I am not a huge meat eater. I haven’t officially broken this to my boys because I don’t want them to get the idea that they can boycott large categories of food. Also, my older son loves meat. Given a choice, he will choose meat every time. He is growing faster than I can buy shoes, so clearly his meat cravings are his body’s way of demanding the protein, iron and vitamins that it needs. I don’t want to discourage that. He should listen to his body.
But he, as with all growing children, can obtain some protein, iron, essential vitamins and good fats through sources other than meat. Regularly eating a meatless meal is a positive thing. The average American could lessen the risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes by reducing consumption of animal protein.
Our family eats a vegetarian dinner a few times a week, but if you are a family accustomed to meat on your plate, start slowly. Start with meatless Mondays. The concept of “Meatless Mondays” became all the rage a few years ago when the city of San Francisco and the Baltimore Public Schools jumped on board, along with companies such as Toyota, as well as restaurants, celebrities and families across the country. Adopting the Meatless Monday routine is a relaxed and fun way to introduce vegetarian meals to your family.
Share these facts from MeatlessMonday.com with your kids to help them understand the benefits:
■ You can reduce your carbon footprint by cutting back on meat just once a week. According to the United Nations, the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide.
■ Approximately 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into producing a single pound of beef. That far surpasses the amount of water needed for vegetables and grains.
■21 nations across the globe have their own Meatless Monday movements, including Britain, Australia and Brazil.
■ When you fill your plate with vegetables, you fill yourself with fiber, which can make you feel full longer. (Your kids might then have less room for dessert, but perhaps don’t mention that!)
■Eating vegetarian can save money. (My boys beg me to give them the money we are saving by not eating meat every night. Not going to happen, guys. Sorry!)
Going meatless doesn’t mean having plain pasta or cereal for dinner, and it doesn’t mean a lot of extra work. Be sure your meal offers enough protein, calcium, iron and good fats to nourish the body. Beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds are healthful alternatives. Also think ethnic foods, as many wonderful Indian and Asian dishes are naturally meatless.
An easy start is a simple meal of beans and rice. My kids like to add their own toppings such as chopped tomatoes, peppers, avocado, scallions, grated cheese and sliced mangoes. Set the table with toppings and watch your kids create their own meals.
Why not start this week? Go meatless on Monday, and let me know how it goes.
Seidenberg is the co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.