If there’s one bullet I’ve dodged as a parent, it’s picky eating. Somehow, by some miracle, both of my kids have eaten really well since day one. They like fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, spicy dishes, sushi, you name it. They’re easy to feed at restaurants and other people’s houses (remember going to other people’s houses?? Haha, sob). Basically, I make food and they consume it, with very few exceptions. I am incredibly lucky; this I know.
My nine-year-old daughter is particularly adventurous with food and will eat literally anything. Or would eat literally anything, I guess, since she recently announced that she’s a vegetarian. Pescatarian, to be precise: a person who eats seafood but no beef, chicken, pork or other meats.
Ah! This changes things.
Vegetarianism isn’t picky eating, obviously — it’s a valid personal choice, and I’m happy to support my daughter as she discovers her values and asserts autonomy over her consumption habits. Eating animals is not a requirement for adults or children, and there are plenty of plant-based proteins to help keep her healthy. I am not a vegetarian, but as a mom, I’m here to help my daughter live out her ideals. She didn’t want to eat meat anymore, so she doesn’t, and that’s cool with me.
It’s been suggested that this is just a phase for my child and that’s totally possible. It’s also possible that this is the beginning of a lifelong commitment. Knowing this, it’s very important to me that my daughter’s decision be treated with respect. And honestly, we’re well over six months into her pescatarian life now, and I see how meaningful it’s been. She’s a smart, determined, compassionate kid, and I’d never try to talk her out of something that matters this much to her.
That said, I have to confess: the first thing I thought when she told me that she was going vegetarian was at least she’s not a vegan. Not because veganism is bad — my vegan best friend is probably reading this in amusement, hi! — but because she’s nine years old and I prepare almost all of her meals. No meat? No problem. No cheese or ice cream? Get out of my house. (I’m kidding. Mostly.)
The pescatarian angle opened things up a lot, but we couldn’t eat seafood every single night. And while I knew her vitamin intake was good, I wanted to make sure she was getting enough protein. Oh, and did I mention that this child is also borderline anemic? Iron is kind of a big deal around here. So what was I going to feed her, and would I be able to keep her from shriveling into a tiny, pale blob without that sweet heme-iron on the menu?
As it turns out, yes — it’s not that complicated. My daughter eats hummus like it’s her job. We’ve added more lentils and beans to our diet. I make sure there are plenty of dark green vegetables on the menu (like spinach and kale) and encourage her to eat more eggs. I offer tofu or other legume-based meat alternatives when I do cook meat for the rest of us (this is where her being a great eater is especially lucky — she loves tofu). We keep Yves falafel balls in the fridge as a quick meat replacement (she loves them in a wrap or with rice) and if all else fails, there’s peanut butter.
My daughter was already taking iron supplements, so I know she’s getting the minimum amount she needs as well as what she absorbs from food. So far, so good — we even figured out how to adapt traditional holiday meals by buying stuffing with vegetable-based seasoning and making a small batch mushroom gravy ahead of time. Dare I say, this is working? It’s not so bad?? I am not cursing the pescatarian gods for influencing my child??? And she’s still not a vegan, phew.
A lot of kids go through vegetarian phases, but for some, it will be more than that. I’m not sure if my daughter’s decision is for now or forever, but as long as she’s committed to this, so am I. As her mom, I will empower her choices and help teach her how to eat well within the parameters she’s defined. It may take a little extra effort at dinnertime, but it’s worth her knowing we have her back.