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Dear Counselor Chomp — How Do I Get My Kid to Eat Meat?

April 28, 2011

Dear Counselor Chomp,

How do 2 vegetarian women, who have been so since they can remember, and have no clue really even how to make a hamburger, successfully introduce their two-year old daughter to meat?

Our daughter has type O blood which typically does well with meat and while we don’t want to push it on her, we also don’t want to over-soy her, and we do want her to get enough protein.

We have tried chicken noodle soup, and we have tried chicken nuggets. We tried some turkey sausage that we microwaved and it came out looking like a piece of shoe leather.

Needless to say she wasn’t thrilled about that, or any of those—especially as mommy wasn’t tasting, though I tried my best to ooh and ahhh and say “yum!”

Anyway, any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. 

— Trying to do the right thing in New Hampshire

Dear Veggie Mom,

Below are some observations I’ve made about my own two-year old and his approach to dining, not all of which pertain to meat eating, and they may or may not help you. But first, I think it bears mentioning that food is love is food, and if you don’t make something with love — and if you are a vegetarian you probably don’t love making meat because you feel like you are supposed to — it’s not gonna taste that great.

So perhaps the tips below are moot, and you should rely on a restaurant trip with friends or a visit from a loving and carnivorous friend or auntie who loves to cook, if there is someone like that in the mix, to introduce your daughter to meat. Or, do you eat eggs? My son gets 90% of his protein from sitting on my lap and eating my scrambled eggs. Salt, pepper, milk, cheddar, cooked in butter, who could resist?

My Observations

At this age, process can trump content. Kids love DIY. Or as my kid succinctly insists, ‘SELF!

* Henry is more likely to eat broccoli if I provide him with a little kit on his place. Broccoli florets, but also, a blob of butter and a pile of grated cheese. He can swoop the broc through the butter then smoosh it around in the cheese, and then he’ll eat it and can’t wait to try again. If I buttered and cheesed it for him, it might be ignored, and it might be thrown on the floor.

* Providing little bowls of condiments is a great way to let kids do it themselves, and to have them try new flavors in a way that they can control. My little tamarind sauce, mango-chutney lover has also been seen drinking vinegary, chile-flecked scallion pancake sauce, he loves duck sauce, and he is every intrigued by little dabs of hot sauce I let him have. If it comes in those packets, he wants to taste it, too! The salt cellar on our table is also a good DIY prop, though I try to keep an eye on that one.

“A little bit of anything mixed into something I recognize and love probably isn’t going to hurt me.”

That must have been what Henry was thinking last week when he agreed to eat collard greens wilted with anchovies on orechiette.

“Hand to God,” as people from Boston like to say. That really happened.

He’ll eat tiny bits of meat if it’s ground up into rice. It seems that he will eat anything at all if it’s in something else he likes enough. Flecks of smoked salmon stirred through spaghetti, roasted cod with balsamic vinegar flaked on linguini. Rice and noodles are an easy sell, so don’t fall for making the same old same old red sauce or butter. They will try more exotic fare if it’s paired with something irresistible.

Cinnamon is next to godliness.

This spice smells great. Henry loves oatmeal and applesauce with cinnamon, but he also loves cinnamon’ed savory food: tomato sauce, and picadillo tacos, and lamb with lentils come to mind.

Tacos are a fun shape.

Henry’s love of tacos could admittedly be attributed to nature or nurture, but he sure does like to roll up tortillas with things in them and wave them around and then bite down. Again, it’s the process of participating in what we are doing.

Quesadillas are like tacos, but they have a secret space to hide things.

Don’t hesitate to hide carrots, collards, spinach, or anything you can in a quesadilla. That white Mexican melty cheese is delicious, but its basically mozzarella. Hide with aplomb and get them used to new flavors that way.

Choose the umamiest.

Vegetarians rarely fall off the wagon so they can resume a grim life of eating eat boneless skinless chicken breast. No, they come back to the fold for our hot dogs or bacon. So when introducing a child to meat, consider, as you cited above, a little sausage (see tip below) or some well-seasoned ground turkey. I make a picadillo recipe with ground turkey, cinnamon, capers, onions, garlic, almonds, and raisins, and it is well-loved in our household, because it’s fun and interesting, though Henry will probably be 65 before he tries my turkey meatloaf. It’s good but it’s not lip smacky and it doesn’t look like confetti and it doesn’t smell familiar and like breakfast cereal, due to the presence of cinnamon, nuts, and raisins.

Sausage tip:

Don’t microwave them! Cook them in a pan, though, and that will go a long way. It will put a “fond” on the meat, which is a slight caramelization not specific to meat: think about what would happen if you cooked a banana slice in a skillet — a little sticky delicious brown crust would form. Yum! That crust is a lot of what makes meat taste delicious, too.

We like the Shelton’s brand, though Henry is partial to Swift’s Premium Brown and Serve frozen links. If it makes you feel better, Swift’s has a version that says “natural.”

I buy that one, but it does not really make me feel that much better.

To get your question answered by Counselor Chomp, email it to churchchomp at gmail dot com.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    April 28, 2011 2:49 pm

    The real question is: When is Meredith moving in to be my personal chef? Because I am sick of cooking, meat or no meat, and all those things sound TASTY!!!

  2. Gabrielle permalink
    April 29, 2011 4:38 am

    Great advice! The only problem with condiments (which we use in abundance at our house) is that within seconds we have a new blend of all of them which she then refuses to eat! I am hoping one day she comes across a combo that will be really tasty and we can market it (hey it happened to the peanut butter cup people!)

    • April 29, 2011 6:44 am

      (Delighted at the passing thought that I could be allowed to think of peanut butter cups as condiments.)

  3. Secret Admirer permalink
    May 8, 2011 7:34 pm

    Tip on cooking sausage: be sure to poke holes in the casing (once the sausage is thawed) to let the grease spill into the pan. Then the sausage cooks in its own grease, which makes it cook more thoroughly and get browner. (delicious, but on the other hand, just thinking about it is enough to make one turn vegetarian!)

    the other thing to remember is: H. is essentially a vegetarian also, except when it comes to eggs, sausage, ground turkey in picadillo tacos, and the salmon pasta (in which the salmon is smoked and flaky). I don’t think think he’d have the teeth to deal with chicken breast or bacon, and oddly enough he’s even stayed away from hamburger.

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