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When There’s A Vegetarian Child In The Family

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There is nothing easy about feeding our kids.  Navigating the various likes and dislikes, the quest for nutrition as well as flavor– not to mention the actual cooking part!  What about when your child has made the choice to be Vegetarian? Or even more challenging: what if his or her Vegetarianism is not a choice, but a medical necessity?I personally know three children who are Vegetarian by choice– and they are all under three years old!  As our kids grow up with more of a voice and ability to express themselves, their food preferences become more specific as well.  But how do we support our children in their choices when they are different from our own? How do we find a space for their wishes in the framework of our families– and how do we make sure they are receiving everything they need to in order to remain strong and healthy?  I thought the best person to ask these types of questions would be somebody who is paving the way for creative and healthy Vegetarianism.  She knows a thing or two about child Vegetarians– because she is one!

Mia Evans is twelve years old and was recently a star of MasterChef Juniors.  Mia was born with a rare genetic condition that requires her to eat a low protein diet for life.  With the help of her doctor and dietician, Mia learned early on how to cook and plan a Vegetarian diet, and has been inspired to create meals for herself and others that are packed with nutrients and flavor.  I figured Mia would be the perfect person to interview about Vegetarianism, the rise in child Vegetarians, and her tips and tricks for pulling off a healthy and delicious Vegetarian diet.

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How did you become a chef? How old were you when you cooked your first meal?

I started to become interested in cooking because of my mom. She’s a great cook, and I think she passed it down to me. I started making simple things, like soup or pizza and then started making harder recipes. When I was little, I also watched a lot of cooking shows and cooking game shows, like Chopped. My favorite celebrity chef is Alton Brown. I used to watch all his shows. He really goes into detail about how foods interact with each other and recipe measurements. And I really like that because it isn’t just about cooking, but the ingredients too. After watching those shows and learning how to use different ingredients, I thought to myself, “I can do that too!”

 

Why Vegetarianism?

I was born with a condition called PKU. It is very dangerous for me to eat protein. It’s a disease that stops my body from digesting protein, so I have to drink a special shake every day to make sure I get all the nutrients I need to grow up healthy. Basically, protein gets caught in my blood stream and it can cause serious brain damage and other complications without the right diet and treatment. I can only really have 20 grams of protein a day. I work with a team of genetics specialists at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, a member of Ascension, to help me understand what I can and can’t eat while still being healthy and getting the nutrients I need. Living with these restrictions encourages me to be creative in the kitchen. My mom and I are always thinking of ways to make vegetarian versions of traditional dishes so that I can enjoy them as well.

 

We’ve notice a trend recently where more and more children are choosing Vegetarianism for themselves– why do you think this is?

I think vegetarianism is more well-known now. People understand that it’s a lifestyle anyone – even kids – can have. You can experiment with all food and it’s always fun. When I would go on Girl Scout camping trips, I would have to bring my own food because I couldn’t eat the typical hot dogs the other girls ate. I would bring potatoes to make potato tacos. Pretty soon, the girls wanted to try my dishes and really enjoyed my vegetarian food. Food doesn’t have to be boring or bland.

 

What are the most important kitchen tools that a Vegetarian chef needs to have?

I think the most important tool is a vegetable peeler or a grater. You need something to slice up vegetables in different size pieces and shapes.

 

What is your favorite vegetable?

Right now, my favorite vegetable is mushrooms. It’s a very versatile vegetable because you can transfer any fancy seasoning that you would typically use on meat and make it work on a mushroom. It holds the same way meat does and absorbs the flavors really well.

 

 What is your favorite Vegetarian dish to cook?

My favorite vegetarian dish to cook is potato tacos. I use a really good seasoning mixture on the tacos and eat them with corn, peppers and onions. This dish lets me experiment with different spices, which is fun.

 

When you aren’t cooking, what do you like to do?

When I’m not in the kitchen, I like to play sports like basketball, volleyball and softball. I also play the oboe in my school band. On the weekends, I like to hang out with friends or read. I have a huge collection of cookbooks and cooking magazines.

 

What do you want to say to people who don’t understand Vegetarianism? What does it mean to you?

If you’ve eaten meat all your life, it can be hard to think of a different way of eating. But to me, vegetarianism is a way to become healthier and care for your planet. When you don’t eat meat, you are forced to get creative in the kitchen. Vegetarian food can be flavorful too! When I was younger, I couldn’t eat the typical “kid foods” like pizza or chicken nuggets. So my mom and I would do other things to make food fun. We experimented with pancakes and would make faces out of the batter, use coconut milk instead of regular milk or incorporate fruit to mix things up. I would encourage kids to not be afraid to start cooking. I never thought cooking would be something I would enjoy, but now I love it! My friends are even starting to cook! Don’t be discouraged when you first start out because you can only get better from there. Thanks to the team at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, a member of Ascension, I learned more about PKU – that it’s not scary and that eating a low protein diet is doable.

