Vegetarian Kids – having ‘the’ food convo with your child
Natasha Clark explains how she coped when one of her boys chose veggies over meat.

Graeme and I always argue about when exactly it happened. I maintain it was when we got Roger (our pet rabbit) (original name, we know) and when my brother came to visit. I think. Graeme says it was when they were standing in the meat aisle at Pick n Pay and Noah asked about the blood. “It’s not blood, it’s meat juice.” I mean???

Personalities and food choices

I think food education is really important for kids. Whichever way they take it. We had the basic food conversation with Noah (5) and Ben (almost 4) and both reacted differently. Noah became a self-righteous vegetarian and Benjamin, if anything – became even more carnivorous. You could slaughter a sheep in front of Benjamin and he would pick out his favourite part. Bunny LOVES meat – ribs, steak – all of it!

When we got Roger, the boys were sitting in the lounge, digging in to their favourite spaghetti bolognaise. Our bunny likes to beg at the table, and Noah reached out to offer Rog a spoonful of juicy mince swimming in tomato sauce.

“Noah NO!!!” I was frantic.
“You can’t give Roger meat.” I mean rabbits are vegetarian, right? Herbivores?
“He likes it, he wants it”
“Noah… Roger IS meat. Meat can’t eat meat!”
“But I’m meat?”

Choosing not to lie

I didn’t know what to say.  Maybe I handled it wrong. Maybe I didn’t. I could see his face anxiously searching mine for answers, spoonful of bolognaise still mid-air. I spoke to Noah about meat. About how some animals were born so that people could eat them. That people needed meat. This opened up a full-on interrogation on whether we would die if we didn’t eat meat – and whether protein was found in any other food.

He had me cornered, and as a meat-eater myself I was getting a bit defensive. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him about the meat and the dead animals… But I knew I couldn’t lie to him about this. I knew instinctively that it was important to him, that he really wanted to understand.

And then he spent the next two years irritating the hell out of all of us. Food we can’t eat, food he won’t eat. Restaurants he doesn’t like. Innocently rubbing his morals and integrity in our omnivore faces.

From annoying beginnings to a healthy balance

But you know, I’m proud of him. And you know… He’s right about all of it. I had to do so much research in to all of it. We started substituting. Cooking dinner was a nightmare in the beginning. I mean, you know how hard it is to plan a menu for a family of 4 as it is! And I couldn’t sit back and watch him eat mashed potato and mielies every night. Sometimes his body really craves iron.

We got him a great cherry flavoured multi-vitamin effervescent that he drinks every morning as a juice. We started buying Frys and Quorn meat-free meat. So Nu can still have spaghetti bolognaise, burgers, hot dogs of the meat-free variety. A lot of it is endorsed by the heart foundation, vegetable based and high in protein. We’ve all adapted to Noah’s diet more than anything. I mean, I LOVE some of the vegetarian ‘chicken’ burgers. And so often the vegetarian meals he orders is so much more delicious than ours?

I’m not saying we’re vegetarians, but we respect Noah’s decision on this. We’re terrified to tell him about the world now though. I mean – if he found out about recycling and solar powered energy, we’d have to re-structure our entire household. I’m not ready for that just yet.

Tips on talking to your kids about meat:

•    Know that humans do not need meat to survive – there are healthy alternatives
•    Try to be unbiased. Let your child make his / her own decision
•    Let your child guide you. Noah is not BANNED from eating meat. If he ever asks me for a pork chop – I wouldn’t even hesitate or question him on it
•    Offer your child alternatives to meat and explain the differences if you like
•    Some great links: All about vegetarian kids: Peta Veg kids and Delicious Vegetarian Meals

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

What tips would you give to parents adapting to having a vegetarian in the home?

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