She'll Have What You're Having
Welp, the time has arrived, and it arrived much earlier than I expected it to. My daughter is starting to refuse the lunch I provide her from home because her buddies at daycare are having something different. She wants what they're having. Of course, I knew this day would come, but I did not think it would be before she turned two! So far, it seems like it's only at daycare, and I think it's because she's with these kids all day and does the same activities everyone else does, so she wants to eat what everyone else eats, too. I am not yet concerned that she'll want what every adult in her presence is eating, for example. Still, this has put me in a sticky situation, but it seems like it will be easier to navigate than I initially thought it would.
As you may have gathered from previous posts, I eschew animal products (and am raising my kid--soon, kids--that way) because I am vegan, i.e., because of the ethical aspect of not consuming such products, not because of health reasons, even though I love that aspect as well! But still, when I prepare food for my daughter, I do try to make it healthy for the most part, because I am trying to set up these healthy eating habits now, while she's still so young. I prefer that her consumption of junk be limited, at least for now. But, as I've said, I'm not at all opposed to the consumption of junk. Anyhow, all of this is what initially stressed me out when her teachers told me she no longer wanted to eat her food from home. Hearing that news made me sad, and I definitely shed a few tears over that information. I was sad because I spend my Sundays prepping food I think she'll like, I comb through Pinterest trying to find recipes I think she'll like, and I'm usually so excited for her to try what I make. So, the fact that she just doesn't want to eat it (not to mention how much food ends up getting wasted because of that) hurts my heart. It also hurts my heart that she feels left out of this activity and I can't really explain to her why that's the case right now. Regardless, I wanted to see if there was a way for me to compromise so she would be happier and feel more included, so I looked at the daycare menu, which changes seasonally. My initial reaction was to feel overwhelmed, because they eat something different every day. I knew there was no way I would be able to make something new every day, especially after I have this baby and when my busy time at work resumes. However, I knew I would need to get some sort of handle on this now, because it's not going to change as she gets older. Thankfully, my best friend kind of talked me off the ledge and made some suggestions, like prepping all the stuff she'll have for the week on Sunday, since I prep on Sundays anyway. So that was step one and I felt better.
I sat down with the menu and looked over it more carefully to see what kind of stuff I would have to make for her to substitute for what the other kids are being served. At first, I was hesitant because the food they get isn't the healthiest (Don't get me wrong: I COMPLETELY understand that places like this need to serve a lot of kids quickly and for not that much money. I get it!), but I was definitely willing to compromise on that for my daughter's happiness, especially because I could make the compromise without surrendering the number one reason I chose this lifestyle. Anyhow, in looking over the menu, I realized that there might actually be things I wouldn't have to substitute! Some of the stuff might actually be accidentally vegan-friendly! If that ended up being the case, that would take a whooooole lot of pressure off me to prepare food. I emailed the director to see if I could maybe meet with the cook to talk to her about some of the ingredients she uses to prepare the food and I'd go from there. The director was more than happy to arrange the meeting and I met with him and the cook the following morning. It turned out that there were SO MANY THINGS the kids were already being served that she could have! For the few she normally made with meat, she said she could easily omit that before serving to her. And the food really wasn't all that unhealthy when I took a better look at it. Which also made me feel better. There were a few dishes that called for cheese, and the cook said it would be no problem to bring cheese in for her and she would keep it in their kitchen. She already has other kids with allergies whose meals she has to keep track of. Some of the dishes I will have to substitute at home, and they will be really easy to do. If I make a batch of something, I can freeze the rest to defrost the next time that week came up in the menu cycle again. Easy! Lastly, there were some meals, like casseroles, that I would probably just not make (depending on how complicated or time consuming they would be to prepare) and I would just send regular food from home and just hope for the best.
I felt SO much better after I figured this all out! I highlighted the menu and created a legend at the bottom. I gave one to the cook, I gave one to her teachers, and I saved one for myself. That way we'd all be on the same page. From the very first day, which was kind of a test run before I even managed to get the menu back to the cook, she got to eat what her friends were having, as well as a little bit of food from home, and she ate very nicely! Her teacher sent me a text and told me that she was loving eating what her friends were eating and would even take a look at all their plates to make sure they were eating the same thing. :)
One day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I'll actually be able to explain our lifestyle to my daughter and explain to her why we eat how we eat and have a conversation about what it all means, but, until then, I will do my absolute best to toe the line between not compromising on my beliefs and what I feel is right for my child(ren) and doing my absolute best to make sure they're happy and included. I will sub whatever I can sub and I'll make whatever I can make (within the confines of my limited creativity) because I do want to make sure my kids are happy and included and do not end up resenting this lifestyle.
UPDATE: I haven't yet published the post but enough time has passed since I first started writing it and I have now been working with this new lunch situation for two weeks. I wanted to share that it has been going SO WELL! I still send food from home just in case, and they give her a little on her plate along with the regular lunch. She's been getting her own specially-prepared meals (when those days come up) with food I've provided for the cook. On days where there is a meat dish, I prepare "meat" in the morning and leave it for the cook when I drop my daughter off. There has been a sloppy Joe sliders day, and for that I prepared some Boca (a note about Boca and other products at the end of this post) meatless grounds with some Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce. For BBQ chicken sliders day, I rehydrated some Butler soy curls and pan fried in the same BBQ sauce. They had soft tacos one day, and I happened to have some Loma Linda vegan taco meat I'd been meaning to try, so I prepared that and it was delicious! And the cook used the shredded cheese I had already provided in advance. On shepherd's pie day, I brought in some mashed potatoes and Boca meatless grounds and the cook built my daughter her own pie. So amazing and so incredibly accommodating! One of the most fun facts about this whole experience is that the cook (and her assistant) have been sneaking little tastes of the subs I bring and they absolutely love them! So I started telling them what brands they are and how I prepared them, just in case their interest is piqued and they want to try it themselves. Also, the cook's two children are lactose intolerant so she has been more than pleasantly surprised to see all the available dairy substitutes she could use to prepare her kids' food. Finally, this whole thing has made my weekends far more relaxed because I have to do so little preparing for the week ahead. So, while I was initially very stressed out and very overwhelmed by the prospect of working with the school's menu, it has turned out to be a major relief and kind of a breath of fresh air. :)
If you plan on looking into Boca products, please note that not all of their products are vegan, though most of them are. Same with MorningStar Farms. They are switching to all vegan, but they haven't done that yet. Gardein products are 100% vegan always.