A Mom Dishes About Being a Vegetarian

Part 1 – Eating Less Meat is Actually Very Green
Part 3 – A Mom Dishes About Her Mixed Family of Vegetarians and Meat Eaters

As a continuation of my special series on how eating little to no meat is green, I'm excited to have Nichola Gutfold – a friend of our's and colleague of my husband's who's also an accomplished writer, Communications professor, and mom of two – share her story about being a vegetarian and raising her children in that culture. Here's Nikki, in her own words.

A forty-something mom reflects about raising her children vegetarian before it was cool…

There is a scene in the 1989 movie “War of the Roses” where Kathleen Turner’s character, a mother, is arguing as she is allowing her children to eat a lot of candy that if you let your kids eat candy they won’t crave sweets so they will in fact be healthier. In the next scene the kids are obese.

I am not sure what I believe about how strict you can be with your kids and expect a certain result, but one thing I never even discussed was raising our children vegetarian. Since I am the cook at our house, I cook what I like to eat and everyone seems to have developed a taste for vegetarianism.

Nikii and her son, Ian

It was good to hear my 20 year old son Ian say: “Raising me vegetarian, Mom, is one of the best things you ever did for me.” Now that both children, Ian and Emi, age 17, are no longer children, I often find myself reflecting on how they were raised: with lots of books, newspapers, church, as much travel as we could afford, mandatory thank-you notes and vegetarianism.

A Relaxed Approach to Raising the Kids as Vegetarians
Vegetarianism was not a conscious decision because I have been a vegetarian since age 14, so I figured I wasn’t going to start making meat dishes. My husband, Geoff became a vegetarian on our first date, so he wasn’t going to be driving the kids to McDonald’s for secret hamburger outings, either. On the other hand, I decided that if either child had meat elsewhere– a hot dog at a baseball game or sub at the principal’s lunch at school—that would be OK. I had a very relaxed attitude about it. One thing I never wanted was for what we are eating to cause a conflict. Eating should be peaceful and enjoyable. I just wasn’t going to serve meat at home. In fact, Emi did come home one day from the child care center she attended two days a week early in my teaching career and exclaimed with sheer delight: “I had chicken nuggets!” I let her have them when she wanted them, but soon she didn’t want them anymore.

Nikki's daughter, Emily, who's decided to be a vegan!

Vegetarian Meals and Protein
Lots of well-meaning friends and relatives would skeptically ask: “how are they getting their protein?” and “what do you make for dinner?” I knew our diet was healthy (although we used to eat less produce than we do now) and I didn’t worry about protein because the kids ate plenty of peanut butter, cheese, whole grains, milk (we’ve switched to soy and coconut milk in the past few years) and beans. Family dinners then are what they are now: vegetables, starch and a protein. I make a lot of Italian food, and at least one rice dish a week. We make crock pot meals of vegetable stews and with grilling season here, veggie burgers, fish (my husband and son eat fish) and grilled vegetables will be enjoyed. A thrill for us is to go to the Farmer’s Market because the vendors are interesting, including the baking vendors, and sometimes I buy prepared food that is hard to find other places. But I find that the produce prices at supermarkets are similar to those at the Farmer’s Market and roadside stands, so the fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market is not a big attraction.

As a vegetarian, I shop like a European. I keep the staples on hand: pasta, rice, veggie burgers and shop every couple of days for fish, and fresh fruits, bread and vegetables. I usually see what looks good at the store and then build dinner around that.

I don’t know if we’ve saved money by being vegetarian, but my meat-eating friends say we do. Some specialty foods like tofu-Turkey and tofu ice cream are a bit pricey. I would bet being vegetarian and carnivorous is similar in cost, but I’ve never done a comparison. The four of us like being vegetarians. It is easier than ever to find vegetarian food at stores and restaurants and Emi thinks it makes us a little different. We do tend to like the same kind of food and we feel healthy and happy being vegetarians.

Good sources:

Note: Just being vegetarian doesn’t guarantee a healthy weight. A year ago, thanks to Weight Watchers (and a lot of hard work) I lost about twenty pounds. A major diet shift was to eat less sugar and dessert, use portion control and eat more produce.

Here are tips I learned from Weight Watchers about adding more produce to meals:

  • Toss fresh fruit into your morning cereal: mango, banana slices, berries
  • Power up your quiche with broccoli, bell peppers, and basil
  • Transform a tuna salad sandwich by swapping Belgian endive for the bread
  • Bulk up pasta sauce with shredded carrots and zucchini (I used to add garbanzo beans when the kids were younger to be sure they were getting protein)
  • Add healthy toppings to your pizza: mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, pineapple.
  • Cut up raw veggies and keep them in the fridge—front and center—to grab for between-meals noshing.
Nichola is a published writer of five books, all of which center on women in politics. See her website to learn more about her and her books!

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