Food for Thought

Since the beginning of 2011, I have experimented with being a vegetarian. I call it my “vegexperiment.” I just wanted to see how important meat was to me. Originally, it was going to be only for the month of January, but I have since extended it to February. I’m even keeping a blog chronicling the things I’ve encountered, experienced and observed since starting it.

One of the things I’ve observed is the types of food that are offered for vegetarians. I’m going to be honest with you: they’re at times sub-par. It’s as if a vegetarian is assumed to dislike flavor and substance in their food. I’ve even had people tell me they could never been a vegetarian because they’d get bored with the food or they start listing all the vegetables they don’t like. Not all vegetarian food is boring, though, and there’s more to being a vegetarian than eating just vegetables. I tried my first veggie burger last week and it was really good! I started thinking about the children in our programs whose health, home life or personal preferences create dietary restrictions and what kinds of food we offer to these children to meet their individual needs.

Pretend for a moment that you are on a weight loss diet. You go to a restaurant with your friends and most of the items on the menu are high-calorie, high-fat and the pictures look so good, your mouth begins to water! You find a small section tucked in the bottom right-hand corner of low-calorie, low-fat foods. This section has no pictures and consists of just a few bland, boring items. Would you want to keep true to your diet, given your options? What if the scenario was reversed and the healthier foods made your mouth water because of how they were prepared and presented? Maybe your friends who aren’t on a diet would want to get those foods as well.

According to the Environment Rating Scales, children should be given substitutes for the restricted foods that meet the same nutritional value, such as soy milk as a replacement for animal’s milk to provide protein. My recommendation goes a little bit beyond that. You can provide food that even the children who don’t have the restriction would want to eat, like the second restaurant scenario. It would allow the children a chance to try new types of food. You could even make the “alternative” the primary food, so that the children who have the restriction are not singled out by having special food. If you want to get even more connected with the children in your program, you could invite the families to share recipes they use at home and incorporate them into the food you serve.

Here’s a great snack for school-aged children that is vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, lactose-free, and meets the USDA Guidelines for snacks. The school-agers can even make it themselves!

Chips and Salsa (makes 1 child serving)

  • Mix ¼ cup corn kernels, ¼ cup diced peppers, ¼ cup diced tomatoes with ½ tbsp cilantro
  • Season with chili powder to taste
  • Eat with ¾ cup (6 oz) corn tortilla chips

Do you have any recipes you can share that follow a specific dietary restriction? Please share it below in the comments!