By Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian
What will you do at the summer barbecue?
Insist on the traditional charred burger for everyone? Switch entirely to salads? Try out a couple of the veggie burgers that are beginning to line supermarket refrigerators and freezers, to find a new favorite? Add tofu hot dogs to your favorite menu? Buy egg-free soy mayo for those with allergies? Offer whole grain rolls for the fiber conscious?
Like many families, mine has evolved to have diverse dietary preferences. My daughter was vegetarian before I was. My son Chris, while sympathetic, has never become vegetarian but learned to cook excellent plant-based meals that we all love. (As it happens, these meals also suit his minimalist budget, as an artist.) I recall family dinners at which several of us dined at a restaurant that features excellent vegetarian fare while one had a burger nearby and then joined us for dessert. Over the years my family members watched each others choices, took note, allowed for differences, and gradually learned from each other.
Yet food choices and dietary differences can involve an uncomfortable amount of righteousness. We can view with horror what a family member or dear friend piles onto his or her plate, and feel quite superior. Yet in time, we may discover that someone whose diet involves poor choices is extremely compassionate, thoughtful or careful in other ways. The other person may give to children in ways that would never have occurred to us, or show exceptional environmental awareness and activism, or extend kindness to a large family and beyond.
The combination of respect for ones own values and for the people around us holds the most promise for maintaining outward and inner peace. It is the diplomatic solution likely to maintain bridges rather than create barriers with those we love. While my family grew, with each member evolving in his or her own way, my dietary preferences gradually shifted from meat-eater, to lacto-ovo-vegetarian, to vegan. If I am to respect other people, and to respect myself 30 years ago, I must come to terms with all these dietary choices.
In practical terms, how is this respect expressed at the dinner table? For years as a mixed-menu family, the following standbys provided us with child- and teen-friendly food on a regular basis.
With time, ones ability to create meals that are healthy, delicious, easy, and well liked by family members improves. We learn how to provide protein, iron and calcium through an evolving variety of food choices. Family and friends come to trust that healthier choices can be as appealing as those less health supportive favorites that we grew up with.
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