When my 7-year-old daughter came home from spending Thanksgiving with her dad and proudly announced “I didn’t eat the turkey. I’m a vegetarian,” I honesty wasn’t surprised. Kaela fiercely loves animals – at age 3 she accused me of killing nature and “God” when she found me organically killing cabbage worms that were eating my broccoli plants.
Honoring and Supporting a Child Vegetarian:
My partner and I wanted to support our daughter’s decision to remove meat from her diet. Even though her logic was simple, “I don’t want to kill animals,” we still wanted to help her put her beliefs into action.
However, we wanted to make sure her vegetarianism wasn’t an excuse to eat PB&J, cheese pizza, or macaroni for every meal. We stressed the need to eat a variety of plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, soy, and quinoa. She gravely accepted the boundaries.
To help her with the transition, I sat her down with some vegetarian cookbooks I bought at the discount bookstore and had her put post-it notes on recipes that “looked” good.
Making Two Different Dinners?
My partner and I still eat and enjoy meat – and with two working parents, the idea of making two dinners was out of the question. So I started making vegetarian meals that I could add meat to at the last stage.
Taco meals are extremely easy to diversify. I make beans and grass-fed ground beef in separate pans, then each family member assembles their own dinner to their own liking.
I do the same with peanut Thai noodles. I make the peanut sauce, legumes or tofu and veggies in one pan, and chicken in another.
Hidden Ingredients that are NOT Vegetarian
I didn’t want to be sneaky – therefore, telling my daughter a soup was vegetarian when I had actually made it with chicken broth was not an option for me. But cooking every soup with vegetable stock left our palates wanting.
Luckily, I found No-Chicken Broth at our local natural food store. The flavor resembles chicken broth, so my white chicken chili (chicken added separately) doesn’t suffer in color or taste anymore.
Also, pre-packaged, processed meat-substitute products are an infrequent meal for my daughter. Hidden sodium, additives, and a desire to eat more whole foods keeps us away from soy-burgers and other frozen dinner type meals. Eating vegetarian does not always equate with eating healthy.
I use a lot of canned, organic Beans in order to make vegetarian meals fast. We also found Vegan marshmallows and Quorn Chickn’ Nuggets, which are a fast-food “treat” for extremely busy nights.
Learning From Other Vegetarians
Lucky for us, some of our friends are vegetarian. So we invited them over to cook with us and our daughter. We found many exciting recipes this way.
We discovered seitan – a “wheat meat” protein source with a delightful texture. Also, our friends introduced us to Nutritional Yeast which is a great source of B-vitamins for vegetarians and can be used as “cheese” or sprinkled on top of almost any dish. Our daughter especially likes it with noodles and tomato sauce.
Patronizing vegetarian inspired restaurants has also proved helpful. We’ve taken ideas from almost everywhere – once we started looking, we found more and more vegetarian options.