I’ve got 2 littles, Diva and Sassy who are 6 and 4 respectively and they’ve been vegetarian/vegan since birth. Diva ate eggs and cheese but never had meat and transitioned to vegan when she was 2 and her sister was born. Sassy has never intentionally consumed an animal product; I’m fairly sure well meaning grandparents have accidentally given them things that have had eggs (cookies) or animals (McDonald’s french fries, eww! Why, oh why does a potato need beef juice on it to make it taste good? Oh right, it doesn’t. But I digress…) but other than that, she’s been vegan her whole life. For them, it’s normal and they think the rest of the world is a bit weird because they eat animals. They know they are different but it doesn’t seem to bother them.
To be clear, just because something is vegan by no means guarantees it is healthy. We are trying to teach the girls that the question to ask when presented with food that’s not from us, isn’t necessarily, “Is it vegan?” but, “Is it healthy?” and they do pretty well for the most part. They like lots of different vegetables and grains, eat peanut or almond butter and a wide variety of fruit. What’s interesting is that when I try to feed them with food that carries lingering prejudices about what children like to eat, they won’t touch it. For example, conventional wisdom holds that kids don’t like veggies unless they are slathered with ranch or hummus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put veggies on their plates with hummus or a vegan cashew ranch or other sauce and they refuse to eat them, only want them plain. It’s the same with pasta. Diva wants it plain, Sassy wants cheesy sprinkle (a cashew, nutritional yeast blend) but no sauce.
We have the reputation in our families of being too strict with the girls and what they eat. One family member once threatened to call CPS because she thought we were too harsh in what we feed the girls. Despite what our families think, we aren’t doing it to be mean, and we aren’t even as uncompromising as they think we are and there’s a very good reason for why we do it. We have what we loosely call “control” over them for such a short time and these years are absolutely key in forming their palates. If we bombard them with high fat, highly salted, highly palatable but low nutrient food, that’s what they are going to want. They will form preferences for them and may struggle with addictive type eating that may in time, and I’m not exaggerating here, kill them. Kids aren’t born loving chicken nuggets or french fries, but if they are offered them, it is almost guaranteed they will like them and prefer them over say, cauliflower because of how our brains are wired to seek pleasure which these low nutrient “foods” provide. If we can spare them the pain of that addictive struggle by flooding their senses with delicious, highly nutritive dishes that are fantastic to eat and also happen to provide all the components their little bodies need to grow healthy and strong, help prevent cancer and so many other maladies, why wouldn’t we do that?
I was overweight as a young adult and constantly struggled with food issues. I remember going to Wendy’s drive through and ordering not only their 1/4 pound burger but also the baked potato with broccoli and cheese. I knew I was being unhealthy but wasn’t able to resist the siren call of that type of food. You bet I want to do anything I can to save the girls from that. How’s it all working? How do we do what we do with the girls? I’ll cover that in my next post!