 

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Mia’s Potato Tacos

  • 3 Large Red Potatoes, diced
  • 1 Poblano pepper, diced
  • 1 ear fresh Corn, kernels cut off of cob
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • ½ Teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cumin
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Chili Lime spice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Queso Fresco (to crumble on top)

 

Sauté potatoes, pepper, onion and corn in oil for about 5 minutes, add the spices and continue to cook until tender. Put filling mixture in a tortilla and top with Queso Fresco.

 

 

Many thanks to Mia for sharing her journey and recipe with us!  Do you have a Vegetarian child in your family? I’d love to hear about your tips and tricks in the comments below!

 

xoxo

EAM

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10 Comments

  1. Lauren says:

    When my husband had a health scare at age 34, our family decided to become vegetarians our kids were 3 and 7 respectfully. We kept a strict diet for about 4 years and then slowly introduced meat again. As our kids grew (they are now adults with their own children) they both became interested in cooking, both have become great cooks and both embrace both a vegetarian and meat foods. I am so proud of them as they learned a variety of foods and cooking, it helps with my daughter’s family lactose and food allergies and my son’s wife is a full vegetarian. Their children will also benefit from a wide palate.

    03.10.16Reply
  2. As a vegetarian myself, I greatly appreciate this post! Kudos to you for offering alternative mindsets. Thank you, Eva!

    03.10.16Reply
  3. Jenn says:

    Great interview. I am a vegetarian now, I dabbled in it as a kid but it was really hard when you aren’t the one doing the cooking and grocery shopping. I admire Mia’s ingenuity.

    03.10.16Reply
  4. Angela says:

    Here is a great recipe for vegetarian coconut curry:
    Jasmine Rice
    1 package extra firm tofu, cut into slices (or you can get the cubed tofu)
    3 Bell peppers (varied colors) diced (I like orange, red, and yellow)
    1 Red onion diced
    1 sweet potato diced (Or a bag of pre-diced frozen organic sweet potatoes, Trader Joes)
    Coconut milk (3 cans, NOT LITE)
    2 Limes
    1 bunch Cilantro
    Honey (smidge)
    Salt to taste
    1 Garlic clove chopped
    Soy sauce
    Green or red curry paste
    Instructions:
    Cook rice according to package
    Pat tofu dry and marinate 10 minutes in soy sauce. Drain soy sauce and pat dry again.
    Sauté veggies and onions in pan with olive oil or coconut oil, season with a tbsp of curry paste.
    Separately Sauté tofu in a little olive oil or coconut oil, 3 minutes each side, set aside to drain on paper towels.
    Add coconut milk to sautéed veggies- I use just the top cream part, as it makes the curry creamier. You can skim the top cream off from the rest of the milk.
    Mix in salt to taste, garlic, and a little bit of honey.
    Simmer on low for 5-10 minutes and recheck to see if it needs more salt or curry.
    Squeeze in 1 lime and add cilantro
    Serve over cooked jasmine rice and tofu.

    03.10.16Reply
  5. crystal says:

    I had a health scare last year and now eat like a vegetarian 80% of the time ( if I could fine a good substitute for bacon and chicken wings I would be one 100%.
    Thanks for sharing the recipe – I can’t wait to try it

    03.10.16Reply
  6. Victoria says:

    I always say that I can easily transition to a full vegetarian. I just prefer that type of food over meats more. Great interview Eva. She sounds like am awesome young lady with a very level head on her. Only great things in her future.

    03.10.16Reply
  7. Anne says:

    I am not a vegetarian but my dad is so I’ve become accustomed to eating non-meat entrees over the years…and my husband likes to eat them with me, which makes dinner prep so much easier! I will definitely add Mia’s potato taco recipe to my rotation. They sound (and look) delicious! What a talented young lady she is – she has a bright future as a chef!

    03.11.16Reply
  8. Molly says:

    Wow, thanks for all the great info Mia (and Eva)!!

    03.12.16Reply
  9. Julie says:

    Mia ROCKS! I can’t wait to try your potato tacos recipe, yummy! I know you will be successful in your future chef ventures! XOXO Thanks Eva for a great interview and for making people aware of PKU by showcasing a very talented and awesome young lady!

    03.17.16Reply
  10. Suzi says:

    Hi Eva and Mia
    This was really interesting to see today…
    There is a family I am very close to…2 of the 8 siblings have PKU
    They are in their 40’s now…thriving!
    My friend(I consider her sister) Viv even has a 7 year old son.
    They have followed the PKU diet their whole lives..Kuvan…etc and have done so well…wonderful to see Mia is cooking and developing things she likes to eat.
    WTG

    03.31.16Reply