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Vegetarian Kid Tip: Join a Veg Playgroup

April 28, 2011

…and learn a few things about how to handle things down the road.

I have mentioned before that I am a member of the Vegetarian Resource Group parent listserv. An off-shoot of the listserv is a local D.C. chapter, which organizes get-togethers. I have not been able to attend a playgroup yet, but I plan to. Below is a contribution from a group member, who talks about being proactive in educating teachers about raising vegetarian children. We are lucky because the head of our center is vegetarian, however, I am sure as Serafina gets older it will be harder and we will have to explain our diet more. So, J.K’s reminder to be involved with the classroom is good advice to help raise your child vegetarian, but also a good tip in raising all children. Here is her post:

I love my daughter’s daycare.  I really do.  She’s almost two and has been there since she was six months.  It’s a large center with lots of wonderful adults who care about her deeply.  She lights up when she walks into the school each day.  When I pick her up she is so excited to show me what she is doing.

It is not a vegetarian daycare.  We don’t have a choice really – how many vegetarian daycares are there?  We have a friend who is putting her daughter in a Jewish daycare that is Kosher and operates as a vegetarian center.  Our friend is neither Jewish nor vegetarian, so this is a big change for her.  To quote our friend, “My daughter loves to eat meat!  What will I send her for lunch?”  I like this idea – that all of the kids are eating vegetarian food – but that’s not an option for us.  We chose the daycare that is near our home.  And we love our daycare, we really do.  But it is not a vegetarian daycare.

The daycare serves two snacks each day and we provide lunch.  The snacks are all vegetarian – typically a fruit or veggie and a carb.  We send our vegetarian lunches, but  the other kids are all eating meat.  My daughter once told me that her friend liked chicken nuggets.  That’s okay because our daughter needs to learn to live in a non-vegetarian world.  And one of my daughter’s class mates is actually vegetarian, so that’s nice. 

Being a vegetarian parent in a non-vegetarian daycare means that you have to be vigilant.  And you have to constantly remind the teachers about your diet.  And you have to educate the teachers about vegetarianism.   And remember that some people are really clueless.

A lot of people are really unaware about gelatin.  They were doing a taste test in my daughter’s class – applesauce, orange juice, salt, sugar – to expose the kids to different textures and strong tastes.  It was a part of the five sense series.  They said my daughter loved the salt.  She had one pinch and asked for more (she didn’t get anymore).  They also tasted Jello.  No Jello for my daughter!  But, why?  Start the lesson.  Jello stands for gelatin.  Anything made of gelatin is a no-go for my daughter, okay?  We ran to Whole Foods for the vegan Jello alternative and my daughter got to participate.  Another day they were going to have a ‘camp fire’ with everyone sitting around a pile of wood and flashlights telling stories and ‘roasting’ marshmallows.  But hold it.  Marshmallows have gelatin.  A quick run to M.O.M’s for some vegan marshmallows and my daughter gets to participate.  Of course, we later heard that none of the kids actually ate the marshmallows.  Too gooey.  Oh well.

They had a big ‘feast’ for Thanksgiving.  Everyone brought food to create a big meal.  Someone was asked to bring turkey.  We reminded everyone we saw that our daughter is a vegetarian.  We wrote it in large letters on her daily form.  And then we reminded them again.

They have a nice play kitchen in the classroom.  My daughter loves to cook there.  She often cooks the chicken drumstick.  I’ve heard the teachers say many times “Are you making chicken?”  If I’m there, I correct saying “She’s making veggie nuggets.”  I remember one of the teachers said “Oh, interesting.”  Even if she is hearing “chicken” all day long, at least from me she hears “veggie nuggets.”  I like to think “veggie nuggets” will stick with her because it makes more sense.  She really does eat veggies nuggets.  She doesn’t eat chicken.

Most of these situations are benign and easily correctable, though it takes a lot of work and vigilance on our part.  We have to be involved in the school to know what’s going to happen so that we can fix things before they happen.  On the marshmallow day, I asked if the other vegetarian student needed some of our daughter’s marshmallows.  The teachers said, “Um, I don’t think she’s a vegetarian.”  Later I asked the mom, and she was really annoyed.  Of course she’s a vegetarian!  Seems to me the mom needs to be louder.  I don’t think anyone will miss the fact that my daughter is a vegetarian.   We mention it a lot and we plan to keep mentioning it. 

We are going to have a play date with the other vegetarian family soon.  Hopefully the two girls will bond and become good friends.  As the girls start to realize they are different than the other students, they will have each other to rely on.  You know, if the play date goes well.  Is that too much pressure for a play date?

There was one incident that we didn’t handle properly, and we’re not sure how best to handle it in the future.  Our daycare has some kind of relationship with the Ringling Bros Circus.  Last year they did a fundraiser for the daycare but this year they went all out.  They had a free circus night just for our daycare and a few others.  There was a big cardboard cutout of a circus elephant at the entrance of the school for weeks.  I understand that the circus probably donates a large amount of money to our center, so I understand the importance of this relationship.  But I don’t like it being advertised so blatantly for so long in front of my daughter.  Even though we were livid, we let this one go this year.  Next year we will be more on top of it.  We just have to come up with a plan.

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