17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Monday, July 16, 2007

From the Tales Inbox: Vegetarian for the Summer

This post is from my sister-in-law, Julie, who has decided with her family to try out a new diet for the summer. I asked her to share her journey up to this point because I find it so interesting (and deep down, I would love to try something similar for at least a summer if I thought could talk my family into it and if the In 'n' Out down the street didn't call to me each time I passed it).

Up until a few months ago I thought that all vegetarians were strange. The ones I knew made me feel uncomfortable, often offering snide comments at parties where meat was served. Cooking for them was a nightmare! I never, ever thought I’d become one - until this summer - when I decided that I wanted our family to try being vegetarians.

Why did I change my mind?! Little did I know that this idea actually started forming in my head about six years ago after the birth of my second child. The weight wasn’t falling off like it had the first time, so I joined a diet program. This program worked really well for losing weight and it taught me a lot about how to eat better, but it was high in animal protein, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t “eating meat sparingly” like I should.

Then about two months ago my book club read the semi-controversial book, The China Study. The author, T. Colin Campbell says that a vegan diet will prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease and he uses study after study to back it up. At first I was really skeptical, but the more I read and thought about his ideas, the more I got a feeling that he could be onto something. This type of diet (or a version of it at least) matched what I believed God had been directing me towards all along (believe me when I say I don't think God wants everyone to be vegan or vegetarian).

Going completely vegan felt totally overwhelming, not only because I had no idea how to cook this way, but also because of the social implications. I started by testing my plan on friends and family. They were all curious and mostly very supportive. Many of them sent me recipes to get started. My husband and I also decided that in any social situations, we would simply eat the meat provided and it would still match the goals we had in mind. Also, we decided that even though we didn’t want to eat fish or eggs, we still wanted to eat a little cheese, butter and honey, so we would be vegetarians instead of vegans.

Honestly, I have found this diet to be an adventure every day. For the first little while I would find myself wandering around the kitchen unable to find anything to eat. I had a hard time controlling my blood sugar. I felt grouchy and hungry. But as time went by my body got used to all the whole grains and vegetables and I feel better than I have in a long time.

Because I am making a recipe new to me every day, cooking and shopping takes longer than it did before. I often find myself at the local nutrition store with a list in hand of ingredients of which I don’t know where they are, what they are or how to say them. I am still struggling to learn “quick” meals for those busy days. It can be discouraging when dinner turns out yucky, but in only three weeks I have discovered about five meals that my family just loves.

At first I worried that a vegetarian diet might stunt my children’s growth because of a lack of adequate animal protein. Then I learned that my kids could easily get all the protein they needed from plants. My four-year-old son hates meat and vegetables, so dinner with him used to be a nightmare. But, he loves rice, beans, whole wheat pasta and whole wheat breads and I’ve found that if the vegetables are mixed in he will eat them! My seven-year-old daughter, who has always been a good eater, gobbled down a bowl of brown rice, broccoli and tofu the other day. I was amazed.

So, here are some questions I have for you:
1. What would your husband say if you told him you wanted your family to try being vegetarians for the summer?

2. What have you heard, good or bad, about kids on vegetarian diets?

3. Do you have any good vegetarian recipes, especially quick ones?

4. What are your thoughts, good or bad, about vegetarians as a group?

Thanks for your help! If you decide to try this diet, good luck in your adventure!

Julie, Brand-new Vegetarian


  • First, I want to say that I think what you're doing is awesome. I don't think I will ever be able to be a complete vegetarian, but I understand the concept. Eating whole grains and tons of veggies can do nothing but help, that's for sure! :)

    Your questions:

    1. I think my husband would say "no!" but then he would think about it. He loves his meat (as do I), but he's not a jerk about it.

    2. Our friends decided to become vegetarians last year. Their extended family was not very supportive; claiming their children would be malnourished. However, they decided that if their kids are in situations where meat is served, they can have it. They themselves have opted for veggie burgers, veggie nuggets, that sort of thing, it replacement of the real kind and their kids are doing great! Our friends have loved their choice to become vegetarians and I doubt they'll go back. If you want some help from them, let me know!

    3. I make vegetarian Taco Soup and spaghetti sauce all the time. Just leave the meat out. To be honest, I find vegetarian meals to be faster because you don't have to wait for the meat to cook.

