My parents started calling me a “bleeding heart” before I can remember. I love animals. I love insects. I love the green grass that grows between my feet. I’m also kind of a sissy, if you missed that. Forever, I fought my family on eating meat, not that it did me any good. I’m a Montana girl, born and raised, and we eat meat around here – dang good meat, by most people’s standards.
Finally, when I left for college, I cut meat out of my diet. It was liberating, freeing, life-changing. Then I got sick, ended up seeing a nutritionist, and reluctantly added meat back into my diet. Vegetarianism works great for some people, but I am not one of them. What’s a girl to do?
My entire outlook on eating meat changed when I had kids. Suddenly, I cared more about their nutrition more than I cared about the poor, wide-eyed cows. For most families, meat is a part of everyday life, but every once and a while, you get a kid like me who refuses to cow down to the family diet plan (sorry about the pun). What should parents do? How do you convince a meat-phobic kid to keep on eating Babe?
Explaining meat to kids
There are quite a few things kids pick up on the street, meat being one of the more benign evils. At some point, your kids are going to figure out that they’re eating something that looks remarkably like a pet for dinner. Most kids are totally cool with this idea, my three boys included. However, some kids positively freak, and your job becomes not freaking out on them.
If you have a kid who’s reluctant to eat what once was living, take the honest approach. Explain which foods come from what animals, and honestly address concerns. Differentiate between animals bred for consumption versus animals we enjoy as pets, and reassure your child that the beloved family dog will not end up on the table. Yeah, that’s really a concern of some younger kids.
Ownership over eating
Some kids respond well when you offer eating autonomy. Get your kids involved in the kitchen, and let them help prepare meals. When kids have a say in family meals, they’re much more likely to eat what everyone else is eating. Some kids rebel against meat not out of moral indignation, but as an attempt to control their diet. As a parent, you have to parse out where your child’s ethical dilemma ends and their stubbornness begins.
For older teenagers, you might consider letting them try out a vegetarian diet. Don’t cater to their whims or make separate meals, but allow them to prepare their own meat-free food. Some teens will capitulate to pressure the first time their friends order a pepperoni pizza, and the problem will pass. Others have a deep commitment to animal rights, and they need nutritional counseling. Have your meat-free teen talk with a doctor or registered dietician about how to do vegetarianism right.
Respect for animals
Underlying the meat debate is a feeling of respect for the animals we consume. No matter your family’s stance on meat, teach your children to value all life. Some kids will continue to eat meat if they feel that everyone has adequate respect for the sacrifice of an animal’s life. Don’t belittle or make fun of these beliefs. Having a compassionate kid is a gift.
For many kids, adopting vegetarianism or becoming meat-phobic is a short-lived phase. Ride it out without demeaning your child in the process. If you have a kid who abstains from meat, learn about the lifestyle and her individual convictions. It’s a great way connect with your kid on a deeper level. Whatever you do, don’t name your food and stay away from watching Babe for a while.