My kid is becoming a vegetarian. She is 9 1/2 years old, about the same age I was when I stopped eating meat.
My reasons for becoming a vegetarian were pretty simple. At a very young age I hid meat under my highchair, or else left it on the floor. I didn’t like the taste. Later we lived next to my uncle, who had a farm. All the animals they raised were slaughtered and I watched this. It is hard to see an animal die, no matter how humane, and then eat it. I’m not a vegetarian to make a point, or save a life, or free some chickens from a tiny poultry box existence. I am a vegetarian for visual and gustation reasons.
I don’t mind if other people eat meat. But I won’t eat food cooked with meat.
My daughter is fussy about what she eats in general. The only kind of cheese she will eat is Parmesan. She is not fond of melted cheese: she will eat pizza, but not a grilled cheese sandwich. She is making a more concrete association with an animal and the meat we buy in the grocery store. Pork means a pig and beef means a cow. I am adamant I will not sway her decision either way, so I blindly encourage her to eat good quality meats, “It tastes good,” I say, “and it’s good for you.”
During grocery shopping we stop at the deli to buy meat slices for the kids’ lunches. I know that luncheon meats probably pack the highest punch of nitrates per gram than any other meat, but right now it’s a sandwich filler. And it’s protein. We get salami and pepperoni. Then the kids spot the rotisserie chicken being baked.
“Look at those chickens over there. Poor little chickens.” My daughter says. My mom has chickens and every summer the kids are poultry homesteaders where they feed and water the chickens, collect eggs, and generally spend every minute living in the chicken coop.
“What?” says my son. “What’s happening?” Suddenly he is alarmed, and worried. My daughter is making clucking noises. “Are they hurting them?”
I try to “common sense” the situation for him. “They are already dead. Nothing is hurting them. They have been cooked and are ready to take home to eat. Chicken tastes good.”
Something comes over him and he starts to tear up. I reassure him that the animals had a good life and that we are thankful to have them to eat. They taste good and fill us up with goodness. He is frustrated by all this.
“Let’s get out of here. I don’t want any pepperoni now either.”
I think my daughter is changing her mind because she is creating an ick factor for herself. She will eat salami, but not when it touches any butter (like on a sandwich). But she won’t eat ham (hello, same animal) unless it comes on a pizza from a pizza shop. We can’t make a Hawaiian pizza at home that she will eat. I think it’s the overdose of salt that keeps her eating luncheon meats, but the rules to what she eats are so arbitrary it’s hard to keep up.
What her diet lacks is protein, yet as a vegetarian it is hard to get a quick-fix of protein. With particular and conflicting food choices (what works today won’t work tomorrow) it is a trying situation at times. Given that she is the older sibling my son is more likely to follow her lead. But her love of broccoli and brussel sprouts are food choices I am glad my son mimics.
I’m all for letting my kids experiment with food and taste and making their own decisions. I don’t worry so much about her not eating meat. But she needs to eat a balanced diet. When she doesn’t eat her blood sugar drops and she is emotional, moody, and irrational. Then she refuses to eat anything because she doesn’t feel well.
I know this feeling from my own experience. She will not starve; but to be happier and healthier she may need to learn to eat more lentils. Or tofurkey.
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