    4. I am a firm believer in moderation. Extremism on either end of any spectrum is unhealthy. My SIL (brenbot) was vegan and her sister (tamrobot)is vegetarian. (I have no doubt they'll chime in and help you out a ton.) So I know vegetarians and vegans are usually just doing what they feel is good for their bodies. Those outspoken ones (like you mentioned) drive me nuts, just as I know my friends' families (that I mentioned in question #2) drive them nuts. As long as you stay away from any kind of extremism (hating all people who eat meat, etc.), then I think you'll be okay. :)
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 7/16/2007 08:50:00 AM  

  • 1. He'd say, 'sure, as long as vegetarians can eat eggs, meat, and dairy.' (Sigh)
    2. I haven't heard anything bad, and I'm sure as long as you practice the whole 'moderation' bit your kids will do just fine.
    3. Rachel Ray's Black Bean Stoup is to DIE for; it's one of my fave all-time soups and super easy. You can google the recipe.
    4. I will admit I always have had negative thoughts about vegetarians. I guess because a small few have been judgmental and have ranted about how they feel soooo much better and are soooo much healthier than me. I just say, 'that's nice. If you live longer than me than good for you!'

    It's always hard to live a lifestyle that is different than the crowd, but I think it's great to introduce your kids to many different types of foods and ways of eating. And in the end, no matter what happens, you will have learned a bunch of great, healthy recipes that you love, and hopefully will share them with the rest of us!
    posted by Blogger Tally Girl at 7/16/2007 09:15:00 AM  

  • Sounds great. Were I married to someone different, I'd be tempted to go this route. But my husband is already allergic/intolerant to dairy, soy, and wheat. To take meat away too . . . well, he really wouldn't have much left. So we live the farmer's diet. Meat, potatoes, fresh vegetables. And I feel much better than I did before we were married, when I ate to many processed foods and simple, gluten-filled carbs.
    posted by Blogger Deborah at 7/16/2007 09:51:00 AM  

  • I should preface this that I've been a vegetarian for coming on 10 years. For me, its a very personal choice (and I've never really liked meat), but one that I am glad I have made. I live a pretty active life (did my first marathon last year), and have been very healthy. I can't even remember the last time I got a cold.

    1. My husband now only eats fish - but rarely. I never ever thought he would give up meat. He loves meat! Much to my surprise, about 2 years ago, before we got married, he decided on his own to quit most meats. It was a very personal choice, really almost spiritual, for him. And I don't think you would never guess by looking at him that he's a vegetarian either - he's got muscles!

    2. I've heard both good and bad. I think it all depends on the diet you give the kids. A vegan diet that consists of just french fries, and veggie hot dogs and soy nuggest obviously isn't going to be the healthiest. You've got to includes lots of fruits and veggies - thats the same for vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. With being vegetarian or vegan, as long as you're kids are eating fruits and veggies, I think you just need to be extra cautious that your kids are getting enough protein and B Vitamins, calcium, and zinc.

    3. My default quickies are (1) whole wheat pasta with lots of veggies, (2) brown rice with lots of veggies, (3)Trader Joe's soups and (4) Trader Joe Indian food packets with naan bread or rice. I've also found that a lot of old family recipes can be converted with just substitution. There's a lot of fake meat substitutes that are pretty good, or you can just take out the meat.

    4. I have to say I don't really like some groups of vegetarians and vegans, especially when they're preachy or act like they're better that everyone else. Some can be pretty annoying. For me, it's a very personal choice. I don't like vegetarians telling non-vegetarians that they're making bad choices just as much as I don't like non-vegetarians telling vegetarians that they're making bad choices.

    Well, I've written a lot already. I do have an interesting article I found on a Vegetarian website actually just last Friday - that has to do with LDS beliefs and vegetarian principles. It's obviously a little slanted, but I thought still was very interesting:

    posted by Blogger tamrobot at 7/16/2007 10:54:00 AM  

  • Carrie -

    You can ask for a "Veggie Burger" or "Grilled Cheese" from In-N-Out and they're really good.

    I used to always get the "Veggie Burger" in High School - just the burger without the cheese and meat. It's surprisingly good! My husband finally converted me to the "Grilled Cheese", which is the bun with veggies and cheese melted. yummmm.
    posted by Blogger tamrobot at 7/16/2007 11:04:00 AM  

  • Here is a recipe that I make all the time that is always a hit. It does contain cheese, but everything else is vegetarian...

