If you told my vegetarian, PETA-enrolled, 17-year-old self that in ten years I’d be using my bare hands to pick apart a beef burger for two toddlers, I would have straight up laughed in your face. I probably would have spit out the lavender-infused, free-trade, vegan lemonade I was drinking and shook my head.
By the time I was 17, I had already been a vegetarian for eight years. I had been babysitter to exactly zero children. My world was black and white and simple. I had my opinions (the right ones) and I had my soapbox ready to share them with anyone willing (or unwilling) to listen.
Becoming a mom affects your perspective in many ways, and it changed mine for the better. I made the decision at a very young age to limit my consumption of animal-derived foods, and while I do not regret it, I didn’t understand the consequences of that choice at the time.
In college I became somewhat of a foodie. Then I fell in love with and married a meat-eating man. He took me to exciting, prixe fixe restaurants and I realized how much of the culinary world I had cut ties with. I traveled to Turkey, Africa, Italy, and Greece and I found myself often unable to partake in local customs revolving around traditional foods. It was unexpected and frustrating. So I tried to go back to being an omnivore. It turns out this is NOT an easy task and one which I am both mentally and also literally unable to stomach (my intestines sent that message LOUD AND CLEAR).
Thus I remain today an herbivore. I am proud of this, probably healthier for it, and thankfully it’s getting increasingly easier to find plant-based options in restaurants (yay for Birmingham’s amazing food scene!).
As a vegetarian mom, I don’t cook meat for my family. They generally only have meat if we are going out to eat. This balance has worked well for us as my kids generally enjoy tofu, lentils, beans, and other unusual foods. Feeding toddlers is hard enough as it is, but there are several circumstances when my eating habits have caused issues for my kids.
I have unknowingly made lunches with old deli turkey that shouldn’t be consumed (I’m lucky my husband caught that one). I once cut up a fried chicken for my son and didn’t even think to take out the gristle. Of course I couldn’t try the chicken first and it turned out to be way too hot. My kids have been served a burger that was too done and too bitter, and boy did they make some faces at that.
And then one day somehow my oldest became too smart and too observant for her own good. Right around age three she realized that I don’t ever want to share her chicken and it dawned on her that I don’t eat chicken. Now, she refuses to eat chicken of any kind. This makes our quick dinners at Chick-fil-A on soccer nights SUPER problematic. Add to this that our pediatrician just informed us of her low iron levels at the latest well visit, and you’ve got one anxious mama.
Don’t get me wrong. I would be thrilled if one day my littles grew up and, in thinking about their food choices, decided on their own that they’d like to refrain from consuming meat products. However, I can’t effectively explain the reasons behind such a decision to my toddler, nor does she fully understand the repercussions of becoming a vegetarian. This is just one of the many surprise consequences I’ve discovered on my journey as both a vegetarian and a mom.
As a teen, I never expected to be questioning my knowledge of food so deeply and definitely never expected to enjoy a meal with my hands covered in animal grease! Then again, I also never expected the wild ride of mealtimes with toddlers!
What has your food journey been like with your kids? How do you deal with picky eating and modeling good habits? We need all the advice we can get over here!