Mom, I’ve decided to be a vegetarian…

I work with vegetarian clients and serve meatless meals on a regular basis. Although we sometimes get all beefed up with a burger or grilled steak, our meals are pretty plant-heavy. So my 11-year-old’s pronouncement that she is now a vegetarian should not have been a big deal. She’s even a pescatarian, since she still eats dairy, eggs (if she liked them), and fish.

Here’s my struggle. I’m a strong believer in preparing one meal for the family, but the rest of the family is not vegetarian. I like to cook mixed dishes with small amounts of meat. This is a strategy I’ve been using to slowly decrease the meat we eat at meals without making anyone feel like they are being deprived. And I do know that chicken, turkey, beef, and pork carry unique health benefits. So I’m not pushing everyone else to give up meat along with her.

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Lean meat provides valuable protein, vitamin B12, iron, and other nutrients. Family members are less likely to feel deprived with a move towards smaller portions when served on top of a bed of grains and veggies.

Many parents are concerned about whether their kids get enough protein, especially when they are athletes like my daughter. She’s usually got 2-3 sports going year-round and still spends a lot of free time on her bike or running around. Most of us worry more than we need to. But that breakfast meal was already a challenge for us, and now more of the lunch and dinner meals could be at risk.

I’m also having a little dietitian shame going on. “How have I never cooked tofu or tempeh?” I ask myself. Why don’t I have more meatless meals at my fingertips? When you are not versed in the wide range of plant-based protein sources, you end up eating a LOT of cheese and beans. Nothing wrong with cheese, but too much of anything… you know what I say… is not necesssarily good.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you have a family member who has special dietary needs and are struggling to make it work for the whole family. Maybe you don’t think everyone should have to follow these restrictions, so your family meal principles are being challenged. Or you just don’t have that many ideas to draw on.

Well, I’ve decided to stick to my one-meal-for-the-whole-family principle. I’ve always accommodated one child with raw veggies at every meal because she won’t eat them cooked. Now my budding vegetarian is going to have beans and veggies burgers on hand for those nights when we eat meat. And our family will be eating more meatless meals together.

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Learning to cook with tofu (we’ll keep working on those knife skills!)

Second, I’m learning to cook tofu. I bought hemp hearts to toss into oatmeal and salads. We already eat quinoa, farro, and high-protein pasta, as well as beans, edemame, and peas. Yogurt, cheese, and milk are great sources of high-quality protein for my growing athlete. Tried “fakin bacon” and we were not impressed. But how do you know if you don’t try? If you need more protein at breakfast, keep an open mind. We had some good sources to begin with, and now we are exploring.

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Nuts added to a salad boosts protein and healthy fats

Finally, I teach meal planning all of the time, and this is no different. I just got a little anxious because I didn’t realize how much of a routine we had gotten into. Routine is good– we are too busy to start from scratch every week with new recipes and ingredients. But this adventure into pescatarian eating in an omnivorous family requires an open mind, patience, flexibility, and time to adjust to our new normal.

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