My children are young adults now, three beautiful, creative women who are making a difference in the world at large. We take our eating habits for granted at this point in the game, but I have to admit to never having felt angst or worry about my choice to raise them vegetarian. I hate eggs and am allergic to milk, so much, if not most, of what was presented was vegan, like me. My own Mom was a fabulous chef, and I inherited my love of both cooking and food from her. Our family were foodies before the word foodie was invented. My dad had a huge organic garden that grew everything from pears to Chinese greens. A cold frame kept us supplied in baby kale all winter long.
I chose to stop eating meat when I was 12. My neighborhood friend's extended family were Old Order Mennonite, and one day I was invited along to the farm. We spent the day carousing in the fields and barn, having a grand time. As dusk approached we were given a tour of a building we hadn't gotten around to exploring. It turned out to be a slaughter house, thankfully not in use that day. You can imagine my horror. Never having been one that liked meat much anyway, the decision to abstain was a done deal in a heartbeat. Now I know that what I saw was about as humane as it gets for animals about to be killed for food. But at the time, to my young sensibilities, it was an atrocity.
Years later, I got married and started a family of my own. Whether to raise them vegetarian, or not, was smply never given a thought. They nursed for what seemed like forever. and then they were introduced to "real" food. I am a bit of a Nazi when it comes to what's allowed into my kitchen, and firmly believe that being a parent is not always a democratic position. What milk they had came raw from a local cow. They were never offered anything out of a package. They were fed thoughtfully, and well. Sprouts grew in the cabinet, we made fruit leather in the sun, we picked from my dad's garden. Summertime meant excursions to the local organic blueberry farm, where they ate more than they picked. Winter meant a trip to the CSA for fresh veggies to round out what we had frozen and canned.
They also grew up surrounded by a strong vegetarian community, which made our normal seem like less of a minority. A few of their teachers in the local public school were veg, they belonged to a playgroup where all the kids were vegetarian, and the old local food co-op was socially active. That old saying "It takes a village" bears a lot of truth.
I never worried about whether or not they were getting all their vitamins and minerals because, good nutrition, is good nutrition, whether you are a vegetarian or an omnivore. Parents need to hold their ground against the commercials on television, teach the basics of good nutrition along with colors and numbers, and, if it's necessary, educate themselves on the basics. If you aren't a good cook, take a class and learn some simple techniques. I would toss out little rules like: YOU HAVE TO EAT SOMETHING GREEN EVERYDAY. Today one daughter throws kale in a smoothie in case she doesn't get a chance to make a big salad later in the day. She's also found that the big city she lives in has a summer and a winter CSA, sponsored through the local health food store. How your raise your children impacts the position they'll take on food for the rest of their lives, so teach them well.
The bottom line is that there are 6 basic nutrients that humans need to live: protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins and minerals. Being vegetarian, or not vegetarian doesn't change that fact. Vegetarian protein sources are different, but everyone's diet should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes - "real" food. Complex carbohydrates are your body's favorite source of fuel. Vitamins and minerals are most eadily found in fruits and vegetables.
I have an empty nest now. One of my children lives in Europe, another on the other side of the country and one thankfully, relatively close. They are off saving the world, teaching the world and painting the world. They are still vegetarian, born and raised they say. We're a close family, and I get calls and emails regularly that often ask for a recipe for this or that. Deep down I feel that their strong committment to world peace and making a difference started with the vegetarian philosophy that was gently doled out with the lentil loaf and fruit leather. With our livestyle comes a strong awareness of not only the animals suffering, but the world's.