    Tomato, Basil and Cheese Baked Pasta
    Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray
    For kids ages 12 to 16 years.

    1 pound small shell pasta
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan in a slow stream
    3 large cloves garlic
    1/2 small to medium yellow onion
    1 (28-ounce) can crushed Italian tomatoes, any brand
    1/2 cup, 10 to 12 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
    Salt and pepper
    1 cup store bought basil pesto sauce
    1 cup ricotta cheese
    1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a couple of handfuls
    1/2 pound fresh mozzarella

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt the water. Add small shell pasta and cook the pasta to al dente doneness which means that the pasta will still have a bite to it or be a little chewy. The pasta will soak up more juice and keep on cooking after we drain it, so we need it to be a little under cooked. The shells will probably cook about 9 or 10 minutes.

    Preheat a deep, big skillet or a medium sauce pot over medium heat.

    Place garlic on the cutting board and place the flat of your knife on top of each clove. Carefully give the garlic a whack with the palm of your hand to separate the cloves from the skins. Throw out the skins and chop up the garlic. Remember to keep your fingers curled under and the edge of your sharp, chef's knife tilted slightly away from your body.

    Add extra-virgin olive oil to the pan by pouring a slow stream of it twice-around-the-pan. This will be about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Do not let the oil pour out too fast. You are looking for a slow, steady stream. Add the garlic to the oil. To chop the onion, cut the ends off and cut the whole onion down the center. Wrap half and save it. Cut the other half into thin slices then twist the slices a quarter turn and chop them again. Hold the tip of knife on the cutting board and lift the back of the knife up and down over the onion to make the pieces really small. Add the chopped up onion to the garlic and oil. Cook, stirring a lot, 5 minutes until the onions are mushy and look cooked.

    Add the tomatoes to the onions and stir. When the tomatoes come to a bubble, reduce the heat under the sauce to low. Stir in basil pieces to wilt them. Season the sauce with salt and peppe, to your taste.

    Preheat your broiler to high and place a rack in the center of the oven.

    Drain pasta shells. Add them to a casserole dish. Add pesto sauce, 1 cup of ricotta cheese and a handful of grated Parmigiano, too. Stir carefully and coat the hot pasta with the pesto and cheeses. Pour the hot tomato and basil sauce over the pasta, as much as you like. You can always serve a little extra at the table, to pass around. Shred up some mozzarella cheese with a grater and scatter it over the pasta. Add a final sprinkle of Parmigiano to the mozzarella as well. Place the casserole under the broiler in the middle of oven, 10 to 12 inches from the heat. Let the cheese melt and bubble on top, 3 to 5 minutes.
    posted by Anonymous mkc at 7/16/2007 11:07:00 AM  

  • 1. He wouldn't care- I was a veg for 17 years. I only started eating chicken again when Beanie was born.

    2. Kids on a laco/ovo vegetarian diet are just fine. If you go vegan, you have to be a tiny bit more vigilant about vitamins and complete meals. But mostly, they are still just fine. (I did two pregnancies totally veg, too, and had two healthy, 8 1/2 lb babies)

    3. Yes.

    4. Diet is personal. Who cares what others chose? It alwasy bothered me as a veg when people would make a big deal out of my choices. I didn't care what they ate, after all. Soapboxing is never good. If you are a veg, awesome. But don't guilt your friends into anything. No one will like you. Personal choice.
    posted by Blogger tracy m at 7/16/2007 03:16:00 PM  

  • 1. I've thought about going vegetarian or vegan again (I was vegan for 4 years) but I always think about what a pain it would be to cook 2 separate meals for my husband and I since he only lasted about a week as a vegetarian when he was younger.

    2. I think it's great if it is done right and as long as they aren't forced to do it once they are old enough to make the decision.

    3. Best bean burgers ever. They call for an egg but you could probably substitute it with egg replacer or apple sauce. It is pretty easy to make (with a food processor) and great for cooking on the grill outside.

    4. What I hated most about being vegan was being a nuisance to people. I learned not to expect people to cater to me. In other words, I brought my own food. But if someone tried really hard to make me something vegan, I would eat it (even if it wasn't).
    posted by Blogger brenbot at 7/16/2007 04:43:00 PM  

  • I was a passive vegetarian for 5 years (if it might offend someone or if someone offered meat I would eat it). Now I eat meat when my body tells me to, (which is about once a week and I can't eat much).

