October 7, 2008

raising a healthy vegetarian baby or toddler

Here’s to the illustrious, healthy vegetarian baby. Reading the newspapers, even talking to doctors, and certainly talking to my parents you might worry it’s as rare as the three toed astronaut. But vegetarians have been raising healthy babies for centuries, throughout the world. Here’s how we do it in Houston.

The major caveat in raising a healthy, happy, vegetarian baby is that you have to expand the kind of items you put on your grocery list. You need to start buying the exotic goods staring out at you from the bulk bins in your health food store or co-op of choice. The other major caveat is that you have to learn how to cook. No more sandwiches for both of your two meals a day, no more a slice of pizza here and some french fries there. If you can manage both these tasks, you can raise your vegetarian baby just fine.

Grasshopper, our resident vegetarian baby, usually has six or seven meals a day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, snack, dinner, snack. She eats so frequently because she doesn’t always finish a meal, and that’s okay. If she eats three bites of lunch, I operate under the assumption that that old demon hunger will compel her to munch more heavily during her later snacks. (GreenDaddy’s mom — Grasshopper’s Dadi — visited this weekend and told me she’d read an article suggesting that part of the obesity epidemic in the US is linked to people forcing their children to eat every last scrap on the plate…that is, to eat when they’re not hungry. I love studies that support my habits!)

The best thing about Grasshopper’s frequent snacking, I think, is that it makes it much easier for me to ensure she’s eating from the Green Parenting Food Circle (not a triangle because some days she gets more of one than the other): protein, fruit, grains, vegetables, water & dairy daily between snacks and meals.

With all this in mind, I thought I’d put out this list of foods that Grasshopper is inordinately fond of, and/or, doesn’t know she eats but does regularly. I’m certain I’ve forgotten or don’t know about other great ideas, and I’d love any new ideas to widen our range.

Grasshopper’s Favorite Vegan Foods:

Veggie/Bean/Tofu Burgers. We make them at home, usually. None of us like the store bought much. Recipes abound on the internet, and I’ve posted our general recipe on the site.

Tofu. What can’t you do with tofu? We freeze it, bake it, fry it, stir it into homemade veggie burgers, and use it in the occasional smoothie. While I’m not such a huge fan of tofu blocks in food, Grasshopper is. In a pinch, I buy the pre-made teriyaki tofu from the Whole Foods salad bar.

Frozen edamame and lima beans. I microwave them in water for about 45 seconds. A favorite snack of MaGreen and Grasshopper alike.

All the other beans. Since I got my pressure cooker in gear — which means I can go from dry to cooked chickpeas in less than forty minutes — I love buying all sorts of crazy looking beans at Whole Foods. Turtles, Aztecs, Black Beans, Navy, Kidney, Garbanzo. Usually I cook these with greens.

Lentils & Dahls. GreenDaddy has a favorite traditional Gujurati dahl, and I have a few favorites I make. Grasshopper munches them up.

Rice. A quarter of our meals are served over brown or white Basmati. This was one of the baby’s first favorites.

Hot Cereals. I alternate between oat grout, seven grain, and plain old oatmeal from the bulk bins.

Molasses. Grasshopper needs Iron supplements and the iron drops the doctor prescribed taste exactly like you’re eating a pole in winter: metallic and you can’t unstick the flavor from your tongue for hours. After trying many vitamin supplements I listened to my mother and started adding molasses to her cereal: within two months her iron levels were right where they were supposed to be.

Quinoa & Amarynth. Super protein filled seed-grains of the Aztecs. I add them rice whenever I cook it, put a little in her seven grain cereal in the morning.

Noodles. Who doesn’t like a good noodle every now and then?

Sunflower & pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I grind them and put them in food, sometimes I just put them in food, sometimes we just snack on them.

Nuts. Walnuts, peanuts, cashews. No allergies in this house, thankfully. She’s just learned how to chew them well enough to snack on.

Peanut butter. Grasshopper likes it on slices of apples.

Dried, unsweetened cranberries and apples we always have on hand. And I also usually have another sort of dried unsweetened fruit, pineapple if it’s available, or mango.

Veggies. Broccoli, corn, green beans, and carrots are her favorites. I don’t put any sauces on them, except butter on occasion. I remember my dad trying to “mask the taste” of broccoli with melted cheese and just destroying the vegetable for me. I was shocked to discover I loved it when I was twelve or thirteen and my always dieting stepmother demanded he serve the cheese to the side so she could eat hers with lemon juice over it. I believe I told every single person I met for a month about this amazing discovery of lemon juice on broccoli.

Greens. The vegetable that one ups all the others. We’re in the south, we get a variety of Kales, Collards, Mustard, Beet, Dandelion, Chards, Spinach…and a few I just can’t think of. For Grasshopper I choose the more tender varieties and least pungent: Spinach, Chards, Dinosaur Kale. I usually cook them with beans or if it’s a tough green, I boil it in the water with pasta. Grasshopper loves them sometimes, hates them sometimes.

Mushrooms. She likes cooked mushrooms.

Berries. Frozen blueberries. Seasonal raspberries, blueberries, strawberries.

Fruit. Apples, oranges, bananas, mango, melons, grapes.

Crackers. Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies or TLC cheddar crackers. But also just regular wheat crackers. Basically, I get what is the cheapest of the healthy (non-hydrogenated oil, baked) crackers.

Catsup. What can you do? She loves to dip.

Non-Vegan:

Quorn. It’s a brand of meat-aping protein consisting primarily of fungus n’whey, you find it in the frozen food, next to the Boc-blech Burgers. I like giving it to Grasshopper because I don’t want to overload her with soy. It comes in fake chicken & fake meatball forms. Whole Foods has it on sale once a month, usually, and I stock up, or I can’t afford it.

Cheese Ravioli. I buy Whole Foods brand, find them in the freezer section. I have also tried Costco’s three cheese ravioli and it was still too complex for her delicate tastes…

Whole Yogurt. Grasshopper eats a few bowls of plain yogurt with honey in it a day. It’s her primary dairy intake.

Honey. She inherited her craving of honey from my mom. For yogurt and cereals.

Milk. In her cereal. On occasion she’ll drink it.

Eggs. She’s on and off with eggs, and we eat them rarely.

Cheese. Grasshopper isn’t a fan of cheese, but some other babies might be.

-MaGreen

MaGreen and GreenDaddy are Houston writers who have chronicled their attempts at becoming “greener” since 2005, on their blog, Green Parenting.