Balancing the Family Diet
When a man dreams of becoming a dad, he envisions simple pleasures like trips to the ballpark, scarfing down hotdogs and wiping mustard from little mouths with his sleeves. Then, that man marries a vegetarian and starts a family. Instantly, a hotdog seems a little more complicated.
I'm an omnivore (I answer to meat-eater and carnivore, too), although before my marriage, I didn't give it much thought. Political debates aside, my wife, Lisa, and I had coexisted pretty easily. But when we had a child, our differing diets became a hot topic. Suddenly, mealtime -- which, with small children, is all the time -- involves negotiation and compromise, strategies and action plans. And there are questions -- so many questions: is meat bad? Is vegetarianism unhealthy? Is one better than the other? The experts tend to say no to all the above.
"Either way you bring up your kids, variety is key," says Natalie Létourneau, a registered dietitian and the clinical dietitian for maternal, newborn and child health service at Toronto East General Hospital. "Any diet that promotes plant-based dietary patterns, whether it includes some meat or not, can be healthy, as long as it focuses on getting all the important nutrients." Some of those vital micronutrients include iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins B12 and D and omega-3 fatty acids.
Dinner with the Verdons
Lisa and I have two kids; Noah is four, Ella is two. We are raising them as your garden-variety (little pun there) lacto-ovo vegetarians in their early years, which means eggs and all dairy are OK, but we are introducing meats as they get older. I will spare you the details of the arbitration that resulted in this work-in-progress food "plan." Judge as you may.
Here's where we've landed...for now: our kids eat a diet filled with colourful fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, lentils and nuts. Much to their grandparents' elation, they munch on broccoli like popcorn. Pasta, rice, bread, fortified cereal, soy -- yes, please.
According to nutritionists, they're getting everything they need. Like many parents, we used to worry that a vegetarian diet wouldn't provide enough protein, but Létourneau and others have assured us it isn't a problem if you're vigilant. However, it's a good idea to consult a dietitian, especially for kids under the age of one or if you've pared back to vegan or raw food.
I continue my meat-eating ways and Lisa still loves and tolerates me. Noah eats fish now and his little sister seems pretty chill about it. But with four people in our home enjoying different diets, the greater challenge is in the logistics of shopping and cooking.
Photography, iStockphoto.com and Veer.