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What to do when your kid asks for a diet change.
“Mum, I don’t want to eat meat anymore. I want to be a vegetarian,” Maia told me. She pushed her plate toward me, there wasn’t a veggie in sight, but the lonely piece of grilled turkey was still sulking in the corner.
My first impulse was to ask her why she couldn’t have mentioned her diet change before I cooked dinner, but then I recalled the sarcastic reaction I got when I made a similar declaration about 30 years ago. I decided to be the kind of parent who’d encourage my daughter to think about what she puts into her body, not one who makes her wish she hadn’t spoken up.
My first step was to take her pronouncement seriously. I asked what being a vegetarian meant to her (basically her theory came down to not wanting to eat the cute creatures. Milk, eggs and fish are fine). Then we talked about how we should work it into our family’s diet (she’ll cook two meals a week, I’ll cook three; her dad can make meat dishes privately, if he insists). Then we read through a few websites about being a healthy vegetarian kid.
“I guess it wouldn’t be very healthy to be a candy-etarian,” she commented after sorting out what it means to eat a balanced diet.
I’m not terribly concerned if Maia does or doesn’t become a vegetarian. I think if done right vegetarianism is a really healthy choice and a good way to live. And for the record, we’re not big meat eaters. Because we buy organic cuts, meat is the most expensive part of our food budget. And because I’m cheap, we don’t buy that much of it. So whether or not we give up meat for a week, or a lifetime, it won’t change our life that much.
What I do care about is Maia learning to think about what she eats. Her reasons for giving up meat are pretty much what you’d expect from an almost 9-year-old: she thinks it doesn’t seem fair to eat something that just wants to have a nice life. But it’s the process of actually thinking about where her food comes from, and what her role is in the food system is, that I have a chance to nurture.
Up until now I’ve focused on helping Maia make healthy food choices—you know, teaching her to take the apple instead of a cookie and to just say no to blue food. But now she gets to take all those bits of information and apply them more broadly to her life. And I’m really excited to see where it takes us.
Even if it does mean giving up bacon.