Neighbourhood barbecue tonight. Running late. Fortunately teenage daughter's back from holiday with friend.
"I need some help getting the meats organised."
"Sorry, can't help."
"Can't help with the meat. I'm vegetarian."
"Since last weekend. Sharon's family is vegetarian. Do you know what happens to those poor animals so that we can have their flesh to cook on our barbecue?"
Not the time to have a debate on the merits or otherwise of vegetarianism but also not an unusual occurrence to have a teenager announce out of the blue their decision to abandon their carnivorous habits and become vegetarian.
There can be all sorts of reasons, some fine, some worrying, depending on what else they're saying or doing.
The first reaction is possibly of the "here we go again" kind. Either visions of the struggle you had to get them to eat their vegetables when they were two, but in reverse, or yet another fad.
When you've recovered, the best course of action in situations like this is to ask, in an interested rather than aggressive manner, "why?" Let them talk through their reasoning, even if you can see holes in it from your perspective. After all, when it comes to eating you're going to be on a hiding to nothing trying to force-feed a teenager.
You might be surprised about just how much they have thought, read and talked about it and they could make worse dietary choices.
Your part of the conversation might then be about acceptance and how you and your teen will manage the consequences of this legitimate choice.
Teen will need to think about dietary balance - more complicated if eggs and dairy are also off the menu. A talk with a nutritionist could be useful and there's plenty of information on dietary needs for vegetarians and vegans available from reputable internet sites.
The next question will be around family meals. The cook can't be expected to produce two evening meals. A consequence might be that teen cooks two vegetarian meals a week for the family or helps by making a vegetarian variation of the family meal, sometimes cooking a personal vegetarian meal. This allows for some parental oversight of the food intake.
This give and take means teen must recognise that the respect accorded the vegetarian decision means he or she must also respect the rest of the family's food preferences.
If you start to notice other behaviours such as skipping meals, over- exercising and a lot of interest in weight loss, then it would be wise to seek professional advice. Becoming vegetarian could also be a socially acceptable way of reducing food intake.
- © Fairfax NZ News