repeatedly tells me not to wind myself up by Googling too many things immediately took to Google and came back to me with concerns about how she would get enough protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, and calcium.

She's happier at the dinner table because she is proud of her stance.

I, on the other hand, while not pressuring her in any way, am really quite proud of her. My daughter is headstrong if not stubborn, and I am pleased to see her discover a “pain point” in her life—that we should love animals and not eat them—and a way to personally address it. I don’t want to discourage this instinct by insisting she eat what we give her.

There have been plenty of health studies indicating the benefits of a vegetarian diet—not to mention to the environment—but with a growing child it’s important to ensure she's still getting all the proper nourishment she needs, so we’ve had to make some changes and put additional focus on her diet.

Although we aren't huge meat eaters, we do eat a lot of fish, and I admit I felt good knowing my daughter was going to bed at night with a salmon in her belly. But fish, it seems, are also cute, so that is—literally—off the table.

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“But she’s only four,” my husband says in protest, and to that I think that this particular cause, her vegetarianism, may pass as quickly as it came. But in the meantime, I would like to honor her decision.

And so far, the results have been quite good. She's happier at the dinner table because she is proud of her stance and she's eating things we previously had little leverage to get her to eat: spinach, broccoli, eggs, chia, nuts and squash.

It’s a new phase and perhaps it will be short-lived, but I’m pleased to see a little budding activist in my daughter and to see that she knows she can make a difference to something she believes in by changing a behavior.

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