There are many things I am proud of as a mom. I am proud I had a home birth. I am proud I got the help I needed to breastfeed my sons through toddlerhood. I am proud I parent in a non-violent way. I am proud I have done my best with my ex-husband to put our kids’ needs very much in the forefront of our parenting decisions even though we are divorced.
And I am very proud that I broke their trashy vegan cheese habit.
This may not sound like a giant feat, but trust me: It was.
You see, although we are vegan (something we are all proud of!), we are not super-healthy vegans all of the time. We eat fried food sometimes, and we eat processed food more often than I would like us to. We definitely indulge in some carby, sugary, salty goodness plenty of the time.
Especially a vegan processed cheese which my sons had gotten very accustomed to eating. This was not a soy-based product, but a highly processed food which they could eat 3 times a day. You could melt it on a tortilla. You could put it on pizza. It can dress up a bowl of beans or be the nacho cheese of your vegan dreams. It is a wonderful product and we all love it.
But we were eating way too much of it.
I found that if I didn’t have it, Little Man would sometimes refuse to eat. So I would return again to the supermarket and stock up. Sometimes two bags a weekend.
And then I watched “Eating You Alive,” the incredible documentary about the medical miracles a plant-based diet can make happen, and I decided it was on me to stop the madness.
I have heard of so many parents saying, “All they want to eat is [insert food which is usually french fries, pizza, or chicken nuggets].” I feel their pain. And I took the advice I always offer people when they say that to me: stop giving it to them.
Day 1: Withdrawal.
FirstBorn, who is 12, is disappointed we do not have magic cheese product. He mopes about it briefly and refuses breakfast. I offer fresh fruit and a freezer-burned bialy. Little Man is very annoyed, which he conveys the way any reasonable 9-year-old does: with loud exhalations and stomping of the feet up the stairs. He refuses fruit and is grumpy until lunch.
Day 2: Whining.
FirstBorn is disappointed again; suggesting all of the yummy things I could make “IF YOU HAD THAT CHEESE.” I smile and offer fruit and a rice cake. He rolls his eyes. Little Man exhales loudly again, but louder than Day 1. He adds whining to the repertoire. I resist mentioning starving children all around the world. He eats some fruit and complains about it.
Day 3: Anger.
FirstBorn is on to me. “Let me guess: you don’t have any trashy cheese?” Right, I tell him. Little Man has had enough: “MAMA!! ARGH!!” I remind them of the granola they used to eat that I made from scratch. I point them to a fridge full of fruit and I make them pancakes. FirstBorn is excited. Little Man stomps upstairs. I shout after him, “Do you need me to tell you about the starving children all around the world? Enough with your first world problems of no trashy cheese!” He ignores me. I eat a pancake.
Day 4: Acceptance.
I present a mango. And a cantaloupe. Both boys are intrigued; these are special fruits, not everyday fruits. FirstBorn chows down. Asks for a cup of noodles type kosher soup we only have on special occasions; I tell him about all of the beta-carotene he is ingesting. He rolls his eyes at me. Little Man loves this fruit and asks with a full mouth, “Do you have any trashy cheese, Mama?” Nope, I say. And that’s the end of it.
Day 5: A World Without Cheese.
No one asks for trashy cheese.
Once in awhile, Little Man will complain about having to eat his beans with “only” a dollop of vegan sour cream but without his beloved cheese. I smile and try not to lose my mind when he refuses the beans altogether and stays hungry and grumpy despite me offering him other things. But most times, he eats his beans. And he eats the fruit I put out. And he won’t eat pancakes but he tried the breakfast sandwich I made FirstBorn and he liked that a lot.
So we are expanding our tastes. And I know I have mild-mannered kids, but they still try my patience. Sometimes when I say no, my Little Man cries and throws things about and gets so upset that I want to give in. It’s sometimes about food, but sometimes it’s not.
What I learned through this ordeal is that I do have power. I don’t like the feelings that come up in me when my boys are upset. Or obstinate. Or unreasonable. Or when they refuse perfectly good food that millions of people in this world would kill for. It makes me nuts.
But ultimately, I am their provider. They need me to feed them and also to know what I want them to eat and why. There are plenty of opportunities for them to eat this cheese in many of the restaurants we frequent, and I don’t put limits on that. Just like those billboards say, “It’s my home; it’s my rules.”
I hope one day my boys will appreciate all of the food I made for them. The breastmilk my body made, the beans and rice I mashed into baby food, the granola I earned so many burn marks on my forearms for, and the quesadillas and nachos I loved feeding them. I hope also that they will remember the times I said “No.” And that when they are daddies, that they will know when to say “No” too.
In my house, we say yes to trying new things. We say yes to healthy bodies inside and out. And we say yes to people being upset when they can’t have their trashy cheese. Because that’s part of being a family too. We are figuring it out. And for now, we are figuring it out without that cheese. But with lots of beta-carotene.