VEGETARIANIZING THE KIDS

The last article we discussed some ways to tackle social snags vegetarians encounter in a non-vegetarian society.  Now it’s time to take on the munchkin issues, particularly those who have established roots in the carnivorous environment.

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All too often, I get this from a distressed newly vegetarianized mother eager to let her loved ones into the loving fold: “Ok, I’ve converted my husband into the contentious vegetarian planet.  But my kids!  OMG, I totally give up!”  Or, “God knows I tried but she just won’t touch her gulays, so I just have to give her her burgers or she’ll starve!”

First I say, DON’T GIVE UP!  And… she won’t starve. 

The very first lesson in this is quite simple: to successfully make a believer of anyone on anything, you have to be no less than a 100% believer yourself.  If you’ve got one foot in the door and one out, those following you will stay with the outside foot until you stick it in. With both feet in, half the battle—or more appropriately, transition—is overcome.  This confidence nourishes patience, the golden virtue, the key to all others.  Patience fuels determination.  Then:

C Offer the children options aplenty.  A smorgasbord lessens the odds against total rejection.  So the budget squirms not, make several small preparations to please the eyes as well as the palate.  Kids always judge books by their covers. 

C For fussy eaters (I speak from experience) the key is, feed them familiar favorites.  For now, tame that culinary adventure spirit and stick to “comfort foods”—in meatless versions of course.  (Save the elaborate cuisine for adolescents on the threshold—my, what an ENDLESS threshold—of adulthood.)  Burgers?  Sure!  There are a gazillion meatless burger recipes made from potatoes, tofu, mushrooms, puso ng saging, rice, ad infinitum.  Once in a while, try wild varieties of shrimpless shrimps, fishless fish, squidless squids, chicken-less chicken, etc….  Pricey but still less than the cost of real meat.  (I don’t really recommend these, but they’re good transition “tools”.)

Menu suggestions along this line: fries, “sausages,” spaghetti, mashed potatoes, “steak”, kare-kare, tacos, burritos, pancit, lumpia, lasagna, etc.  Only the imagination (and budget) may limit you.  Until their palates get “broken in” to the taste of foods without the blood (pardon the gore but meat without blood would taste like old socks), stick with the prosaic.  Once over that initial turbulence, the air clears.  There’s always sunshine after rain.

C Get them involved in the purchasing, planning, and preparing of monthly menus.  Munchkin kitchen participation may be messy and nerve-wracking, but the fun and priceless learning will override the fret even if palatability may not always be achieved.  Show them the chemistry, physics, mathematics all rolled into one fantastic kitchen experience.

C Besides this food involvement, demonstrate the earth-food nexus.  There are many ways to do this.  If you don’t have a farm, where the intimate experience is like no other, perhaps you can show them a neighbor’s vegetable plot, or start one of your own, even in containers.  Watching growth happen adds valuable botany, biology, zoology, environmental science lessons not found in classrooms.  Great opportunity to elucidate on the “circle of life” like Mufasa did to Simba.  They get to feel, touch and see how the sun, air, water, animals and insects, and man, etc. are all incalculable parts of that circle.  These lessons they’re not likely to forget.

C For staunch anti-vegetable kiddos, TRICK THEM! Even today, the likes of okra, eggplant, zucchini, squash, et al. have to be cleverly disguised in our dining repertoire.  Taste buds, like hormones, have some maturing processes.  Ultra frustrated at not being able to get them to eat these superfoods, I grate, homogenize, blend, process stuff in the patties, burgers, soups, pastas, breads, cakes, and cookies.  This is your lesson in creativity!

C Now about peers.  Let me tell you that some of my kids have come home complaining that their baons are never enough because their classmates eat off their delicious baons. 

Not infrequently did they come home from school with a friend or two who have expressed their desire to be vegetarians too. 

It’s not a phenomenon, just a simple fact of life: children are by nature vegetarian.  How many children can witness a slaughter for the first time without breaking down in tears, expressed or not?  I recall my own kids silently crying the first time they heard a pig being slaughtered.  Children, more than anyone, genuinely relate to George Bernard Shaw’s famous quip, “Animals are our friends, and we don’t eat our friends.”  Respect for life is a most enduring, deep-rooted lifestyle lesson.

And perhaps you mightn’t have noticed—we are children, too.

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