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Veggie Kids

Children have always loved animals, so don’t be surprised if one day your son or daughter announces he or she has become a vegetarian. The parent’s next challenge is understanding her child’s choice and learning how to prepare healthy meatless meals.

The number of children going vegetarian, either by their own choice or their family’s, is on the rise, according to the non-profit Vegetarian Resource Group. Young people decide to avoid meat, fish and poultry for various reasons, whether out of ethical or animal welfare concerns, distrust of industrial farming practices or awareness of the environmental impact of meat-based food sources.

Liverpool mother Dawn Ashbridge started feeling uncomfortable about eating meat one Thanksgiving, when she was 8 or 9 years old. She had learned about factory farming in school and began asking about her family’s reasons for eating meat.

“My parents were very unaccommodating. They said, ‘Eat what’s on the table or there’s nothing else,’” she remembers. “I grew up feeling very powerless in my food choices.”

She had always had a love of animals but after learning about crowded cages and industrialized farming practices, it made her sick to smell the turkey roasting in the oven.

But Ashbridge’s family did not help her find alternatives to meat. She would ask to try certain fruits and vegetables and her parents would say they were too expensive or that they didn’t know how to prepare the food.

“I had to succumb to their wishes,” she says, “so I made a very defiant choice that I would eat very little at home.” She became thin and undernourished, subsisting on bagels and pasta. And she remembers feeling her opinion did not matter much in her household.

Now Ashbridge and her husband have a 4-year-old daughter and they are essentially vegan when they are away from home. (Vegans are the strictest type of vegetarians, eating no animal products including milk, eggs or honey.) At home, the family eats some meat, but only if they know how it was raised and processed. They even will visit the farm where the meat comes from and ask how it was slaughtered.

Ashbridge helped found the local chapter of Holistic Moms Network, a national organization devoted to natural and mindful parenting.

She has thought about how she would react if her daughter asked the same questions she once asked her own parents. “I would respect my child’s choices and their positions, whether I was in line with their values or not,” she says. “I would tell my child that I recognize that they are upset about this and that I would like to work through it with them.”

Ashbridge’s family avoids processed foods, eats most meals at home, buys in bulk and belongs to a local community-supported agriculture program in Syracuse. They pay a fee to the program and get a box of fresh vegetables for 20 weeks in the spring and summer.

“I had no idea what to do with some of the things we received: garlic scapes, bok choy, kale. But they came with recipes and a newsletter so I learned how to prepare them,” she says.

Sally Hafner, a nurse who teaches classes on preparing healthy meals, offers advice for parents whose children have become vegetarian. She suggests one day a week be designated for vegetarian meals, so the whole family can experiment with breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes. Parents can also leave out the meat in a casserole or noodle dish; if they offer separate dishes of cooked meat and garbanzo beans, individuals can add what they want to the casserole base.  Tofu, a cake of soy bean curd used as a meat substitute, can be chopped into little squares; it soaks up the flavors of whatever it is seasoned with and can be easily added to the family meal.

 “The whole family will be healthier if they try to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into their diets,” says Hafner, who teaches cooking classes at the West Vale Seventh-Day Adventist Church on West Genesee Street in Syracuse.

Perhaps the most common misconception about vegetarianism is that the diet lacks certain essential nutrients and forms of protein.

“Recent studies have discovered that the body amazingly combines the different protein types as long as they are consumed within a few days of each other,” says Hafner. Combining legumes with grains or nuts in a single meal is no longer considered necessary.

“Sometimes a teenager will say that they’re not going to eat meat,” says Hafner, “but they will go and eat french fries or potato chips.” So she encourages families to learn as much as possible about what makes a healthy diet and make sure they eat a variety of unprocessed, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and legumes. By learning about vegetarianism, families can find a new way to lead a healthier life—for both parents and children.

“It might be a great pathway to wellness for the entire family,” Hafner says.              


(Great substitute for meatballs in any dish)

1 carrot
¼ cup parsley
1 slice whole grain bread or ½ cup breadcrumbs
1¾ cups cooked kidney or pinto beans, well drained
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil baking sheet. Mince carrot and parsley in food processor or by hand. Add bread or breadcrumbs and beans. Puree or mash until combined. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. This step can be done ahead of time and batter kept refrigerated until ready to cook. (Cold mixture is easier to roll, too.)
Roll bean mixture into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, or until bottoms are browned. Turn balls and bake 5 to 10 more minutes, or until bottoms are golden. Toss
with sauce or gravy and serve. Makes 4 servings.
All recipes from The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook by
Cathe Olson (GOCO Publishing, $21.95).


Fried Rice and Veggies

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 cup sliced green beans
1 cup chopped broccoli
3 cups cold cooked brown rice
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce or to taste

Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium heat.
Add onion and saute 2 minutes. Add carrot, green
beans and broccoli. Cover and steam 5 minutes. Add rice, water and soy sauce. Toss to mix. Cover and steam 5 to 10 more minutes until vegetables are tender and rice is hot. Makes 6 servings.

Tamale Pie

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups cooked pinto, kidney or black beans, drained
1 cup diced tomatoes with juice (canned is fine)
½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1½ cups cornmeal   
3¼ cups water   
¾ teaspoon sea salt


¼ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil an 8-inch square baking pan. Heat oil in medium-sized pan. Stir in onion and saute about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder and cumin. Saute 5 minutes more. Add beans, tomatoes and corn. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Let mixture simmer uncovered while you prepare the crust.
Whisk together cornmeal and water in medium-sized pan. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat to low. Stir in sea salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened (about 10 minutes). Spread ²/³ of the mixture over bottom and up sides of the prepared baking pan. Pour bean mixture into crust. Top with remaining cornmeal mixture. (Don’t worry if beans are not covered completely.) Sprinkle with shredded cheese if desired. Bake 30 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before cutting. Makes 6 servings.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York