Raising Healthy Veggie Kids

Claire, a dear family friend and neophyte vegetarian with 2 non-vegetarian children aged 12 and 13 years, brings home for them some of the commercial meatless barbeque I buy, every chance she gets.

One day, we went shopping at the Vegetarian Grocery. There, she feasted on the wild varieties of shrimpless shrimps, fishless fish, squidless squids, chickenless chicken, meatless spam, ad infinitum. Truly, it was a vegetarian haven. (That is, of course, if one can afford it.)

Since analogs have always been on the heavier side of the budget, I raised the kids mostly on simple, available fare, with occasional forays into culinary adventures when the budget allowed. But with children who have established “roots” in the carnivorous environment, the general belief is that it is an almost insurmountable task. Thus, the spirit that drives mothers to seek the closest to the “real thing”.

What most people don’t realize, though, is that meatless cuisine is intrinsic to the human diet. Hence, the venture into it is more natural than not. Most people of the so-called modern world, having experienced years of conditioning and the brainwashing of advertising, are convinced that the opposite is true.

The very first lesson in this is quite simple: to convince anyone of anything, you first have to be convinced yourself. Once convinced, half the battle (I’d rather call it “transition”) is won.

Next, offer the children choices galore. Little preparations of different kinds lower the odds of total refusal, right? For fussy eaters (and boy, do I speak from experience!) the key is to always make ready their familiar favorites. Do not attempt, at this delicate point, to introduce any fancy things. Save that for older adolescents on the threshold (and my, what an ENDLESS threshold!) of adulthood. Make sure the menus always include their old favorites in meatless versions (burgers, fries, sausages, spaghetti, mashed potatoes, steak, tacos, burritos. Only your imagination (and budget) will limit you.

Children can easily open their hearts with a genuine understanding of how animals are our friends, and we don’t eat our friends. This is the most vital and long-lasting lesson they can ever have: respect for life.

Another point — get them involved in the purchase, decisions, and preparation of your weekly/monthly menus. Be open to their suggestions. No one is ever too young to be involved in this process. And after the buying, let them help with the preparing. Although messy and rather nerve-wracking, learn to keep your cool and show them a little chemistry, physics and mathematics all rolled into one fantastic kitchen experience. Outcomes may not always be up to par, but the fun far outweighs the taste buds, in this case.

Aside from this sort of food involvement, get them closer to feeling the earth mothering vegetables. There are many ways to do this. Like where we once lived, there were people who planted food crops in empty lots near our house. My kids would go over and buy some from the planters and would pick the vegetables themselves. Another way is by letting them plant their own, so they can watch growth happen. One of the serious infirmities of our generation is the lack of “feel for the land” — we are totally immersed in the concrete jungle.

Explain to them the “circle of life” like Mufasa did to Simba. Let them feel and see the way nature takes care of its own — how the sun, the air, the water, the birds, and man, etc. are all important parts of that circle. It will be a first-hand and very practical lesson in environmental awareness that they’re not likely to forget, even once they are “grown-up”.

For the staunch anti-vegetable kiddos, TRICK THEM! Not all the time have my kids enjoyed the likes of okra, eggplant, zucchini, squash, et al. (Even today, some of these are not exactly their favorites.) My theory is that their taste buds go through some maturing processes in much the same way as their hormones do. And because I was ultra-frustrated at not getting them to eat what they needed to eat, I devised some ways to throw in grated stuff in the patties, burgers, soups, pastas, breads, cakes, and cookies. Again, be creative!!!!

Another surefire but radical way is to allow them to witness a slaughter from start to finish (that is, if they can even finish). There might not even be any need to explain to them. Tears would roll down my kids’ cheeks when they’d hear the neighbor’s goat or pig being slaughtered, even without seeing anything!! Children can easily open their hearts with a genuine understanding of how animals are our friends, and we don’t eat our friends. This is the most vital and long-lasting lesson they can ever have: respect for life.

As far as their peer problem, let me tell you that my kids have often come home from school with a friend or two who have sworn that they would like to be vegetarians just like my kids. It is not a phenomenon. It is just a simple fact of life: children are true to their vegetarian nature. And although you might not have noticed, we are children, too.

Last but certainly not the least, have a lot of patience. It is the golden virtue, the key to all others. Not a day passes that I don’t pray to God for some.

Next week, I promise many tried and tested kiddie favorites you can explore that will make them want more!!

Remember, don’t live to eat, but eat to live and be healthy!!!!!!

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