Don’t fret if your child says no to meat
My cousin Jim and his wife, Margo, own a farm. One spring, they bought a dairy bull.
“It is always tricky naming an animal you don’t really want to become a pet,” Margo said. “So we called him ‘Meat.’ It was the kids’ job to feed him, which they dutifully did.”
Soon, Meat was loaded into a truck and sent to the butcher.
“I am not sure how aware the kids were of his fate,” she said. “But for a year when they asked what was for dinner, we easily responded, ‘Meat and potatoes!’ No one was the wiser.”
Many kids go through a phase when they start to question eating animals and will inevitably start asking where their hamburger or chicken leg came from.
“My son, Jakob, wouldn’t eat hot dogs because he thought they were made out of dogs,” said one mother, Nikki Bruce.
“We’ve since given up on having him try things,” Bruce said. “I hope he will eventually start to eat like a normal human being.”
Of course, many “normal” human beings are vegetarians, and this can be a valid choice for your child if she feels passionately about not eating meat and you’re willing to accommodate her diet.
But if you want your child to eat meat along with the rest of the family, you may have a problem.
Registered dietitian April Murray says that if your child wants to become a vegetarian, he can still be healthy, but you have to be smart. “You have to educate yourself,” she said, “and make sure your child is replacing meat with a food of equal nutrient value.”
Murray’s practice has specialties in pediatric nutrition and picky eaters, so she’s familiar with this issue.
“Parents of a picky eater need to talk about food in a positive way,” she said. “It’s important for parents and other family members to talk about what all food does for their bodies, not just meat. Just explaining to a child that meat has protein that makes you strong and salad has lots of vitamins can convince an otherwise picky child to eat meat.”
All children go through stages when it comes to eating. Vegetarianism can be one of those stages. Murray said that it’s up to parents to explore where the decision came from. If the child is just trying to be like his or her friends, it can be a good opportunity for the parent to help the child find another point of view and show what is good about a food such as meat. If it’s because the child doesn’t like the fact that the food used to be alive, that can become a longer discussion about the good work that the animal does for our bodies.
“But if the child still has a serious moral issue with meat, or thinks that the animal suffers, don’t force your child to eat meat. Give them healthy options and don’t give up on exposing them to new and different kinds of food. All children go through eating phases,” Murray said. “Sometimes it’s a week or a month. Sometimes, not eating meat becomes a lifestyle choice.”
When Amy McCullough’s 9-year-old daughter, Marley, decided to become a vegetarian a year ago, it was a shock to the family.
“She just all of a sudden, out of the blue, said ‘I don’t want to eat meat anymore,’ ” said McCullough.
McCullough isn’t sure exactly why Marley made this decision, but she has a strong theory.
“Marley got salmonella from raw chicken when she was 3 years old. Her intestines were stripped and she was in pain for several months,” McCullough said. “For years after that, before she would even take a bite, she’d ask ‘Mom, is this meat cooked and safe to eat?’ ”
There were other reasons, but the salmonella is the strongest,” she said.
“When we asked her why she became a vegetarian she said that meat started making her stomach hurt,” McCullough said.
The “meat makes my stomach hurt” complaint is very common, Murray said.
As for picky eaters, what are the signs that a child’s behaviour is affecting his or her health?
“If a child is not growing or is failing to thrive, it’s time to act,” Murray said. Other symptoms include low energy, poor health and not doing well in school.
She suggests allowing the picky eater to help choose recipes and take part in the cooking process. This gives the child a sense of control over what he or she eats.
“You need to support and work with your child for the long term,” Murray said.
McCullough understands the long-term commitment.
“I told Marley that we would support her,” she said. “But she needed to go to the doctor to ensure she was getting all the nutrition necessary to be healthy and grow.”
Marley, McCullough said, now gets plenty of non-meat protein and is growing and thriving.
“We didn’t fight Marley on her decision or try to take the power away from her in this area,” McCullough said. “Will she ever go back to eating meat? I have no idea. If she does, we will take that path with her as well.”
The Orange County Register
Liked this? Read these!
Got something to say? Get it off your chest here
The Juice Daily is a Fairfax Media owned website