Marguerite Kelly answers a reader’s question in the Washington Post.
The question is about how to deal with a child who doesn’t want to hurt animals by eating them:
“My 5-year-old son recently realized that fish, chicken and beef actually come from creatures that used to be alive, and now he won’t eat any of those foods.”
Ms. Kelly’s response is:
If you’re not going to tell fanciful stories to your little boy or let him design your family dinners on Mother Nature, he has only two choices: to eat the same meal that the whole family eats — without complaining about it — or be a vegetarian and eat his vegetables — without complaining about it.
It’s fantastic that she advises being truthful to children. Parents should not lie and tell children that they must eat animals to survive or that animals don’t suffer when they are killed.
Overall, her advice is pretty good. (You can read the whole thing here.) But some of her recommendations are a little off base. For example:
1) Eating Vegetables
Marguerite Kelly says that a child who refuses to eat vegetables cannot be vegetarian. However, it’s not just a problem for vegetarian children; it’s a BIG problem if any child refuses to eat vegetables! Whether they’re vegetarian or not, children need to eat vegetables! It really doesn’t matter if the kiddo has a problem with meat or not; they can’t eat a nutritionally adequate diet without eating vegetables. Some nutrients can be obtained through meat or vegetables, but some must be obtained from vegetables. A meat-only diet is NOT suitable for children.
It’s a parent’s job to make sure his or her children eat vegetables. It would have been nice if Ms. Kelly made that point and if she offered some real suggestions for how to get kids to eat their veggies. But since she didn’t, I have some suggestions:
- Involve the children in food preparation. When they have experience buying, washing, chopping, or cooking the veggies, they’re more interested in eating them.
- Make veggies tasty. Learn to cook them well and season them properly. Try new recipes, new sauces and spice mixes, and experiment.
- Make it fun. If you approach vegetable-eating as a chore, so will they. So make it exciting!
- Keep trying. Lots of kids dislike new things simply because they’re new. Make sure you don’t give up on a vegetable just because your kid didn’t like it the first time. Try again to make sure.
And here are the American Dietetic Association’s recommendations for getting children and teens to eat their fruits and veggies: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6749
2) Getting Good Advice
Ms. Kelly recommends a trip to the pediatrician to talk about nutrition. While I don’t think that a trip to the pediatrician is necessarily a bad idea, I do know that most pediatricians do not learn much about nutrition. Therefor, a pediatrician is NOT a very good resource nutritional information. If you want to change your diet, change the diet of someone in your care, or just get a current diet analyzed, you should visit a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the experts in the field and they are the people who are most qualified to give you up-to-date, reliable, evidence-based, peer-reviewed advice. On that note, here is how the American Dietetic Association recommends feeding vegan and vegetarian infants and toddlers: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=8060. And here is the ADA’s guide to important vegetarian nutrient sources: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6374
The ADA even offers some meal suggestions for vegetarians and vegans. Here are some of the meal ideas:
- Vegetable sandwich (tomatoes, peppers, onions, avocado) with or without (soy)cheese on whole-grain bread
- Vegetable soup with a piece of whole-grain toast
- Vegetable burger or falafel with (soy)cheese, mushrooms and tomato on whole-grain bread
- Pita bread filled with vegetables or peanut butter
- Chili with beans, textured vegetable protein and (soy)cheese.
- Tofu stir-fry with brown rice
- Whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce plus vegetables (mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and onions)
- Tacos or burritos filled with beans, textured vegetable protein, tofu or tempe
- Pizza with or without cheese and topped with vegetables, tofu or meat substitute.
Check out the website for more: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6373
The USDA also offers some meal ideas for vegetarians. The USDA says:
“Many dishes can be made vegetarian—pasta primavera, pasta with marinara or pesto sauce, veggie pizza, vegetable lasagna, tofu-vegetable stir fry, bean burritos, etc. These changes can increase vegetable intake and cut saturated fat and cholesterol intake.”
“For barbecues, try veggie or ‘garden’ burgers, soy hot dogs, marinated tofu or tempeh, and veggie kabobs. Grilled veggies are great, too!”
You can download the whole USDA tipsheet for vegetarians here: http://www.mypyramid.gov/downloads/TenTips/VegetarianTipsheet.pdf
Even though the advise in the Washington Post article wasn’t perfect, at least it’s a start. We’ve come a long way from my own childhood, when parents were advised to simply lie to their children about meat, dairy, and egg production and consumption. At least now educated parents know better. They won’t tell their children that animals don’t suffer.