For many years we did not eat red meat or basically any meat that came from four-legged creatures. This wasn’t because of cultural or religious believes or even over the treatment of animals (although I do support the ethical treatment of animals). It started with my husband living in England during the Mad Cow scare. He cannot donate blood to this day because he spent more than 3 months in England between 1980 and 1996 and is considered to have had possible exposure to the human form of Mad Cow Disease or Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
I found the book Deadly Feasts by Richard Rhodes to be an interesting read and further dampen our desire to eat red meat, so gradually we just stopped. Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting in any way that eating beef, lamb or pork is a bad thing. I am simply saying we made a choice not to eat them. Around this time we also started to think the fewer people who touched or processed our food the better. I totally understand the appeal of the 100 mile diet, because it allows for so much more knowledge about your food, and knowledge is power. But, this post is not about what food choices to make, or even why to make certain choices; it is about how to manage those choices once you have made them.
It took awhile (and many raised eyebrows) for our families to wrap their heads around the fact we did not eat red meat. They debated whether lamb was in fact a red meat, or told us there was only a little bit in the dish, and so on. We simply said no thank you and ate the items served that did not contain red meat. Eventually they just started to serve meals we could eat as well. The truth is we were only talking about a couple meals a year.
Along came kids and we didn’t feed them red meat either. Once again we had to justify our decision and endure all the arguments and debates over why other people thought we should eat this or that. With time and repeated instructions not to feel our kids red meat they finally accepted and complied (most of the time).
Things were going along nicely until our kids reached the age of “the birthday party” and what I like to refer to as menu hot-dogma where hotdogs, hamburgers, and pepperoni pizza became the food of choice. I can’t say I blame parents, they are easy, convenient, most places that cater kids’ birthday parties offer these options, and kids like them. While my kids were toddlers parents were often invited to stay at parties and I could help them with this food quandary. However, once the parties turned to drop-off only my kids needed the tools to manage the situation themselves.
In general I found people to be understanding and accepting of allergies as a legitimate reason for food choices, but less understanding or oblivious to religious, cultural, or personal choices. Reaction to the decision not to eat red meat was met more often than not with being thought of as silly, a hover mother, quirky, or worse. I always made sure there were multiple options at my kids’ parties, and catered to diet restrictions whatever the reason, but maybe I was more sensitive to this because we had some of our own.
When I RSVP’d for parties my kids were invited to I let the parents know my kids do not eat red meat, not because I had expectations that our personal food choices be accommodated, although I greatly appreciated when someone did so, but so they were aware and not put on the spot at the party. Since pulling the pepperoni off the pizza does not make it meat free, we taught our kids how to gracefully deal with these situations at a young age.
• We taught our kids to politely and discreetly say no thank you to the hotdogs or hamburgers, or just eat the bun.
• We taught our kids to smile and just say that is what my parents have decided when adults (more than one) would ask why or try to “discuss” the topic with a 6 or 9 year old at a kid’s birthday party. Hint adults – accept and move on please, and do not share your opinions on my parenting with my kids openly in front of others. Save that for me, I can take it … honest. Plus I have a keen interested to know about your reasons for a few of your choice parenting decisions.
• We taught our kids it is okay to eat the pizza with the pepperoni pulled off if they are hungry and they want to. We don’t serve it at home, but when they are not at home they need to do what seems right for them.
• We fed our kids before a party so they were not starving if they had to pass on a meal.
• We made sure they had some cash in their pockets if the party was at a venue with a snack bar. I have no expectations that others should pay for alternatives to what they are serving.
• If appropriate we sent a nut free snack with them to a party, especially if it was a long party.
• Indirectly we have taught our kids to think about food when deciding what they put into their bodies, whether that included red meat or not, and aim for a good mix of the food groups that will keep them strong and healthy.
• We taught them not to judge other people’s choices, and that each of us has the right to make choices that are right for ourselves.
My kids are teens now, and they decide for themselves if they want to eat red meat or not. We have started to incorporate some red meats back into our diets, and include some of the ones the kids like into what we serve at home.
You might ask; what was the point if we are going to let them eat it now? The point for us was to feed our kids what we felt was the healthiest options we could afford when they were small and growing, and the impact of was greatest. The point for us was to teach our children about the food they ate and that they had choices. Our hope was that by showing them the options they would and will make the best and healthiest choices (at least most of the time) for themselves and in general they do.
So for those of you who make parenting choices that don’t always jibe with the majority I hope you stand strong. It sets an example to our kids about making choices and having the confidence to own them, and not feel they need to justify them.
Have you made parenting choices that have been questioned or not main stream? How have you taught your child to manage situations that arise from these decisions?