This is part of our Do What Works (DWW) Parenting Series.
To read the rest of the posts in the series, click here.
There are few topics in the parenting world more charged than feeding your family. The judgment starts when your kids are still in utero and strangers question your caffeine intake or give serious side-eye when you pick up a sushi roll. And it really never ends. Last week, I wrote about doing what works in pregnancy and birth, and this week I’m taking on the dinner table. I don’t know where we got the idea that what other people eat is any of our business. Maybe it’s a product of our diet-obsessed culture or perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to be the village we all say we crave, but either way, what you are feeding your family should be a private affair. We all have to do what works when it comes to food.
I became a vegetarian when I was thirteen years old, and I can’t even begin to count the number of conversations I’ve had about that choice. Most people are just curious about what I eat or how I get enough protein, but some people only ask about my diet in order to gawk or say, “There’s no way I could do that!” When I’m feeling chatty, I’ll go into the details behind my choices like the sustainability of a plant-based diet and the evils of factory farming, but sometimes I just shrug and say, “I started when I was a teenager and just never changed.” When my husband and I decided to raise our daughters as pescatarians, we knew we were setting them up for some of these awkward conversations. We worried our children may be ridiculed if we raised them to eat a diet different from the typical American fare, but we now feel good about the choice we made. We’re also teaching our daughters to say, “I don’t want to talk about it,” when they really don’t want to answer questions about what they’re eating.
What works for us is my husband (formerly a staunch omnivore) and my daughters eat mostly vegetarian with a bit of fish, and I eat an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet (I eat animal by-products like eggs and milk, but no meat). It’s not always the easiest choice, but my daughters eat a pretty diverse diet and rarely refuse to try new foods. My nine-year-old daughter is very well aware of where food comes from, and we’re all teaching my two-year-old the same. If they make the choice to eat meat when they are older, they will make an informed choice.
Doing what works means making a decision that fits your life at the moment and being willing to change your mind when that choice doesn’t work anymore. And feeding your family by this rule is no exception. I’ve breastfed my daughters and fed them formula. Some nights, I lovingly prepare meals from organic produce and wild-caught fish, and other nights we order pizza or grab burritos at the drive-thru. I’ve even been known to let them eat cupcakes or candy for breakfast on occasion. Does that make me a bad mom? Contrary to what the Judgy McJudgersons might say, the answer is “No way!” My children are fed and happy, and our mealtimes are generally a time for conversation and family connection. I refuse to accept the voices that tell me I’m failing as a mom if I don’t make pasta from scratch every night in a sparkling clean kitchen, and I encourage you to do the same.