There’s always been a conventional wisdom, or lets call it a myth, that kids can eat junk and get away with it. The concurrent myth is that kids should not go vegetarian, because their bodies are developing, or some such nonsense. So, they can run amuck eating sugar and chips, but skipping meat is bad.Their developing brains need high fructose corn syrup and beef, and any parent who doesn’t provide is damaging their youngster.

Unfortunately, this odd dual thinking is setting up some kids for a lifetime of bad health. And according to a recent poll by the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA) only 38% of the parents surveyed realized that cholesterol plaques start forming in childhood, not just later in life. 70% of the respondents also said that they were not good examples for their kids, because they had bad eating habits.

“There is overwhelming evidence now that atherosclerosis, a build up of plaque in the arteries, starts in childhood, not when you’re 50 or 60,” says David J. Driscoll, MD, professor of pediatrics and director of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. We know this from autopsies performed on children who die of accidental deaths, he notes. Other studies on young soldiers who died in Korea and Vietnam showed that by their early 20s, many already had the beginnings of atherosclerosis, “Some of them with pretty significantly advanced disease.”

Add to this info the recent endorsement by the American Dietitians Association, in which they gave the thumbs up to a veg diet for all stages of life, including children and pregnant women, and you have some really good reasons to keep on driving when you see those golden arches.

So what do kids need to go veg? Well, many kids like simple foods like pizza, mac and cheese, and PB and J’s. All of those can easily be made whole grain, lighter in fat, and perfectly healthy for developing bodies.(check out the mac and cheese and pudding recipes in my previous posts, in the links below)

Kids, just like adult vegetarians, need to eat lots and lots of vegetables and fruits, especially green leafy vegetables. Kids like fruit, so keep a steady stream of fruity things on they menu. They need plenty of plant proteins, like peanut butter, nuts, seeds, beans, and cheese and dairy can work for some of it. Whole grains as much as possible, good fats from olive oil and nuts, and some grass fed dairy. The easiest way to make sure they are getting their vegetarian specific vitamins is to serve fortified non-dairy milks. Soymilk, rice milk and others have put together fortification that makes sure vegans who drink a cup a day are getting pretty close to the RDA of B12, calcium, zinc and other vitamins that vegans might be lacking.

I’ve got to come clean, I don’t have kids. But, I do cook for other people’s kids-for pay, no less. I’ve cooked for kids who only ate buttered noodles and fruit, and kids who loved mushrooms and organ meats, so I get it that they are all different. But they can be swayed, inched toward healthier choices. The big difference with kids today and kids of old is that they have way too many bad options. My Mom made one thing for dinner and we ate it gratefully. There was no screaming until a special pot of fluorescent mac was produced, or for that matter, swinging by the fast food joint. We thought we were losing out, sometimes, but getting a home cooked meal every night was a great start in life.