Monday, April 16, 2007

Veggie Kids

Our household is one of "Virtual" vegetarians. In our case, this means that in principle, we don't eat meat. However we do make exceptions where we feel that not eating something is actually less ethical. (We'll eat a dish that's served to us rather than it going to waste is the bottom line.) Rather than get into the difficulties of helping the kids to understand the ethics behind that particular dietary choice, I thought I'd focus on the tips I've learned as a veggie momma. I hope that these will help mommas of any food choice help their kids to make healthy choices.

First there are the health aspects. I'm proud to say that we've had two very open minded pediatricians who haven't batted an eyelash at the fact that we eat veg. (At Sprout's 4 year old well-child visit, the pediatrician asked Sprout if he liked turkey, and Sprout very sternly said: "We do not eat turkey!" Both of these docs know that kids (and grown ups) can get all of the nutrients that they need from a plant based whole foods diet. Most Americans get far more protein than they need. Our kids get plenty in milk/soymilk, beans, and even whole grains, nuts, and vegetables. A quick google search will give you plenty of information on veggie kids and nutrition.

Does that mean your kid has to be a non-picky eater? Nope, you've just got to work with their likes to figure out what will work. Most kids love quesadillas. Made on a whole wheat tortilla with black beans and shredded carrots mixed in, you've got a well-balanced meal. Try stirring peas or beans into (whole grain) mac and cheese. Offering dips of any kind can encourage kids to try new things. I can't count how many foods I've finally gotten the kids to eat by offering to let them dip it in ketchup. (Just make sure you're using organic ketchup--high in all the good nutrients, no HFCS.) The kids love pan-fried tofu in any shape as long as there's a healthy side of ketchup!

Still no luck? Try letting your child help choose meals or partcipate in preparation. Offer to let your child choose the side vegetable. Make pizzas on whole wheat pitas, and let your child choose their toppings, spread the sauce, sprinkle the cheese. Try a kids cookbook like one of Mollie Katzen's--Salad People and Pretend Soup are both big hits at our place. It takes a bit more time, but it helps the kids get excited about their food. I couldn't believe it when Sprout loved "Green Spaghetti"--he wouldn't touch pesto before! Even just letting the kids have a couple of turns stirring a bowl can give them a sense of ownership and pride that will encourage them to try something new. Similarly, offering the kids free snack choices can be empowering and help them make healthy decisions. Sprout and Bird know that they are welcome to raisins and baby carrots most anytime, and they take advantage of that! Other favorite (but limited) snack choices include almonds, PB& Celery, string cheese, and yogurt. Sometimes choices can make things complicated (Sprout will only drink soymilk now, while Bird prefers cow's milk) so be sure to offer things where you'll be happy with any choice.

Make food fun! I occasionally have time to be as creative as Vegan Lunchbox, as evidenced here by my polenta dinosaur in a marinara volcano, spouting parmesan steam in a broccoli forest, but more often than not it's about making everyday food creative. Make mashed sweet potatos into a mountain, with a plain-yogurt stream. Make a veggie smiley face on a bagel, or just out of plain veggies on a plate. Even names can make a big difference. When I first made Mollie Katzen's "Carrot Mushroom Loaf", I didn't tell the kids what it was. I let them name it, and they loved it so much they called it "Second Thanksgiving". They didn't even notice the 'dreaded' mushrooms throughout. We also have "Green Goddess Quiche", and tacking "Magic" on to many things is enough to do the trick. Tofu dogs wrapped in a tortilla become "Perritos"--you get the idea. Think "Ants on a Log"!

Lastly, don't give up. Repetition can go a long way. Encourage a "try it" bite of everything, but don't push too hard. (Easier said than done, I know, and there are plenty of time food goes uneaten on Sprout and Bird's plates.) Eventually, your child may find a new favorite in a previously shunned meal. I hope I've offered a few new tips for Moms of little veggies and picky eaters.


womynrev said...

every time I read your blog, I love you more.

I just wish I had some kids to try your tricks out on!

all in good time, of course!


Mia said...

There's a futon in the basement, Rev. You can stay with us when you come to church up my church. Until you find your own place, I mean. You can try out my tricks on my kids!