Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vegetarian with Kids, a How-To

My first guest post!  That means I'm a BIG TIME blogger, right?  It just means that FINALLY there was something that I knew other people could write about better than me!

There are people that come into your lives and stay forever.  There are people that you don't speak to for months or even years, and then the next time you see them you just pick up where you left off.  Our mothers are the best of friends, her two sisters live right down the street, and I have (somewhere) a crazy photo of her from the last day of 5th grade.

And now I get to introduce her to you!  Without further ado, my friend Jenny.

I’m here because MommieV had a dilemma. We have known each other since the dark ages, our single-digit years. I’ve always been a bit of a passionate cook, and over the years, she has seen me become a vegetarian, then a mom. Her plea to me was simple. “Every time I go to the store, I hesitate to buy meat. I don't like the idea of buying meat, of cooking meat. But then I stand there and think "what the heck am I going to feed her?" and then I end up feeding her junk food, because I really don't know how to cook without meat.” I can help. Here is a bit of my story:

Becoming a vegetarian was something that came naturally to me. I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to pretend like the food I was eating wasn’t made from dead animals. When I realized I could eat a perfectly healthy, guilt-free diet without having to resort to mind games, it was as if a switch had flipped. I transitioned overnight and have never considered eating meat since. Well, technically I do have a frequent low level ache for the taste of Chick-Fil-A nuggets with Polynesian sauce, but I digress. Generally, my brain simply no longer recognizes animals as food.

There are plenty of reasons that make vegetarian eating a good idea. I have no intention to go all animal-rights on anyone here because frankly, everyone knows the argument and either it speaks to you or it doesn’t. I do want to highlight several other benefits that make eating less or no meat appealing.

• It is good for you! On average, vegetarians have longer lives, slimmer bodies, better cholesterol and healthier hearts than meat-eaters.

• Meatless meals save money. Meat is expensive, grains are dirt cheap.

• It is good for the Earth. It takes far less energy to farm vegetables and grains that it does to process those same foods through animals for our consumption.

When I first stopped eating meat, vegetarianism felt like such a BIG FREAKING DEAL. How was I going to cook at home, let alone navigate restaurant menus or (gasp!!) eat as a guest at someone’s home? Undoubtedly, I have changed the way I cook at home, but for the better. I used to make a meat, side carb and a veggie. Nowadays, we have a lot of one-pot meals, which often means quicker preparation and fewer dishes to clean up. Meals out of the house are far less of a barrier than I had feared.

And then I became a mom. To a picky eater. And unbelievably, nothing really changed. It is astonishingly simple to eat a healthy, kid-friendly vegetarian diet. Protein isn’t a big deal. We eat beans, nuts and nut butters, tofu, soymilk , cheese, and yogurt, all of which pack a good protein wallop. Whole grains have a surprising amount of protein in them as well, especially quinoa, which actually contains more protein ounce for ounce than beans. Calcium and iron are plentiful in natural foods like greens and tofu, and also in fortified foods like soymilk and cereals. As long as you eat a variety of mostly whole foods and make an effort to add in lots of fruits and vegetables, you and those you feed will be getting a healthy, well-balanced diet.

In response to MommieV’s request, I compiled a list of recipes, many of which will come on a subsequent post. Before I post those, I want to share some of the pointers I have learned over my years as a mom who works outside of the house. Some of these apply specifically to eating vegetarian, but others are just simply about eating healthy meals when you are time-crunched.

• Spend 20 minutes a week and plan out your menu for the upcoming seven days. A plan gives you an outline to make your grocery list and keeps you from resorting to junk food because nothing sounds good after a busy day at work. Eliminate every possible opportunity for excuses as to why you can’t prepare a healthy meal.

• Make sure each meal has a protein, a grain and at least one veggie and/or fruit. I tend to start with the protein when planning. If I start with black beans, perhaps I’ll choose brown rice or quinoa, and then add in some diced red bell peppers and corn.

• Prep and cook ahead of time. I chop veggies the night before, cook grains ahead of time, use frozen vegetables, and recycle leftovers to make a whole new meal. Again, purge the excuses!

• Be sneaky with your vegetables. My 3-year-old and my 40-year-old are both veggie-averse, and half the time they don’t know that I have added chopped spinach and grated carrots to the marinara sauce, grated squash to the black bean burgers and finely chopped mushrooms to the lasagna.

• Challenge yourself to maintain variety. I love cookbooks and browse through my collection regularly. The library typically has a surprisingly robust collection of vegetarian cookbooks. My goal is to try one new recipe a week. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes they are a big fat bust, but over time I have built up a pretty large repertoire of recipe triumphs.

Jenny's next guest post will contain recipes and more how-tos for family meals.  Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I'll make sure we (and by "we" I really mean "she") get you some answers!


lunablue said...

!thanks to both of you!

Funky Mama Bird said...

Just chiming in to say I love the purple. =)

And also that while we eat meat, meat is so hard for little guys to chew that gunne eats a lot of beans for protein. Last night he got served chicken, white beans and peas - ate one bite of chicken and two helpings of beans and peas.