    Things that I eat that that are starch or grain based:


    Nachos- melt the cheese, then add beans, salsa, fresh tomatos, corn, spinach, and sour cream, YUM!

    Pasta with tomato sauce or alfredo sauce


    Macaroni and cheese!!

    Peanut butter sandwiches


    Potato, carrot or bean soups
    (Rice and lentils are a complete protein together)

    Baked potato with sour cream and fake bacon bits

    Crepes or pancakes

    Cheese pizza

    Sandwich - a dense bread (ie. wheat, baggett, rye, focaccia), red onion, provolone cheese, avocados, and dressing

    Corn bread with butter! (ad blue berries for fun)

    I love spinach salad
    1) spinach
    2) almonds
    3) mandarin oranges
    4) craisins
    5) fake bacon bits
    6) a sweet dressing
    posted by Blogger happy nanny at 7/17/2007 08:48:00 AM  

  • That's great you're trying vegetarian stuff. I'd like to cut our meat consumption way back, but I've noticed that if I don't steak at least twice a week, I get terrible headaches. I've tried prescription migraine meds, maxing out Tylenol, and everything else I can think of. The only thing that helps my headache is a steak, not chicken or pork chops or beans or any other source of protein. Although eating an entire can of tuna fish at the onset does seem to help - it makes me gag so I put a bite in my mouth, and wash it down with water, just like swallowing medicine. Tuna fish as pain medicine - who knew?

    Weird, huh? I guess I could serve steak twice a week and try a vegeterian meal a couple times a week and see how that goes.

    I don't even really like steak.

    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 7/17/2007 01:47:00 PM  

  • Thanks everyone for taking the time to write such great responses to my guest post. I've learned some new things from you and I'm so excited to try the food ideas and recipes you shared. Here's a quick question or comment to all who have written.

    Cheryl - We have made the same decision abut letting our kids eat meat when it is served. Since they are going to eat school lunch (I'm too lazy to pack lunch every day) they won't really be vegetarians after the summer, but I would love to get your friend's e-mail for more advice.

    I have found it easier not to have to deal with meat and some of the small worries that come with keeping it clean and sanitary.

    Tally Girl - Thanks for the specifics about why vegetarians bug. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in what's happening to me, I forget how rude it may sound to others.

    Deborah - Sounds like you have some cooking challenges of your own! Isn't dairy and wheat in almost everything?!! I'm impressed that you have been able to make a great diet for your family with those restrictions.

    Tamrobot - Congrats on the marathon! Wow. I'm hoping this diet will have the same effects for me as it has for you to boost my immune system and keep my family healthy.

    Thanks so much for the website. I looked it up and can't wait to do some reading.

    The closest In-N-Out to me is two hours away, but we stopped there on the way home from a trip and I wish I would have known! It's cool how often if you just ask, there will be a vegetarian option.

    mkc - My kids love pasta. I think this will be a big hit. Thanks!

    tracy m - I'm new to this, what is a laco/ovo vegetarian? Also, what do you mean when you say "complete" meals?

    Honestly, I've been afraid to tell most of my friends about my new diet plan, so they don't know. I've found that even though I'm ordering different foods when we go out - they don't even notice.

    brenbot - Yay for bean burgers! I am on a quest to find a good veg. burger since I used to love my husband's burgers. I have made three types that weren't so good. I can't wait to try yours!

    happy nanny - Thanks for all the food ideas. What do you do with your cuscus? I have some but haven't really figured out a good way to use it yet.

    Melinda - How did you figure out that steak and tuna helps your migraines? That is cool. My Mom gets those and they are awful. I'll share that with her.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 7/18/2007 10:15:00 AM  

  • There is a great program offered through The Cancer Project which provides free cooking classes that come with their cook book. They have a website and I took my class at my local YMCA--I've loved being vegan, I'm so much happier and healthier and I'm not eating my fur friends, which always felt wrong to me. Check out their website and remember the replacements for meat and dairy products are so much better than ever, it's a very easy transition to make and unless you the "vegetarian dance" most families won't even know!
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 7/18/2007 10:16:00 PM  

