When an Omnivore’s Child Goes Vegetarian

My oldest child, Mae, was the quintessential “easy” baby/child. She slept great, and pretty much through anything, and went everywhere with a smile on her face. I really cannot remember a time where she had a difficult day until she hit three years old. She was/is a constant ball of joy. I’ve also always called her our “nurturer”. She has a gentle soul and a motherly attitude towards most anything. I see her being a healer or a caretaker in her adult life.

That being said, the only difficulty we struggled with was her extreme pickiness with food and eating. She’s always been on the small side, in the 10th percentile for height and weight, so when she became very strict on what she would and wouldn’t eat, we grew concerned. I’m not the type of parent that says, “if she’s hungry enough, she’ll eat” nor am I the type of parent that will be a short-order cook. How would you feel, as an adult, if you were forced to eat your most hated food or go hungry? It’d be pretty frustrating for sure. So we tried to work with her as best as possible. Right away we noticed that she didn’t like meat products for the most part. This preference started around 18 months. She would routinely leave the meat products for the last part of the meal, only to eat if she was still hungry, and eat her fruits and vegetables first.

When she came to us around age four, ecstatic that she was able to watch baby chicks hatch right from the eggs, I inwardly grimaced. That was one of the few meat products she’d eat!! Maybe she wouldn’t notice or she’d forget. Oh the feeble hope of a mom who knows that her child will remember, yet it’s there.

Two days later, after I set scrambled eggs down in front of her, she stared at her plate. Staring back at her staring at her plate, I ask:
“Everything ok?”
“Uh… momma? What are these?”
“You mean baby chickens?”
“Uh… yeah. I guess they are baby chickens that haven’t hatched yet.”
“I’ll just eat my oatmeal instead.”

From then on, she was pretty much a non-egg eater. Having seen eggs hatch into “beautiful little babies, who are so soft and cute!” ruined any chance that she would ever eat eggs again. Every once and awhile she’d eat some eggs, but it was a rare occasion. I knew at that point, we’d reach a junction in the future that she would decide to forego all meat. Both my husband, Marshall, and I agreed, we’d honor her wishes.

We firmly believe that every child should have body autonomy. They have a right to decide what happens to their bodies and what food they consume. Parents are constantly telling children to have personal space and make sure no one violates that personal space, yet we treat them as if they don’t have a mind, wants, needs, and opinions on what happens with their bodies. This is another post for another day, but to keep it short, we believe it lays the groundwork for a solid, trusting relationship and a confident, self-aware adult when we allow them to have choices as a child.

About a month and half ago, we were watching NatGeo and Mae started talking about nature. She became increasingly distressed at the thought of consuming meat and killing animals. “But mom! We shouldn’t be killing animals! That hurts them and then they’re dead and their babies are sad. What if we kill a baby?! Then their momma is sad. I don’t want to hurt nature. I want to protect it and love it. If we eat too much animals, pretty soon we won’t have any left!” She displayed a better understand of conservation, animal welfare, and the degeneration of our planet than most adults do.

I listened to her concerns, told her I understood them and if that is what she feels, then I support her. At lunch I offered her either fish sticks or a sandwich, “Is fish sticks nature?” she asked me. I responded that yes, fish sticks are “nature”. She promptly chose a PB&J sandwich.

Since then, she has been diligent in asking if a meal contains meat, and deciding against it, if it does. She’s opened her menu of acceptable foods to include more vegetables, fruits and grains. She’s become adventurous in her eating, trying new things and being excited about it. I applaud her for taking a stand for something she believes in, I’m proud of her for trying new things and I’m excited for her to develop a part of herself for herself. Maybe all of our struggles with her eating habits in the beginning wasn’t her being picky, but us not following her cues.

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