My 7-year-old recently came to me and said she wanted to try to be a vegetarian. My initial thought was, "What did your brother say to you?" and, "Uh-oh I don't really know how to successfully feed you in a healthy way since I'm a carnivore." Fortunately my husband was a vegetarian for a number of years and assured me there were numerous foods she could eat and that I could prepare which would give her a healthy variety. Timing is everything, however, and with the holidays looming and visits to relatives' houses I sensed we might run into a problem. It's easy to control what your children eat in their own environment but once you leave the comforts of home anything seems game. I could also picture myself having to explain my daughter's choices and trying not to offend the meal preparers (i.e. relatives.)
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Registered Dietician and Galtime nutrition guru Elisa Zied assures me that there is a way to stick to the vegetarian path without offending anyone in the process. "As long as your child understands why he or she chooses to minimize or exclude animal foods, if they are at a healthy body weight and get all the key nutrients they need through a balanced vegetarian diet (and if needed, appropriate supplementation), there's really no need to explain it to others. Everyone has his or her own food preferences, and those preferences should be respected," she says.
For my own sanity I also thought it appropriate to ask the expert what I can do to ensure that my daughter is getting the right amount of protein and nutrients, especially if I'm bringing food for her to someone else's house (which I would do to ease the burden on my hosts, not a requirement for anyone, just my personal preference.) "You can substitute meat, poultry and fish with beans in stir-fries and other dishes; it's important to make sure to include a source of protein like beans or soy foods like tofu or tempeh at meals to provide high quality protein kids need. You can pair these with colorful vegetables and whole grains like brown rice or whole wheat pasta (also a decent source of protein) to provide a well-balanced meal," Zied recommends.
Zied also touched on something that I have been dreading since the day the word vegetarian was uttered from that cute mouth: "how can I accommodate everyone at meal time, the meat eaters and the non?" She explains that while parents should not be expected to be short-order cooks, mixing it up at meal time is not a bad thing. "I don't think there's anything wrong with serving different foods to different people. Whatever works in your family is what I suggest to parents."
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Honestly I don't really know what I'm worried about. Usually my children's diets at other people's homes consists of them eating mainly rolls, sugary treats and the occasional Italian meat and cheese option. This whole vegetarian thing just might make both of them eat a little better and be more conscious of what they're putting in their mouths. Of course having said all this, the desire my daughter had to become a vegetarian lasted approximately three days until she realized that turkey bacon does in fact come from a turkey and couldn't help herself. I have since used this opportunity to get more non-meat meals on the table and change up my own ways of cooking, and for that I give Thanks.
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