Thursday, January 12, 2012

Raising Vegetarian Children

Deciding to raise vegetarian children has been one of the most rewarding decisions I have made since I found I was pregnant with my two daughters. During my first pregnancy I adhered to a vegan diet (no animal products), while I followed a mostly vegan diet during my second pregnancy. I say mostly because I did eat some dairy during my second pregnancy. It is interesting to note that with both pregnancies my cravings seemed to change. Thankfully with the myriad of choices at local health food stores, farmers markets and even chain grocery stores, being vegan/vegetarian is easier now than ever! I feel as if I have been doubly blessed because not only are my children not very picky eaters but they truly enjoy being vegetarian! It is not as if they have never been around meat or seen people eating it because they have. They know that in this big world there are people from all walks of life, those who are vegetarian, those who are not; the message I try to teach them is to be an example to all people they meet. They can embrace their diet and love who they are while also being able to respect and appreciate the differences in other people.

Now for the good stuff! What exactly is a day in the life of a vegetarian child like? Well, for me, variety has to be the key. Not only is variety important so that boredom at the mealtime won’t set in, but also for the nutritional value that different foods can offer.  Breakfast for the girls might be waffles, some fruit, scramble tofu, homemade pancakes, biscuits, and oatmeal, cream of wheat or just cereal and milk! Instead of cow’s milk, we purchase almond, rice, coconut or soy milk which all offers just as much calcium as cow’s milk without the added fat and hormones. We also make smoothies using frozen fruit, nut butters, ground flax seed which is a wonderful source of omega fatty acids and fiber. Sometime I will add a little honey for extra sweetness in the smoothie!
Snacks usually consist of chips and salsa, hummus and pita chips, yogurt and granola, cookies and milk either homemade or store bought. The girls love Newman’s own cookies and Whole Foods duplex cookies the best, both brands offer healthier versions of sandwich cookies using organic ingredients and are lower in sugar. We also will do popcorn, bagels with a vegan based butter and yeast flakes sprinkled on top of it. Some people know it as Nutritional yeast which has a cheesy like flavor and is an excellent source of B-12 which is important for nerve development among other things. I also enjoy baking, so I will get recipes from my cookbooks or online for muffin and cookie recipes. These come in handy during the week when I need something quick and filling during the week for after school. Dinner will be usually consist of a veggie, protein, and grain or starch. We all enjoy trying new ways of cooking some of our favorite staples like tofu, beans and pasta.  The girls enjoy getting in the kitchen with us and helping us cook the meals. I think it is good for them because kids are more likely to try things that they have helped to prepare! Dinner might be something like sautéed kale, (which the girls love), barbecue tofu, brown or jasmine rice and cornbread…yummy! The girls also enjoy my roasted potatoes which are a healthier version of French fries. I usually use red skin, russet or Yukon potatoes, after slicing them up (skin on), I coat the potatoes with olive oil and season with sea salt, paprika, onion and garlic powder and black pepper. These “fries” go extremely well with veggie burgers and organic ketchup on the side! Another favorite I prepare for the girls is homemade pizza, the dough is oh so easy to make…using unbleached flower, yeast, warm water and honey to make my own crust. Some of our favorite toppings are mushrooms, onions, fresh garlic, basil, vegan cheese (lots of great brands to choose from), peppers, and soy sausage, we even add broccoli! There are usually no leftovers when I make pizza; we eat it till it is gone!!!
We love to search out new recipes for some of our favorite dishes like macaroni and cheese, soups, and treats like brownies or cookies. I like to browse the library for new vegan/vegetarian cookbooks and there are plenty of great websites to get recipes with reviews and other resources as well. One such website is; it has recipes for just about everything!
In addition to ensuring the girls eat a variety of foods that offer nutritional benefits, I also have them take a multivitamin. Children grow so fast and it is important to make sure their little bodies get all the vitamins and minerals they need. I attribute the girls hardly ever getting sick to being exclusively breastfed as babies and to their diet. I believe a vegan/vegetarian diet can be very beneficial and wonderful for children! The key is to keep it fun by trying new foods and setting an example for our children to follow!