I've written before about my struggles with dinner. First, when Kai was little, just getting used to the dinner routine was a big adjustment. It's hard to adjust to having to prep dinner at a set time every day and have dinner as a family. After so many years of adulthood and eating whenever the mood struck -- often times a bowl of noodles at my desk while working late -- it was hard to think about meal prep and planning. But, I mastered that long ago. Not that I love it -- but, it's part of my routine now and I'm pretty good at meal planning.
Now, the struggle is getting the kids to eat and having dinner without listening to constant whining about the food in front of them. Kai was a great eater when she was young, but has developed real resistance to many foods (many of which she once loved). She picks at her food and moves it around on her plate, refusing to eat most of what's before her and claiming that she's not hungry (even when she just said moments before that she was hungry). It's beyond frustrating. And, Alden follows her lead. So, when she starts picking at food, he picks at it and claims it's "too spicy".
In one of my less stellar parenting moments, we finished a dinner the other night where they both ate very little and complained very loudly and I said, "you are both terrible people to spend a meal with. And, I'm sick of it. No more treats until you can go 5 nights of eating all your dinner with NO COMPLAINING." So, we got out the sticker and they spent the next couple of weeks trying to earn 5 stickers. Meals were somewhat less combative. They eventually got through 5 that were less offensive to their delicate sensibilities.
I think as a result of all of this, and the fact that Kai has always been fascinated about where her food comes from, Kai has been thinking a lot about food. She came home from camp this week and said, "we had hamburgers for lunch but I couldn't eat it because I feel badly for the ground up cow." Well, yes, when you put it like that, it's sort of gross. She continued, "I think I want to be a vegetarian."
I thought Kai was going to insist on becoming a vegetarian when she was 4 and obsessed with where food came from and constantly asking if the red on her plate was the blood from an animal. So, I've been expecting this day. And, as I wrote 5 years ago, happy to support that decision if she was serious, could articulate the reason, and also be able to eat enough variety to be healthy. So, we had that conversation. I told her that eating vegetarian meant she was going to have to eat a whole range of fruits, vegetables and grains that she didn't often eat now. I told her it wasn't a way to just get to eat pasta and rice every day. She said, "well, I'm just THINKING about being a vegetarian."
The next day, she told me she wanted to "just try it out." So, I spent the evening researching various vegetarian options for meals for the coming week in an attempt to get a menu together that contained a large variety of different foods. Yesterday, we went grocery shopping and loaded up on the items for the vegetarian meal plan. Last night, I said to Kai, "how about we learn how to cook vegetarian together?" She was all in. So, we cooked our dinner together - with her doing at least half of the work. We made sesame Soba and Zucchini noodles in a almond butter sauce and roasted cauliflower in a soy ginger sauce. While we were cooking, Kai said, "I think I was born to be a vegetarian... and I'll be helping to save the world."
I'm all about saving the world and figuring out how to be a social justice warrior in our day to day lives (and our work)... so, I was all in on this statement. Yes, let's be vegetarians and save the world!
She then said, "this smells delicious!" and once dinner was on the table, both kids sat down and ate with yums and thank yous. Alden had seconds. Kai ate all her cauliflower and asked for more. Dinner was beyond pleasant and I was beside myself. If this is what it took to get through a meal without complaints -- I was more than in!
So, it was one night. And it was soba noodles. So, we have a bit of a ways to go with this experiment. But, Kai is interested in learning about how to be a vegetarian and I'm interested in supporting her. I told her last night that she's old enough to start making her own choices about what she eats and how she approaches the world around her -- and deciding not to eat animals is one of those decisions. Today, I'm going to show her a documentary about the food industry. I like exploring these social justice issues with her and figuring out what that means both in our individual lives and in the larger political context.
It may mean a bit more research for me in terms of meal planning -- at least in the short term -- but, I'm pretty good at recipe finding these days. So, I'm not intimidated by the need to mix it up. I'm not sure I'm going to become a full-fledged vegetarian -- but, I'm willing to mostly adapt our dinners to vegetarianism and to make alternatives for Kai the nights we decide to have meat (ie veggie burgers when we have cheeseburgers, or alternative chicken sandwiches when we have real chicken... there are a lot of vegetarian alternatives to choose from). And, she may not stick with it, of course. But, it's fun to let her explore the options and figure out who she is and how she wants to approach her place in the world.