The Kitchen Think: Food Fight


What do you do when your child suddenly declares: “I’m a vegetarian!” but you’re the original hunter-gatherer?

Well, if you’re smart, you make peace with it and don’t force the issue.

Mama’s Oklahoma friend Lupe is at wits-end because her 12 year-old announced over Sunday’s roast beef dinner that he no longer eats “dead animals.” Of course his smart-aleck brother asked him if he eats “live ones.”

I feel Lupe’s pain because when Alix was 7, she proclaimed herself a vegetarian. She has since reneged on that declaration and now loves a juicy hamburger. Drew, on the other hand, stopped eating meat when she was 12. Last year she stopped eating fish. And in her case, I don’t think we’ll ever pull her back to the dark side.

With teenagers, it’s especially difficult because they’re in the process of developing a sense of themselves and the world around them, so deciding what to eat (or what NOT to eat) is one way for them to assert control. Maybe they’ve gotten concerned with the environment, or have recently read or seen something that affected their point of view. Or, maybe they just want to eat healthier. (Who knows? They’re teenagers!)

Without getting into all those other food-related issues, as long as they eat a balanced diet and get the right amount of protein, they’ll be okay. But they’re going to need your help and it’s going to take some effort on your part.

Don’t make yourself crazy by trying to prepare two meals. If your child is old enough to declare themselves a vegetarian, they are old enough to help with the shopping and the preparation of their own meals. But don’t let them take the easy way out: grilled cheese, mac and cheese, quesadillas. They can’t live on dairy alone (although this will be an important part of their diet).

• Go with your child to the bookstore and find a vegetarian cookbook (with lots of pictures) that you both like. Think about the ingredients and the time it will take to make the recipes. Look for vegetarian dishes that everyone else at your table might enjoy.

• Go to the grocery store together, (or a farmer’s market… even better), and have them select one new fruit and vegetable that interests them. Then have them find a recipe (in the new cookbook or online) using that ingredient and help them prepare it.

• Offer vegetarian substitutions for foods they already like. While you’re preparing turkey burgers, have them make their black bean burger. Instead of meatballs with their spaghetti, have them see what veggies are in the fridge, freezer or pantry and make a Pasta Primavera sauce to top their spaghetti.

• Make a commitment to them that if they help out, you’ll make a vegetarian meal for the entire family at least once a week.

In parenting, it’s always smarter to pick your battles. It took Mama a while, but eventually she realized that with thought, preparation and a little deft footwork, this is one “food-fight” that can be avoided.


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posted under The Kitchen Think

2 thoughts on “The Kitchen Think: Food Fight

  1. Goaskmama

    I agree– don’t make a big deal about it. Tell Lupe not to stress though– there is plenty of protein in vegetables and our bodies absorb them more easily. The American obesession with protein is unfounded.

    1. Mama Post author

      Thanks, fellow mama. I sometimes wonder if some parents take an “anti-vegetarian” stand with their kids because they feel it will greatly inconvenience their lives…


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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: