"What is pork, exactly?" my 6-year-old daughter, Frances, asked, eyeing her tenderloin with suspicion. We had just finished reading Charlotte's Web. "Pork is the word we use to describe meat that comes from a pig," I said, as casually as possible. "Then what's beef?" and on she went through all of old MacDonald's gang, plus a few sea creatures, too.
Then the queries got harder. "How does pork go from being a pig to being food?" she asked. For many of us, eating meat is a regular, not particularly thought-provoking habit. But for kids, realizing their food was a fellow creature can cause reactions ranging from surprise to sorrow. "It's a common developmental phase -- they're grappling with this difficult new knowledge of where food comes from," says Ellyn Satter, registered dietitian and author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. This concern may last a few days or weeks, she says. "Don't make it a big deal, and don't try to talk your kid out of it." Instead, respond with truthful, simple answers. Satter suggests something like "The animal dies -- it happens quickly, so the animal isn't afraid. Then the butcher turns it into food."
Choose the words you're most comfortable with and try to be matter-of-fact, says Satter. "The best reassurance is to keep preparing and eating meat yourself." If your child wants to opt out of an entrée, respect her wishes for now -- it doesn't mean she'll be a vegetarian for life. And if she is? Well, that's okay, too.