Wednesday, 20 February 2013

My Newly Vegetarian Teenager

‘I’m going vegetarian announced,’ daughter 14 last Friday.
‘Why you love meat?’ said brother 10.
‘Because the average human consumes 342 animals a year,’ she said. ‘But I’m starting tomorrow because I had a chicken wrap for lunch.’
‘I stopped eating potatoes for a year because someone told me they’d make me fat when I was your age,’ I replied.
Newly-teen-vego marched off. On to the food fad faze I thought. Been there done that, thirty three years ago. My sister and I tried every diet the Cleo magazine offered, when we escaped boarding school at the end of each term. We did the Israeli army diet: Two days of apples, two days of cheese, two days of grilled chicken and two days of plain salad. Then the Grapefruit diet. I always succumbed to starvation and nicked great granny’s Russian fudge from the pantry to keep me going. I can’t remember if we lost weight or just stuffed up our already sluggish from boarding school stodge, metabolisms.
At the same time we sewed our own swim wear. I made a very brief red string bikini, from t-shirt material and piping cord. Daily we slathered our bodies in a whiffy concoction of cooking oil and malt vinegar; squeezed lemon juice into out blond hair and baked ourselves for hours in the hot Hawkes Bay sun. Teenage assertiveness, we knew what we wanted; the perfect body and a tan.
I too had a teenage vegetarian phase. The smell of frying bacon still brings back memories of my silly hungry-for-pork salivating self. But I didn’t scoff at my teenager. I thought good on her for testing herself, challenging her will power.  I doubted she could last though; she’s a big meat eater like her carnivore dad, whose favourite meal is lamb chops and potatoes.
Instead I took her new dietary requirements on like a master chef cooking challenge. I love thinking about new tasty dishes to cook my family. I’m one of those cooks who constantly rips recipes out of the newspaper then sets them aside, awaiting the correct ingredients and a huge boost of inclination.
One such meal was from, The Food Truck cookbook: “vegetarian burger with pumpkin and pinach patties” (printed in Jan/Feb Metro). A rather fiddly recipe, I’d got out to cook, then put away half a dozen times. I mean it even suggested you fashion your own wholemeal burger buns. I wasn’t going to go that far; but the time was right. After several supermarket trips (I always leave my list in the car) I had what I needed. I started with the beetroot, star anise and cinnamon quill relish. Note: make sure you reduce vinegar mix by half until sticky, as the recipe says, before adding 2 cups of grated beetroot. I was in a hurry, as usual and my relish turned out very vinegary. At the same time, I roasted one cup of chopped pumpkin and prepared the quinoa, buckwheat and cooked chickpeas, grated carrot, chopped parsley and threw in the wet ingredients. Then quickly boiled up the almond satay sauce, before taking middle daughter to dance. This was not a twenty minute meal but I felt prepared nonetheless.
When I got home I raced over to the garden for the cup of spinach and greens to assemble. Newly-teen-vego added the egg white to the patty mix and started pan-frying. Meanwhile I made chicken burgers for my non veg children and cleaned up kitchen as hubby had offered to make chilly prawns. Three meals in one night, bench space was at a premium.
Five minutes later NVT returned with half-finished vege delight claiming it was very filling. I was down hearted but not deterred. I think what most teenagers don’t realize, in the flourish to step out of their meat and cheese comfort zone and turn vego, is that HELLO they are going to have to eat more VEGETABLES.  Although I recall a niece managing to be a non-vego-vego, somehow surviving on pasta, cheese and tomatoe sauce for a couple of years.
The next day after school my NTV was sprung finishing off her brothers instant noodles flavoured, beef.
‘It’s not really meat though is it?’ she asked.
‘Yes it’s made from beef flavouring.’
‘I’ll start properly tomorrow.’
‘You’re not a real vegetarian,’ said brother 10.
That night I served up vege burgers again, without the bread buns. Mmm very tasty Mr Food Truck man. Luckily the beetroot relish and almond satay sauce will stick around for other meals because freakily, almond butter is $12 a jar. Conclusion: will make again.

Later I checked a Mumsnet email and lo and behold there was a link for ‘newly vegetarian teenagers’ Mumsnet NTV 
Timely because I had just informed my NVT that if she was serious about being a vegetarian she would have to research and understand what food groups she needed to eat to get all the nutrients required to stay healthy. Like enough iron. One of my bugbears when girls go vego. I staunchly believe that haem- iron from red meat, is superior to non-haem iron from grains etc.
I also suggested NTV might want to learn some veg dishes to cook herself as she’s a highly capable cook and avid baker. Plus cooking three dishes every night instead of the two I often cook, is going to get boring PDQ (pretty damn quick).
The above link has everything my NTV and I needed to know. Thank you Mumsnet.
Whatever way my NTV goes, I now have some yummy new family meals to serve up. And at least only two children can yell, ‘YUK Mum this is disgusting’.

Happy cooking.


  1. You should have a look at the River cottage veg book, some lovely stuff in there and seems well balanced nutritionally. The surprise I got about someone going veggie was how much you have to eat in the way of nuts, lentils and pulses to make up the nutrition you're lacking from not eating meat. I'm not a veggie but we decided as a family to start having one or two veggie meals a week so that we could splash out at the butchers and get something special for the other days. A good veggie meal can be as little as half the price of an average meat one :)

  2. Hi again John. I've heard the RC Veg book is great. My daughter turned pescatarian a couple of weeks later and is now back to meat. Meanwhile, we're still enjoying veg meals weekly...


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