  • Ha, ha ha, I spelt couscous totally wrong, sorry about that. Couscous are tiny grains of dough. Here are two links. one and two .
    posted by Blogger happy nanny at 7/23/2007 07:07:00 AM  

  • i've always been a healthy eater (i'm a dietitian) and i have not eaten red meat for many many years, but i used to eat chicken and fish a few times a week. a little over a year ago, i also read The China Study and just like you described, i could not argue with the evidence that i read. so in may 2006 i decided to become a "semi-vegan." i say that instead of vegetarian because i do try to avoid all animal products, but i am not freakish about it. i do have milk on my cereal every morning, but that is the most animal protein i get in a day. if a recipe calls for an egg, or a little bit of milk/butter, i don't freak out about that. since the book teaches that keeping the percentage of daily protein from animals low is what provides the health benefits, i don't think trace amounts matter since they add such trivial amounts to the animal protein tally.

    my husband is amazingly supportive. he trusts that i am doing what is best for the family and will eat whatever i cook. i feel very grateful for that.

    my kids are great eaters. i have two girls, ages 2 and 4 and they both eat what i cook at home, but when we go to friends' houses, i don't stress about it if they want to eat a burger or hot dog with their friends (although i don't myself). i don't worry about them being deficient in anything since i serve a wide variety of grain, fruits, vegetables, and all types of protein from vegetable sources, including beans, lentils, nuts, and soy.

    i have loved this new life change and this is me for good now. i've had a great time experimenting with new recipes and also have found some great ones that work for us. i'd be happy to share some with you.

    my stand-bys for days i don't want to think are veggie burgers or veggie dogs with trans fat free frozen french fries that i bake in the oven or pasta (i only buy Barilla Plus because it has so much protein in it in the form of lentils and beans, not to mention whole grains and omega 3s) with veggies.

    i'd love to chat with you about this if you'd like. i think some people are intimidated when they find out how i eat, but i tell people to not worry about me when they have me over for meals. i can always eat whatever vegetable and starch they are serving and then if i want to, i can bring some protein along. i try not to make it a big deal. i love talking about it with people, but i never act like i'm superior for doing it. it's just something that i chose to do and i feel good about that decision. if someone else makes that decision, great, but if not, i don't think of them as less of a person!
    posted by Blogger merathon at 7/28/2007 06:39:00 PM  

  • My husband and I have both been of the "eat meat sparingly" persuasion since we were married. We were both raised by health-food freaks and aren't used to eating a lot of meat. Lately we've been trying out a lot of new veggie recipes and trying to eat more vegetarian. I'm not sure I'd even put a label on it, but generally we only eat meat about once or twice a week. That's usually chicken, although we both a soft spot for processed meats like ham and sausage (weird, I know). I rarely buy fish because it's too expensive. We're both students, and have been for the entire time we've been married, so the economics have influenced the fact that I buy little meat. We'll probably never go vegan because we like dairy products too much (especially cheese and yogurt--I make my own yogurt).

    I think the issue with kids is funny because I was always raised with the idea that beans, eggs, and dairy are better for small kids than meat. They're easier to digest and easier to chew. My kids would much rather eat beans than any kind of meat, even chicken. I have read that for very small kids a vegan diet can be dangerous, but my kids get plenty of protein from eggs, cheese, milk and beans/lentils/peanut butter.

    Like others have said, I make a lot of recipes without meat. Spaghetti, lasagna, and other Italian dishes are fine without the meat. You can make quesadillas, burritos, tacos, or taco salad with black beans and corn. We're still starting out so I still haven't tried any veggie nuggets or meat substitutes like that. We both feel like we'd rather just eat a burger when we crave one (usually only about once a month or so). One good way to get new recipes is to check out cookbooks at the library. One of my favorite new finds that I decided to buy was "The Five-Ingredient Vegetarian Gourmet". All the recipes are really easy and tasty, plus it has menu suggestions.

    I don't understand why so many people--on either side of the issue--have to be so judgemental about what other people eat. I do admit some defensiveness when people get down on dairy products, but that's because my grandparents were dairy farmers for over thirty years. I grew up in a dairy-loving family, so my bias is justified :) Like I said, our choice to reduce meat has come from a variety of factors and we're still pretty far from being "true vegetarians". But so far we feel healthier with less meat in our lives, and my budget is feeling good too :)
    posted by Blogger FoxyJ at 7/30/2007 05:00:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home