This week, I was forced to be kind to animals by an unruly group. No, not PETA- preschoolers. I cooked a vegan lunch with a group of eleven kids, ages three to seven.
When I settled on an “Earth, Wind, Water, Fire” theme for this summer’s camp session, I knew I wanted to end the session by having the kids cook lunch for themselves and their families. I envisioned a group of children eating their food with pride, smiling as they told their moms and dads all the details of how they prepared it.
That vision did not include dairy allergies, gluten intolerance, vegetarianism, and the need to puree food for a student still mastering the skills required to eat. What was I going to feed all of these people?
Awhile back, my son began asking me questions about where meat comes from. I answered his questions with honesty, and at one point he decided he did not want to eat meat any longer. He later regressed on that decision when he found out pepperoni was meat, but his questions gave me a chance to research protein sources that are not animal based.
I was a vegetarian for a couple of years in my early twenties, but I was terrible at it. I lived off of noodle packets and Domino’s. I gave no thought to nutrition. Feeding my sons is another story. If Liam wanted to eat vegetarian meals, I was ok with that. But he is a growing boy. He needs protein.
I was always under the misconception of needing to combine foods into complete proteins at each meal, and animals being superior protein sources. When I googled veggie options, I ran across this article.
I was so happy to see these myths debunked. So long as we ate a diverse, nutritious diet, I didn’t need to worry about ensuring complete proteins at every meal, or about plant based protein being inferior.
As I set out on this journey towards a kinder life, I knew I wanted to incorporate one day of vegetarianism into our diets each week. I’m not ready to commit to giving up cheeseburgers, but I can make a greater effort to expand the spectrum of our meals and spare a few animals along the way.
It just so happened that this pledge fell in line with the cooking class for my campers. As I mulled over the various dietary obstacles I was faced with, it became clear to me that if I planned a vegan meal, I would meet the requirements.
I found an amazing recipe for roasted tomato soup. I altered it slightly, opting for peeling garlic with the kids instead of cutting onions. We roasted the garlic right along with the tomatoes. The kids loved cutting the tomatoes, squirting olive oil from squeeze bottles, and sprinkling salt. After pureeing, we mixed in veggie broth rather than water to add extra flavor, and omitted the red pepper flakes because my kids think everything is too spicy.
Kale chips are now my go-to snack to encourage kids to eat vegetables. Another mom turned me on to them, and I was shocked at how my boys would eat plates of them and never once complain about eating their veggies (practically unheard of for my youngest). Easy to prepare with kids and cost effective. As I passed out the prepared chips today, more than one child shook his head and said “no thanks.” I advised they should try everything they cooked, and was not surprised when I heard “hey, I like these!”
Knowing we were opting for a very healthy lunch, I wanted to throw in a treat. We made crispie rice squares with flaxseed spread and gluten free rice crispies.
We rounded out the meal with tortilla chips and fresh fruit. Everyone loved the food- most of the kids asked for seconds. I was left thinking that this vegan thing wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. If I can cook a meal with eleven kids under the age of seven, making dinner for my family should be a breeze- and a lot less messy.