Raising vegan kids: there’s a fair amount of information out there. There are lots of people who are doing it, there are lots of people who have been doing it for a few years now but what I really want to read is an account from someone who has come to the end of their journey of raising a vegan child and is the proud parent of a fully grown vegan adult!
As luck would have it, I know of one such person in my local meet up group and any time I feel paranoid about my children’s diet, or someone tells me that they’ll grow up to be stupid because they don’t eat fish, I think of Penny and her fully grown vegan kids.
Like me, Penny hadn’t planned to raise her children on a vegan diet; she and her husband had been vegetarian for several years but it wasn’t until they were expecting their second child that they decided to make a real effort to become vegan. Again mirroring my experience, their eldest child was 3 years old when they decided to make the transition.
Explaining veganism to a child
The imminent arrival of his younger sibling actually helped Penny explain veganism to her 3 years old son, John: Penny explained about the mummy cows and baby calves, and how just like they wouldn’t want to have someone come and take Jenny’s milk, they wouldn’t want someone to take the calf’s milk either. The idea resonated with 3 year old John so deeply, that he willingly and independently decided to give up on dairy.
This echoes the conversation I had with Alex when first discussing veganism. He was used to the sight of me breastfeeding his baby brother and equally horrified at the thought of someone stealing my milk away from baby Finlay. The decision to go vegan was actually his!
Nutrition for kids
Of course, explaining the decision to my son was one of the easiest aspects of making the transition; going from having a very limited grasp of nutrition to understanding vegan nutrition for kids took a little more work. However, while it’s vital to become clued up on healthy eating (for all parents not just vegans!), Penny stresses that it’s important not to become too bogged down in it all:
“Become informed on the nutritional requirements, but don’t panic! Children can be fussy eaters, but if you make it fun, it can be easier. My two weren’t particularly fussy, but we still had fun with food. We’d have rice-cake faces, where they’d spread vegan cream cheese on top and then add eyes, nose, mouth, hair etc with different veg and fruit. Pizzas are always a favourite and can be very healthy, as is pasta with various toppings. I knew a woman whose omni son ate nothing but spaghetti hoops for a long time. Healthy vegan versions are just as appealing to children!”
As a result of this relaxed attitude to food, Penny’s kids have never once been tempted to try animal products. Of course there were times when they were disappointed that certain things were ‘off limits’ but as Penny explains, “they blamed the bakers for producing such things, never their vegan diet: the thought of eating animal parts or secretions was disgusting to them”.
And as so many of us already do, Penny minimised the instances of disappointment by finding out about the food that was to be served at friends’ birthday parties and other such events, and simply taking along vegan equivalents so that her children never felt left out.
Socializing as a vegan child
One of my big fears is that my boys will be teased for being different. Unlike mine, Penny’s children were home schooled so bullying was less of a risk but even out with the school day, they didn’t have many battles over their ‘alternative’ lifestyle. “No-one in their social lives has ever bullied them”, Penny says. “Jane got a bit fed up at Guides, having to explain to other girls what vegans eat but eventually she was asked to give a talk about it!”
“Happily the kids were always committed to their compassionate lifestyle. I never experienced negative reaction from the children but if I had I think I would have told them about all the choices, as we did with religions, and say they could make up their own minds. It’s such a logical choice for anyone who’s against cruelty”.
Veganism is easier today
Ultimately, Penny is a little jealous of those who are currently enjoying our vegan parenting journeys. Being vegan in 2012 is infinitely easier than it was 20 years ago: “there are so many on-line support groups, and veganism is catered for so much more. I feel I was a bit of a pioneer, really, braving the omni world in my wee, vegan covered wagon!”
Here are a few current resources for all you inspirational vegan parents out there:
Medical based resources:
Vegan Nutrition for children guide by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
The Advantages of a Vegan Diet for Children by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine