The Flexitarian Files: How My 8 Year-Old Challenged us to Eat More Mindfully

November 14, 2019

The Flexitarian Files: How My 8 Year-Old Challenged us to Eat More Mindfully

Highly restrictive diets can be challenging, but being a family interested in eating more mindfully when it comes to the health of our bodies and the planet, we discovered that a flexitarian diet is a step towards eating more plant-based foods.

By Sally Smithwick, Managing editor, SupermarketGuru

Plant-based diet trends are everywhere these days! And whether or not you are inclined to commit to a vegetarian diet, it’s always been the recommendation of nutrition experts and health advocates that consumers prioritize the inclusion of fruits and vegetables in their diets. According to a recent Packaged Facts report, 9.2% of Americans say they are a vegetarian, up from 6.4% in 2009. But what’s even more intriguing is that a year ago, a survey by OnePoll revealed that one-third of Americans agree they subscribe to a flexitarian diet. 

If you are not familiar with the “flexitarian” diet yet, it’s really exactly what it implies - incorporating more plant-based foots, but still consuming in moderation foods made from animals. And one would think that psychologically, a term like this used to basically say “eat more veggies” is a great alternative to one that restricts food choices completely, particularly when most Americans are accustomed to having meat and dairy products in their diets. 

I am managing editor for, a busy mom of two children, the granddaughter of a Georgia cattle farmer, an adventurous eater, an “ok” cook, a relatively healthy shopper, sometimes we have a soda, or a burger, or a bowl of Cap n Crunch, but you will always see a bowl of fruit on my kitchen table, a passive aggressive attempt to pressure the whole family into eating more fruit, We are omnivores, but I like the word “flexitarian” better. 

The purpose of this column is to explore more plant-based meals within a flexitarian family - what that looks like for the adults and kids! To kick it off, I’d like to share a story about my eight year-old son, who came home a few weeks ago and asked that we take the vegan-challenge! 

How our experiment failed and succeeded:

My son goes to a school that has a “green” teacher - an educator that makes sure the kids learn about taking care of the planet, engage in gardening activities, recycling and waste-reduction. One evening at dinner, he asked that our family take a vegetarian-challenge for one week. His reasoning was that he was concerned about the planet as well as humane treatment of animals. 

While I knew that would be more of a challenge for him that he expected, my husband and I were on board for to support the experiment. Our six year-old daughter was greatly opposed…because  well, she’s just six! And also she is a highly unusual eater for her age and would love nothing more than a charcuterie board for dinner every night if given the option.

The first day, everything was normal, because breakfast on most days is either oatmeal, cereal, bagels, eggs, fruit and smoothies. On weekends we like breakfast tacos, made with vegan sausage, French toast or pancakes, and sometimes we have bacon, but not this week. I sent my kids off to school reminding them that at lunch they should carefully choose non-meat items, which the school provides. 

However, when I picked them up at carpool, they reminded me that it was sprit night at Chic-Fil-A - a night where the kids can eat there, with a portion of profits going to their classrooms. My kids asked, can we start vegetarian week tomorrow? I agreed. 

I reached out to my friends on social media for EASY plant-based meal ideas and got LOADS of ideas. I didn’t really choose any with “fake meats,” because my husband just isn’t into them. The kids, however, have been eating tofu and tempeh since they were toddlers. Here are the dishes I made for dinner for Tuesday - Sunday, all plant-based.

Tuesday -  Pasta Alla Crudaiola - I didn’t even need a recipe for this. My Italian friend just gave me a quick rundown, and it was a big hit with my family!  - I recommend a short pasta cooked to package recommended time in boiling water. Put the water on to boil. Chop one clove of garlic and throw in a big bowl. Cover with a tablespoon or 2 of extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes. Throw in a bunch of arugula. If you have a lemon, then zest it, but if you don’t, then it’ll still be good. Mix ingredients and let sit while pasta cooks. When pasta is ready, toss it all together and eat immediately.

Wednesday - This Indian dish was suggested by a friend, and again, no fancy recipe required. I used a Butter Chicken sauce from Publix (it does not have chicken as an ingredient!). Super easy, everyone loved it! - Fill a baking dish with spinach and cut up potatoes and kale. Smother in some kind of Indian simmer sauce. Cover and cook at 400° ish. Done.

Thursday - We were on board for a mostly vegetarian experiment, but I still want my kids to eat fish, so we morphed into a pescatarian experiment at this point with some good ‘ole fashioned Tuna Casserole! This is already a regular at our house. It’s so inexpensive to make, hearty, and delicious. All you need is egg noodles, tuna, cream of mushroom soup, cheddar cheese, peas (I use only Le Sueur peas for this), and we add frozen corn. 

Friday - This is always pizza and family movie night for us, so we just ordered veggie pizza from our favorite local pizza place. 

Saturday - Here’s where it all fell apart…I decided to try a black bean burger recipe recommended to me. The preparation was very involved, but that didn’t bother me. However, when I finally had this fresh, health mixture ready to go and put them in the skillet, they just fell apart, totally inedible. I was so disappointed, because I had already made a special aioli sauce to go with them and splurged on really nice bread! But because I couldn’t salvage them, and I had hungry kids staring me down (they had friends for a sleepover), we made an emergency trip to our local Sonic, and everyone got burgers or hot dogs. Veggie week was no longer veggie week. 

Sunday - Bourbon-glazed Salmon - I frequently get this from the Publix seafood department, and it is always delicious! It’s in regular rotation at our house. Add some broccoli and baked potatoes, and my family is happy! 

What we learned from this experiment (which yes, failed, but not really) is that even though we didn’t make it our first week, we did find that we already don’t eat a lot of meat, which isn’t that difficult to do, and we could go all vegetarian or pescatarian if we really committed and with a little more practice making new dishes. For now, I am very comfortable with my family identifying as flexitarians! If we can participate in limiting our meat consumption, looking for more plant-based alternatives, eating more veggies, then my children are being taught healthy eating habits, responsibility for the environment, and mindfulness. 

Next week, we talk about finding delicious vegan products in your supermarket!