Lately it seems like everybody I know is trying some kind of diet. Raw food. Gluten free. Meatless.
And I mean everybody. College friends are only eating uncooked foods. A fellow soccer parent has gone vegan. Yet another friend has given up yeast, upon the advice of her acupuncturist, and has written a blog about it.
I have always thought we were meant to be omnivore’s – albeit minimalists, which is not something the American diet has really championed in the past 30 years of big gulping it.
Then my daughter announced that she wanted to be a vegetarian.
I wasn’t thrilled, I have to admit. I am still scarred by the eating assault of one vegan friend who came over for a party and announced that because she was at someone else’s house, it was OK for her to abandon her diet. She literally ate everything on the table. And the children’s plates. And what was on their forks headed toward their mouths.
OK, maybe it just felt like that.
But naturally when my 13-year-old announced that she wanted to give up meat, I started cooking up concerns. I pictured her carnivore abstention turning her into a beef binger. She would beg me to drive her by Five Guys just so she could smell the burgers cooking.
Plus, all of the vegetarian children I know are extremely thin. Many are picky eaters. And Leeannah is still growing. Maybe she needed to wait until she was a little older and then she could change her dietary habits?
I should point out that we don’t eat a lot of meat to begin with and my daughter certainly eats the least amount. The meat lovers’ pizza is usually for her brother, the unstoppable athlete, while Leeannah is more of a four cheese kind of gal. When she was very small, she pushed her plate away at all meat and we had to give her iron supplements.
“She will eat more meat once more teeth come in,” my grandmother predicted. She was right – once all of her molars were in, Leeannah would tolerate a hot dog or a piece of chicken. Other times I baked breakfast muffins with ground beef in them and she ate them right up. Soon enough her iron levels came back up and a taste for ham emerged.
Normal childhood eating patterns ensued. Mac and cheese. Hot dogs. Sliders. Lots of fruit and vegetables, preferably uncooked. A brief fascination with brie.
Even now, she likes a good steak or a juicy turkey burger every once in a while. But she has always talked about being a vegetarian. “When can I become a vegetarian?” was a common refrain until this winter when it became relentless. She talked to her pediatrician about it. She consulted vegetarian cookbooks.
“You can’t give up a food just because you don’t feel like eating it,” I told her. “Your body may still need the nutrients it provides.” What was she going to add in her diet to replace meat, that’s what I wanted to know.
“Fish,” she said.
Fish? Leeannah hates fish. Seven years of early childhood life in a landlocked state have left her skeptical of dinner entrees that once swam. For a while, she liked shrimp. But not so much these days. Crabs, the seafood staple of a good Baltimore get together? They totally creep her out. Tilapia? Too skeletal. Salmon? Too pink. Sole? Too random.
And definitely not a tendency she got from me – I love seafood. I love it about as much as Leeannah loves the idea of giving up meat. So, when Lent started I let her do it – with a lot of conditions. She had to take a multi-vitamin and she had to eat all the fish she promised to eat.
Technically that means she has not become a vegetarian, but a pescetarian.
The first time we had clams, she freaked out and her grand plan almost didn’t make it out of the oven until I served up a lot of grief and motherly “I told you so’s.” Then she ate up everything on her plate and admitted a few days later that she actually liked them.
We had a repeat performance of dining drama when I attempted to serve a spinach quiche. The inhumanity my children must endure! Spinach quiche! But I gave her a big slice. She ate it and had more the next night for dinner.
Then she was on a roll. At her dad’s house, she made chicken empanadas for him and her brother, and black bean and banana empanadas for herself. Tuna has become a lunch staple, rice and beans a dinner menu item – although this week I cooked some chicken for my son to have with his. Make your own pizzas are quickly becoming a favorite, as well as fill your own tacos.
So …so far, the experiment is working. She’s trying new things – clams and tilapia – as well as suggesting ideas herself. Even though her dining habits differ from her brother, it doesn’t feel like a restaurant around here – order up, diner one wants the beans on the side, and diner two wants more cilantro – because both kids are participating in the dinner prep and clean up.
Who knows how long this will last? But I like it. I like more fish in my own diet. I feel like I am eating things with the kids that I only ate when they were at their dad’s. It’s great!
I haven’t abandoned my own omnivore ideal though. Some day at some point – probably after a soccer practice – my son and I will hit Five Guys.
We’ll bring some fries back for Leeannah.