Vegetarian Sarah Glass, 11, has never eaten beef or pork and has only tasted chicken by mistake.
Glass, of Margate, starts her day with a yogurt and an oatmeal and cereal mix. She'll have applesauce, a granola bar and a piece of fruit for lunch. Dinner ranges from pesto ravioli to vegetable soup to a veggie pizza. A sixth-grader at the Eugene A. Tighe Middle School in Margate, some of Glass' classmates tell her she is missing out.
"I really don't care. It's just meat," Glass said.
Glass' peers may be worried she doesn't eat meat, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics have reported a well-planned vegetarian diet can be healthy for a child as long as the child's physician is consulted, said Claire Caramanna, a registered dietitian for Food and Nutrition Services at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.
Vegetarians don't eat meat, but will consume animal-derived products, such as eggs, butter, milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and honey. Vegans completely avoid foods of animal origin.
"It's important that parents have an open dialogue with their child's pediatrician about something like this, really about any type of dietary restriction whether it's a choice that's made or it's a health restriction or an allergy or even if it's just food preferences, so that they are being monitored to make sure they are getting all the nutrients and are growing at the appropriate rate," Caramanna said.
Mary Glass, Sarah's older sister, is a senior at Atlantic City High School. If Mary Glass attended a birthday party when she was little and pepperoni pizza was served, she would leave it alone and wait until she arrived home to eat. She says her mother's cooking rates an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. She said her peers do ask questions.
"'What do you eat for dinner? What do you do?'" said Mary Glass recalling students' questions. "It's not that big of a deal. There are other foods in the world besides meat."
Mary Glass said she will major in either biology or health sciences when she attends college. Growing up in a household where they mostly eat healthy food plays a big role in how she thinks about food in general, the teen said.
When Carla Glass had her oldest child, Daniel, 20, her pediatrician was a little nervous about her feeding him a vegetarian diet. But Glass educated him a little bit because she would not cave in.
Carla Glass, 52, has been a vegetarian for the past 35 years. Glass was introduced to vegetarianism through her husband, who was her boyfriend at the time. He was taking anatomy. He came home one day from school and announced he was a vegetarian. Glass went along with it. Glass said her children receive enough protein even though they don't eat meat. They eat plant protein and a lot of grains mixed with other grains, which provide the same, if not more protein, Glass said.
"They (her children) do eat some dairy. They do eat fish, once in a while," Glass said.
Glass said she does her shopping at Casel's Grocery Store in Margate and ShopRite. Once a month, Glass travels to Trader Joe's in Marlton, Burlington County, and Wegmans in Cherry Hill, Camden County. Glass stops at Trader Joe's for unusual bread and unusual frozen ethnic food and visits Wegmans for its produce selection and its ethnic spices, particularly for Italian and Indian food.
Melissa O'Donnell, her husband, Tim, and their three boys, Lennon, 6, Ashe, 4, and Errol, 13 months, are vegetarians.
"My husband was a vegetarian first. He began about 22 years ago because he read a book about how meat is processed in plants. I became a vegetarian within six months to a year of meeting him. I was never a huge meat eater," said O'Donnell, of Erma, Lower Township. "I was intrigued with the health benefits and how I would feel after trying it out. Also, I didn't like the idea of having to cook two meals. It really wasn't a hard transition. I just gave it up and never really looked back."
O'Donnell, 38, said one day her children will be old enough to make their own decisions about whether they want to eat meat or not, but meals in her house will be meat free.
"My 6-year-old, Lennon, has recently learned the terms herbivore, carnivore and omnivore. At the dentist, the hygientist asked him if he had a lot of turkey on Thanksgiving. In a very exasperated tone, he told her, 'I am a herbivore, not a carnivore. I do not eat meat,'" O'Donnell said.
Leesa Toscano, 51, of Ventnor, makes many vegetarian meals, but is not a vegetarian herself even though her daughter, Melissa Webb, 22, also of Ventnor, is.
"She doesn't really like the taste of meat. She never did, but also because in school, they watched a movie about how they kill cattle and different animals. That's when she decided to be a vegetarian," said Toscano, who is the author of a children's book, titled "Eat Your Vegetables," released last year.
Toscano, who added her daughter, an Atlantic City High School graduate, has been a vegetarian for at least a decade, did supplement her daughter's diet with a multi-vitamin.
"I always look on the Internet for different vegetarian recipes," said Toscano, who added her daughter was not picked on when she attended high school for being a vegetarian. "A lot of her friends were also vegetarians at that time."
Christina Martin, a vegan, teaches at the Viking Cooking School at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City. Two vegetarian classes will be offered there next month because of Martin.
"The main thing is that the children get all the nutrients they need and that the parents are educated before they try doing it. There are plenty of resources out there, not only are there websites, but there are books. There are a lot of books to help parents through that," said Martin, who added the American Vegan Society in Malaga, Gloucester County, has a list of books on its website.
Vegetables can supply protein and vitamins, Martin said. The one supplement Martin does take is vitamin B12 because it is hard to get from anyplace but animal products.
"For me personally, I don't stop them from eating anything," said Martin about her own children, Katie, 13, and Andrew, 9, who eat meat. "I just educate them on what's in the stuff. A lot of adults don't know what's in the food we are eating."
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