When my now 11-year-old son was only 6 years old he declared “I’m never going to eat animals, I’m a vegetarian!” The first few days I thought this was very sweet and humanitarian of him, but as the days and weeks carried on he continued his passion for eating a totally animal-free lifestyle.
From the time Kenya was little, he never loved fish, chicken, or meat. I would offer him meat, chicken, and fish once a day (as my husband and I tend to eat) over the years, but there were few meat-based foods he really loved. The one way I could almost always get him to eat it was when I served ground meat in recipes like Chicken Meatloaf Bites, Tacos, and Burgers, but even then he wasn’t thrilled.
Looking back now I realize it may just be his DNA and taste buds coupled with his love and passion for animals. Instead of fighting him on the subject or making him feel like he couldn’t make this lifestyle choice at such a young age, I’ve tried to be supportive, under the one condition that he’s a “good” vegetarian. What that means is he needs to eat complex proteins at every meal to make sure his growing body gets what it needs.
From the start of the day, I make sure he has plenty of protein in his smoothies for breakfast and offer plenty to him throughout the day in his lunch, dinner, and even dessert. I don’t make myself feel like a short-order cook making him something different at every meal. I make the same dinner I would for everyone else in the family and if I’m serving an animal protein I substitute something simple or add to another dish I’m making so that he feels full and sated as well.
Lost on what types of vegetarian protein to offer? Here’s a list of my favorites:
- Nuts – seeds or nut butters
- Cheese – Kenya’s an equal opportunist when it comes to cheese
- Beans – This includes whole beans or hummus
- Lentils and pulses
- Quinoa – It’s a super grain too
- Tofu – Our air-fryer has been a game-changer for making tofu recipes super fast
- Chia and hemp seeds – They’re packed with omega fatty acids and great to sprinkle on oatmeal or add to smoothies
- Wheat gluten (aka seitan)