Becoming a vegan is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do – but it can also be one of the most challenging. Add a partner and a mini-me or two to the mix and you’ll wonder how on earth you’re going to manage this.
So, before you decide to give up on the whole thing, take a few deep breaths and read these helpful tips to going vegan as a family. You got this!
1. Take things one step at a time – and make sure everyone is on board.
First things first, if you are meeting resistance from your other half or the offspring, put things on hold; maybe they just need to get their heads around the concept first. Maybe they need reassurance that they don’t have to fit any of the negative vegan stereotypes to live a vegan lifestyle. Maybe they just need to try some awesome vegan cupcakes! Either way, forge ahead with your own plans to veganise your life and accept that your family may just take a little longer to come around to the idea.
Assuming everyone is happy with the decision to become a vegan family, rest assured that you don’t need to throw yourselves in 100% right off the bat. If you can make the change overnight, good for you! If you can’t, don’t beat yourself up. Some people drop meat first, then dairy then eggs, some sort out the food side before they veganise their bathroom products or clothes. Children in particular, always such creatures of habit, fare better with gradual changes but you know your own children best – just do what’s right for them. As long as you’re working towards your goal there’s no right or wrong way to do things.
2. Have an arsenal of family favourite recipes in your back pocket.
One of the big fears people have when it comes to switching to a vegan diet is that they’ll have to give up all of the foods they’ve known and loved all of their lives. No wonder they feel daunted!
Happily this isn’t the case. Mac’n’cheese, burger and chips, pizza, curry, sausages, cakes, cookies: all of these can be veganised, often quite easily. Show your family that it’s not all going to be quinoa and kale chips and you’ll find they’re much more comfortable with the change.
3. Take the kids grocery shopping.
You probably do this already depending on how old your kids are (what’s that joke about a mother getting to go to the supermarket alone is as good as a holiday?) but now is the time to really get them involved in the shopping process. Let them take their time in the produce aisle exploring exotic fruits and veggies and encourage them to pick out something new to try. I’ve found that they’re far more likely to investigate new foods if they’ve had a hand in choosing them.
Similarly once you get home involve them in selecting recipes and preparing ingredients. My boys had a blast the other day when I had them make their own green juice. They took turns adding the spinach, celery and other veggies and couldn’t wait to try the juice when it was ready despite the fact that my youngest would never normally even entertain the idea of eating spinach!
4. Become a mini expert in nutrition.
There are two reasons you’ll need to become a nutritional know-it-all.
Firstly and most importantly you need to remember that you are cutting out major food groups when you start your kids on a plant based diet. Of course the food groups you’re losing aren’t essential but if you’re anything like me you’ll have grown up with the idea that meat is the best way to get protein and that dairy is nothing short of essential for calcium – particularly when it comes to kids and their rapidly growing bones. Unsurprisingly it can be hard to get your head around the fact that current research is showing otherwise, and that there are plenty of great plant sources of calcium. And did you know that broccoli has protein? Mind blown right?
So yes, you do need to learn a thing or two about plant based nutrition for kids to make sure you’re meeting all of their requirements. The Vegan Society in the UK has some excellent vegan parenting and nutrition resources. ‘Feeding your vegan infant – with confidence’ by State Registered Dietician, Sandra Hood was my bible in the early days. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in the USA, also has some great resources for parents nurturing their children with a plant based diet.
Secondly, you’re going to meet opposition. Family, well meaning friends, doctors (who incidentally tend to know next to nothing about nutrition. Apologies to the docs out there who are clued up) will all frown upon your decision; at least until they see that your kids are flourishing on a vegan diet, and that their health doesn’t fall short of any other kid around (between us, with all the advantages of a vegan diet for children, they will probably do even better).
It will help you (and them) enormously if you’re ready with an intelligent answer when great aunt Peggy asks ‘but where will they get their protein from?’ or Granny insists that their wee brains will shrivel without the omega 3 ‘only found in fish’.
5. Find a sympathetic doctor.
If you’re looking for a paediatrician, contact local vegan groups whose members may well be able to point you in the direction of a vegan friendly family doctor. For those in the UK be aware that you can request to see a registered dietician.
When we first changed our diet I was a bit paranoid about making sure I was getting it right. Keeping a food diary and discussing the boys’ diet with the dietician was enormously comforting as she was able to reassure me that we weren’t missing anything out and of course this gives me ammunition anytime anyone questions what I feed the kids.
6. Take note of changes.
While we’re talking about the kids’ health, it can be really useful to take note of any changes.
