Expanding your horizons: A Flexitarian Diet

The tendency to view vegetarianism as a black and white concept (either you are a vegetarian or you are not) may be the reason why only 2.5 percent of the American population identify themselves as full-time vegetarians. Many people are becoming part-time vegetarians, also known as flexitarians. Graham Hill of Treehugger.com coined the term flexitarian, which describes people who mainly eat a vegetarian diet but choose to eat meat occasionally.

Hill suggests the most common approach to a flexitarian diet is to follow a strict vegetarian regimen during the week and resort back to meat-focused meals during the weekends. This approach allows your family to try new foods while continuing to enjoy some of their favorite meals.

According to KidsHealth.org, well-balanced vegetarian diets not only meet children's nutritional needs, but also provide several heath benefits including improved cardiovascular health, prevention of Type 2 diabetes, and a maintainable healthy weight. According to an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, on average vegetarians weigh less than their carnivore counterparts and develop fewer diseases (cancer, heart disease and diabetes) while living about 3.6 years longer.

Vegetarian diets require careful planning to meet all of growing children's nutrition needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that optimum nutrition can be difficult to achieve when dairy products and eggs are completely eliminated, and that avoiding meat products can result in inadequate iron, B12, and zinc intake. A flexitarian diet provides greater choice among a wide variety of foods, making it easier to consume optimum amounts of healthy nutrients.

Incorporating more plant-based foods in a flexitarian diet also benefits the environment as well as improving personal health. Gradually adopt a flexitarian eating style for your family by offering meatless meals throughout the week. Examples of child-friendly vegetarian meals include:

- Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread
- Whole-wheat macaroni salad with a variety of fresh summer vegetables (summer squash, carrots, tomatoes, green peppers) and chickpeas for protein
- Veggie burger on a whole grain bun with lettuce and tomato instead of a hamburger
- Hummus and celery/carrots sticks for a fun and healthy snack

Enjoy the adventure of flexitarianism and introduce your family to a wide variety of delicious and healthy plant-based foods.

Victoria Nihan is a junior Dietetics, Nutrition and Food Science major at the University of Vermont. She is also an intern with Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT, a health, food and fitness coach in southwestern Vermont and online at www.LynnGrieger.com.


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