A Mom Dishes About Her Mixed Family of Vegetarians & Meat Eaters {part 3}

Part 2 – A Mom Dishes About Being a Vegetarian

The very active and healthy McFalls, who eat vegetarian dinners every night! Brendan plays basketball at Saint Mary's College, Trevor plays soccer, basketball and other sports, and Katie plays soccer, runs track and other sports as well!

As a continuation of my series on how eating little to no meat is not only healthier, but also good for the environment, I have the pleasure of having my dear sister-in-law, Carolyn, share her family's unique vegetarian story. Her husband and oldest son are vegetarians, but Carolyn and the two youngest kids are not. So, how do they make it work? Carolyn explains below!

Written by Carolyn McFall

Carolyn is not vegetarian but her husband is,
and they've found a way to make it work – happily!

Ten years ago this spring, my hubby announced that he had decided to become a vegetarian because he didn't want to support the meat industry which regularly mistreated its livestock. One month after that, my eldest announced that he, too, agreed with his father's concerns and convictions and became a vegetarian as well. I gave away the meat in my freezer to the family on my street that had the most children, made an appointment with the pediatrician for nutrition guidelines, and started searching online and in grocery stores for healthy and balanced vegetarian meal recipes.

Ten years ago, meat replacement products like MorningStar Farms were not an everyday grocery store product as they are now, and so that first year we ate better than we ever had as every meal was homemade, from scratch, and beans, grains, and vegetables that I wasn't even aware existed started showing up on our dinner plates. It was a lot of hard work as it took a lot of searching, planning, and preparation, but it was also exciting, very tasty, and very healthy. We all got to be adventurous together and I marked smiley faces =), it- was- fine faces =l, and unhappy faces =( for each of us in the recipes. When our vegetarians weren't home for dinner, I would fix a ham steak or buy fried chicken.

Now it is a normal thing to find veggie chicken, burgers, ribs, bacon, breakfast sausages and even pepper steak in the frozen section of the grocery store, and (yeah! yeah! yeah!) the variety of veggie offerings is growing and growing as the taste and texture is getting better and better. We do need to shop at two stores to get all our groceries, as visiting our local Whole Foods is now a must, but we watch our budget and it works. As our children grew older and our family schedule became a mass of activities, the meat replacement veggie products have been an enormous blessing as they require a lot less thinking, less preparation and less cooking time.

I think I made some good choices from the start that really helped this change be successful for our family.

  • I was accepting, supportive, and embraced my family members' rights to make their own healthy dietary decisions, and I planned and research how to make it work. 
  • Our children didn't know any other vegetarians, so questions were welcomed and answered factually and without judgement, often happening around our dinner table. 
  • No one was judged for eating meat or not eating meat. 
  • I learned why each of my family members became vegetarian so when those outside our nuclear family asked, I could speak truthfully and show my support for their decision. 
  • The whole family did not go vegetarian, yet all family meals were/are vegetarian. There is no way I can make two meals every night, so I don't. 
  • Since one of my family members who chose to go vegetarian was a child, and shared that it was upsetting to see or smell meat, I removed all meat from the house and the whole family ate only vegetarian foods for the first year. To some, this may seem extreme, but it was the most logical and loving choice for me, the parent, to make. It was really important to me that my child have a safe and welcoming place for him to be different. I also applauded his desire to change his actions to support his conviction, so I was determined to support him and do my part in helping him be successful. 
  • After that first year was up and the stress over, the fact that he was vegetarian –and his friends and classmates were not– had lessened and been accepted, I started buying sandwich meat again and occasionally even a rotisserie chicken (which I immediately de-boned, packaged in an opaque plastic container, and stored in the fridge in the meat/deli drawer where it would not jump out at you when you opened the fridge). 
  • Whenever we ate at restaurants, parties, people's houses, the meat-eaters were free to eat meat guilt-free.  
  • I spoke to my child's doctor about nutrition, and was ready to see a nutritionist if I didn't feel I had gotten enough information. 
  • Taught my children that a meal must have a protein, a fruit, a vegetable, and a dairy. 

I have seen folks with severely bowed legs from lack of protein in their diet as children. I have seen children, who have problems concentrating in school, eat lunches packed by their parents that are full of pre-packaged junk food. I have quietly observed with my own eyes how nutrition affects children short-term and long term, so my children's nutrition has always been a high priority for me. With that in mind, I told my children's pediatrician about my child becoming a vegetarian and asked for his help in identifying what I needed to provide for him. Our pediatrician said, in short, that a vegan diet, which relies solely on legumes, nuts, and grains to supply protein is exceptionally difficult for raising children and therefore he discouraged it. A pesco-vegetarian diet, however, which includes dairy, fish, and eggs, as well as legumes, nuts and grains provides many sources of protein and so he wasn't worried about my son's change from omnivore to herbivore one little bit. Still nervous about how much was enough, I asked him to give me a ‘red flag' indicator. He said if a child is not growing, is not gaining weight, he/she is not getting enough protein in their diet. So, when my son was in middle school and going through a tremendous growth spurt, I put powdered protein in his hot chocolate, milkshakes, and smoothies just as a safety measure.

Carolyn's oldest son became a vegetarian at 10 years old
and now plays college basketball!

My once 10 year-old-newbie vegetarian is now 20. He just completed his sophomore year studying Economics at our state's honor college where he earned a small academic scholarship. He is a starter on their basketball team, and is a 6'4″, 220 lbs., muscular, healthy and happy young man. I can say without hesitation that raising a child on a pesco-vegetarian diet is a very good choice, and, if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the very same way.

The latest news from my son is he is considering not eating seafood anymore as they are living beings, too. Whatever he chooses is fine with me as it is his choice to make, and if my child makes decisions based on what his heart and mind tell him is morally or ethically right, then I've done my job as Mom.

As a meat eater, I do miss meat from time to time and make a point of going out and eating fried chicken once a season and a steak once or twice a year. This reduced animal fat input has helped me keep my cholesterol lower and delayed my need to take medication. In spite of this knowledge, I know I will relish the opportunity if I get to eat a good chicken fried steak again. The question is, will that count as my quarterly fried chicken or my semi-annual steak?

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