Perhaps some people notice negative changes (and if this happens go and see a registered dietician, pronto) but you’ll more likely notice positive changes in your child’s health and behaviour. Write these down and look at it every time someone accuses you of depriving your children or acts as if you’re as mad as a box of frogs for not letting little Joey eat a chicken nugget.
For example, before ditching animal products my wee Alex was ALWAYS ill – not uncommon for young children of course. Ear infections, croup, chest infections, asthma aggravated by constant coughs and colds, sore stomachs. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times that kid was prescribed antibiotics in his first 3 years. Only a few weeks after his vegan transition his stomach-aches disappeared, his eczema vanished and he hasn’t needed any medication for anything since (touch wood!). His little brother (vegan since birth more or less) managed to last until after his third birthday without a trip to the doctor’s surgery. When asking me if Finn was allergic to any antibiotics the doctor was astounded to learn that he’d never taken any, that he’d never really been ill before that point! Naturally they both get coughs and colds and the odd stomach bug but they bounce back so quickly, it really is amazing.
This is what keeps me going when the haters start hating!
7. Explain veganism in a way that all family members will understand.
So far we’ve really just looked at the food and health side of things but when making any sort of radical change it’s vital to address the psychological effects too.
The most important aspect of this is to really explain WHY you’re making all of these changes as a family. As we all know, our motivation for going vegan is what keeps us vegan and it’s the same for kids.
Now I’m not for a minute suggesting you sit your kids down on movie night and stick Earthlings on while you munch the (butter free) popcorn. Even if your children are much older than mine, you’ll likely scar them for life with this strategy!
It is important, however, to teach them about what happens in the meat and dairy industries. Now you know your own children and you know what they can handle and what would be too much for them. For my eldest who was 3 at the time of our transition, explaining things was as simple as saying that meat is made from animals, animals are our friends and we don’t eat our friends. I was also breastfeeding his little brother at that point so we discussed how sad I would be if someone took my milk away and used it for themselves instead of baby Finn and that it’s the same for the mummy cows. Older children may well benefit from doing some of their own research from books or online. There are plenty of resources out there and of course you can steer them in the right direction to make sure that they are protected from anything too graphic or upsetting.
Here are some useful links to resources for kids, if you know of any other good ones please share them in the comments:
8. Join vegan family meet up groups.
Or set one up if there isn’t one in your area.
Kids don’t want to be different, they all just want to fit in and be like their friends. Unfortunately, unless you home school, most of their friends will be meat eaters so it can be really rewarding for them to have the chance to socialise with other vegan kids.
Thanks to the internet, it is now easier than ever to find other vegan families and even if there are none in your area you could always set your child up with a young vegan pen pal.
Check out the Facebook group ‘Little Vegan Buddies’ and of course use the usual caution when meeting online friends for the first time.
9. Visit an animal sanctuary or adopt a rescued friend.
Visiting an animal sanctuary is especially helpful if you live in a pet free home and your children haven’t really had much contact with animals. Helping them see the beauty in other creatures will go a long way to helping them understand why we wouldn’t want to do anything that could hurt them – particularly if the sanctuary you visit is home to traditional ‘food animals’.
Having a companion friend at home could also have a great benefit to teaching your children that animals have feelings too, and that like us they too want to be happy and loved. Adopting from a rescue will keep you thinking of the amazing opportunity that we have to make a difference in someone’s life via adoption and via the food choices that we make.
10. Chill out. You are doing something great!
Between all the concerns of transitioning into a new lifestyle, it can be easy to loose track of why you are doing this, and what a cruelty-free lifestyle means to you. Remind yourself every now and then of the reasons you choose to go vegan, and why you decided to be honest with your children and family.
Know that you are not the first to go vegan as a family, and that there are many out there who will be more than happy to share their experience and advice with you via Facebook groups, forums, websites, blogs or personal interaction, and that the number of families who follow a cruelty-free lifestyle is increasing every year.
And lastly, be aware that slip ups are going to happen. Even adults who have been vegan for decades can make mistakes, so of course kids will make mistakes too. They may even decide that they’re fed up being vegan and try the odd bite of burger or chicken nugget, particularly in the early days. The important thing is to avoid ranting and raving about it; making a big deal out of these things will achieve nothing and your offspring will only get upset or end up resenting you. Instead be patient, look for ways to show them how much fun and how in line with their beliefs this lifestyle is. Remember that you are awarding your children with invaluable benefits that will accompany them for years to come.