parents

"Why you can't be a vegetarian when you become a mum."

I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of animals dying just so I can have a feed.

There’s a brilliant book about vegetarianism which says, “How many people would eat meat if they had to kill the animals themselves?” Way less.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a rant about vegetarianism and I think I’ll eventually find my way back to it after my kids move out of home.

And reassess my leather shoes, clothing and belts…

And try not to kill spiders and cockroaches and ants so often…

I was a happy vegan for eight years and then vegetarian for a further two (because I just couldn’t say “no” to cheese) and even my husband became vegetarian after moving in with me, mostly because he was forced to as I was the cook.

He’d still buy chicken and meat when eating out but by the end of the ten years we were both full-blown vegetarians, or vegans who ate cheese.

Then we had our first child together, a gorgeous little boy named Philip with long black hair and a chin dimple. In seconds, he became our everything.

We continued our vegetarian ways, giving little thought to how we were going to feed our child, until he was diagnosed with severe food allergies at 18 months.

Philip holding a chicken
Cute AND delicious. Philip, 12. Image: Provided
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Our little boy was allergic to eggs and nuts, two food staples for vegetarians.

How on earth were we going to be vegetarian and not eat eggs or nuts? How were we going to feed our child in a healthy way when we couldn’t serve him any meat products, eggs or nuts?

My husband and I vacillated about it for a while before realising that if we were going to do a good job of feeding our child, we’d probably have to add some meat into his diet as well as our own, because we didn’t want him eating different foods from us. It was important to us that we all ate the same meals.

Chicken schnitzel and tinned tuna were the first meats we attempted to eat.

It wasn’t easy, and not only for ethical reasons.

We’d lost our taste for meat and were very sensitive to the texture and the flavour. Still, we persevered and soon found ourselves enjoying them again.

We couldn’t even keep egg and nut products in the house because he was so sensitive to them. Even if we ate eggs for breakfast and forgot to brush our teeth and wipe our faces before kissing him on the cheek, he’d break out in the most alarming rash.

I shudder to think of what would have happened to him if we’d ever kissed him on the lips.

There was also the problem that most parents of toddlers face where they constantly put everything in their mouths. I was so worried that he’d find a stray almond flake on the floor of the kitchen, accidentally dropped by my step-son who liked to eat muesli for breakfast, that I made him throw it away.

Those Two Girls and their hilarious take on coconut oil, a modern-day food religion may children are being exposed to. Thank goodness coconut in all it’s forms is so delicious! Article continues after this video.

Now we eat most fish products and a wide variety of chicken dishes, as well as bacon, however we’ve never been able to bring ourselves to add pork steaks, lamb or beef back in.

Three children later and we eat a pretty healthy diet and Philip who is now 12 and Caterina who is six both crave meat so that’s what they order whenever we eat out. My mum also makes an effort to give them steak when we visit her home.

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I don’t ever want to deprive them of foods they crave. I think that sends an unhealthy message.

Here’s my view on parents who encourage/force their kids to be vegan or vegetarian. I feel the same way about this as I do about raising children in one particular religion. You can raise them however you like but the ultimate decision is up to them.

I am raising my children as Catholic but they can choose whichever religion they want. I will end up being a vegetarian again and eat mostly vegetarian meals – aside from the dinner we sit down and eat together – and they can eat whatever they like.

They can make their own decision.

Regarding this recent report on vegetarian children, the finding is that it is healthy for children to be vegetarian.

They grow at exactly the same rate as children who eat meat. According to the American Dietetic Association, “Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes.”

However they add the caveat that it requires organisation to ensure they are eating a good variety of healthy vegetarian foods to ensure they are getting all of the protein, vitamin and minerals required.

Kids eating out in QLD
I let my children make their own food decisions, and they don’t ask me to cook meat because it makes me feel sick. Image: Provided

There is such a thing as a “junk food vegan” and a “junk food vegetarian”.

Then there’s the other extreme, whereby “mummy bloggers” post about their extreme diets on social media, vitriolically explaining why their children will only ever eat a vegan/organic/grain-fed/freegan diet.

There’s a reason why I have mentioned religion in relation to family food choices. For some parents their food choices become like a religion.

I’m not too concerned. At least they are trying to feed their children a healthy diet. The funny thing about parenting is that we can only influence them to a point. They they’ll start making their own choices. Then they’ll start to push back.

There are many reasons a family may choose to be vegetarian. I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons however added meat back in for the sake of my son’s health. Other families follow a vegetarian diet due to religious reasons, financial limitations and health concerns.

I would never try and stop my children from eating meat, even though cooking meat makes me sick so forgive me for not giving it to them too often. We muddle through, keeping each other’s health concerns and preferences in mind. That’s what modern families do. That’s the way I always want my family to be.

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