Monday, September 15, 2008

Feeding A Vegetarian Child

This lollipop is not a whole food. It lights up too! You Get stuff like this when You're sick. I have to buy him stuff like that once in a make up for the bad home haircut. Yeah, he's looking a little shaggy.

This meal IS good for you. Chick pea croquettes, baked apples with rice, carrots and red peppers. Meatless, and tasty.
Savoury fruit. Apples get filled with rice, raisins and celery. Does this look like a boring vegetarian meal? I think not.

I suppose I have it easy, as Mr. Eat The Blog will pretty much eat whatever is put before him without complaint (and I humour him with the occasional goat tamales or roast rabbit). Except aspic-he hates anything in aspic. Danny isn't that particular either, as long as it is not winter squash-he hates winter squash.

The reason I mention it is Rebecca at Girl's Gone Child is trying find a comfortable balance with feeding her son (he's around Danny's age). The comment thread was mostly supportive (interspersed with the usual finger-pointing idiots) which to be honest, is refreshing. Danny's diet is complicated and there are reasons for it but I swear, if anyone ever confronted me and demanded I justify it, medically or otherwise I think I'd blow my freaking stack. Thankfully, it never happened with the formula he needed but I suppose being prescribed it was sort of out of view of busy-body sorts as I picked it up at the pharmacy (Man, $117.00 a week for that stuff and the insurance wouldn't cover it because they considered it food! You needed a prescription for it, but I guess if it is eaten they find a way of not covering it-bastards!). I understand concern, but not from total strangers that want to tell you feeding your son tofu will turn him into woman and make him grow ovaries (it won't-for heaven's sake people, take a damn science class).

Anyway, because of Danny's complicated dietary issues, I've had to avoid preservatives, artificial flavours and heavily processed foods that can give off false positives. That's not a huge deal because I know how to cook. Baking my own bread, crackers, and so on isn't that big of a hassle. Sure, sometimes he eats processed food (I let him eat Chips Ahoy cookies once and heaven knows they sure don't qualify as a whole, natural product) and I even bought him a (very) strawberry scented light-up lollipop recently, but at least I was on guard that he might start manifesting symptoms and I'd now the cause-if he ate that way all the time it would be more difficult to isolate. Unfortunately, that means being vegetarian without the help of products like frozen veggie burgers, sausages, etc. Just because they are vegetarian doesn't mean they aren't filled with tons of preservatives, etc. It's too bad actually, because those veggie corn dogs are probably the best food ever (I lived on those when I was expecting).

Danny does eat eggs, cheese, and other milk products which makes it somewhat easier-I don't know how I'd feed a child a vegan diet without constantly worrying about B12. I know people do it, but not being able to do nuts makes it all that much more difficult.

Here's my basic diet for Danny:


Oatmeal w/skim milk
Jam (homemade, of course)
A bowl of banana
Glass of milk (about 4 oz. as he has milk in the oatmeal)


Either a sandwich (cheese and jelly is a favourite here) and soup
Beans and rice with yoghurt and both a green and orange vegetable (usually spinach and sweet potato)
A scrambled egg, toast and the green & orange vegetable combination with cottage cheese


Whatever the family is eating:

Pasta with vegetables, beans, tofu, etc.

Quiche, vegetarian pizzas, lentil loaf-all hearty meals that leave no one hungry. I try to work in both beans and eggs every day (or tofu) so that we have enough protein. With all the milk and cheese, I'm not worried about any deficiency diseases around here. On average Danny gets about 1 1/2 cups of vegetables every day. He also gets dessert-usually pudding or something I can count on to make up some of the protein if he ate light that day. Grains like rice, cous cous, pasta, and buckwheat round it out. He eats a varied diet, though like most children would eat a grilled cheese sandwich three times a day for the rest of his life if permitted (actually, I'd do that too-grilled cheese is easy to make). We don't do a ton of juice, (usually just once a week at dinner) but when he's sick (like now) he's been getting apricot nectar to help out with potassium. Raisins are good for that too-and Danny is in love with raisins.

So let's talk about the typical meal pictured above. This was tonight's dinner. The apples are hollowed out and filled with jasmine rice, raisins, sultanas, fresh ginger, celery, onions, fennel seeds, turmeric and cooked in some homemade butter. I baked them in a 350 degree oven with a bit of water in the pan for 30 minutes.

The vegetable is carrots, red pepper and onions cooked with a bit of fresh ginger in olive oil. The croquettes were mashed up chick peas, fresh breadcrumbs, an egg some oil, and parsley. Sort of like a lazy person's falafel. I fried them in very hot oil for about a minute each side, drained them and kept them warm in the oven. We also had a Sally Lunn bread. The meal took about an hour to make, except of course for the bread. The vegetables I prepped throughout the day and kept in covered bowls in the fridge. The leftovers are going to work for Mr. Eat The Blog's lunch on Tuesday.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that frozen convenience foods are great (but expensive) if you can use them, but it is also simple enough to make a large batch of pesto and freeze individual servings that can be tossed in a pot when dinner is running late. I try to cook in quantity so that I have plenty of meals on-hand if life gets busy (or more commonly, if I get sick). You just can't go wrong with frozen sauces and pasta. I always have 3 or 4 loaves of bread in the freezer.

Finally, learning to make curries will help a great deal, particularly if you use red lentils which do not require overnight soaking and cook quickly. If you do soak and cook beans, they can be frozen easily which is as simple as opening a tin (without all that extra salt).

The key to feeding a vegetarian child isn't that much different than feeding an omnivore-it needs to be accessible and simple to manage (I've yet to meet a child that will deal successfully with a serving of peas piled on the plate alone-they are too frustrating, even with a spoon). Mix the peas with rice and everyone is happy. Mash them with potatoes and curry powder. Make mushy peas (you need dried marrowfats for that though). A child will be turned off to any food they feel is unwieldy. That does not mean I'm advocating serving only sandwiches or finger food, rather just trying to keep a child's skill level in mind when introducing foods.

It sounds like an overwhelming amount of work, but it really isn't. If anything, it is a matter of time management over kitchen skill. Do I cheat sometimes and open a tin of beans? Of course I do. often? No, not really. After the tornado we had to be creative feeding Danny though the brightly coloured cold cereal the well-intentioned ladies at the hotel desk were feeding him didn't seem to do any harm (which was funny because my first thought was, "excellent, he can eat Apple Jacks-woo hoo, another "safe" food." Sometimes, I find these things out by accident as I'm a bit reluctant to just shove a Twinkie at him and say, "hey, eat it and see what happens."

One last thought-feeding a child a vegetarian diet does mean they will be limited in food availability choices away from home (at least in rural Nebraska). With that in mind, I've been making sure Danny learns to cook and understands how bread is baked, beans soaked, etc. I think that's always good for a child to be exposed to, but almost essential if they will someday be forced to feed themselves without the benefit of prepared foods.

After a while, it does get easier. Once certain staples are established in the larder it makes meal planning more routine. Keep a bag of carrots on hand and a couple onions and you have a good start to most meals. Throw in a tin of chick peas and some pasta and you have dinner.

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