If you think get asked a lot of questions as a vegan, imagine what it’s like when you choose to raise your children vegan too. Sounds daunting doesn’t it? But the reality is a lot less intimidating than you might imagine. I chatted parents from across the UK to get the inside scoop on raising a cruelty-free family, and what I discovered was beautifully refreshing…
- Was it an easy decision to raise your child(ren) as vegan?
Michelle (Mum of one, North Yorkshire): Absolutely. Once I decided that I wanted to go vegan it was a no brainer that I would raise my daughter vegan as well. My motivation (for going vegan) was when I gave Veganuary a try in January 2015, just after I gave birth. It was the best decision I’ve made. The dairy industry in particular made me feel incredibly sad, having just had a baby and seeing cows have their babies taken away from them. I’m lucky that my husband is extremely supportive and always eats what we’re eating, which I think is crucial for healthy eating habits. If you’re eating the same as them it’s not a big deal to be eating lentils, beans, veggies etc. – it’s just normal.
Martin (Dad of three, London): It was one of the easiest decisions we’ve ever had to make regarding them. As well as teaching them compassion for other living beings it also ensures health for their bodies, and a healthier planet for their futures.
Alice (Mum of one, Brighton): The decision was not an easy one to begin as there are plenty of horror stories out there, and I doubted myself and my own nutritional knowledge. My husband only became vegan after our daughter was born, but was happy to raise a vegan child and has since embraced this way of life. Having his support gives me more strength to stand up for what I believe in. I’m extremely fortunate to live in Brighton where there is a vegan families group, and the children are all thriving and full of energy.
Chava (Mum of two, West Midlands): I was very lucky that I had a vegetarian midwife who was super supportive and also delighted with my iron levels throughout both pregnancies. No need to tell me about those ‘pregnancy foods of doom’ either: raw eggs, liver, blue cheese etc.
- What’s the most common reaction when people discover your child(ren) are vegan?
Martin: It is always the next question after finding out that we are vegan, and nine times out of 10 it’s followed by the word ‘Wow’.
Chava: My attitude, when I tell people about raising vegan kids, has always been one of confidence and I guess I’m not apologetic about it either. It’s almost like my confidence rubs off and they don’t even bother to be critical. Plus, when they see my healthy, happy boys who are so full of energy and life, it’s hard to argue with!
Alice: Apart from a few misguided and anxious family members, the general response we’ve had has been positive. I had someone comment that she might develop rickets but just laughed it off because research has been done and now cereals etc. are fortified to prevent this
- How do you handle negative reactions?
Martin: When we talk to people about the children being vegan we speak with confidence and pride. And we always have facts in the forefront of our minds regarding calcium etc. We’ve been asked questions many times but the info rolls off of our tongues very easily.
- What are your top ‘go-to’ breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas?
Michelle: Breakfast is porridge, my daughter loves it with hemp milk, or NZ Marmite on toast (much to the annoyance of her British father!). She loves tomato based dishes so things like lentil ragu, bean stew, chilli, pasta, and pearl barley tomato risotto. I make a lot of cashew-based cheese sauces, and she’s a big fan of my lasagne. She also quite likes Fry’s products, and carbs in general – chips, noodles (especially big udon noodles), rice and pasta.
Martin: Breakfast is usually porridge, as it’s a great all-rounder nutrition-wise, and a good option for variety. We keep tubs of ingredients in the cupboard, and we let the kids get involved adding the things they want. Lunches and dinners vary and we try to stick to whole foods. A really quick meal for us has to be wraps, they’re so easy to make and you can sneak all kind of veggies into them.
Alice: She loves cereal, namely Rice Crispies, Bran Flakes, Puffed Wheat or porridge. She also tends to have a banana each morning. We all enjoy Marmite on toast or crumpets, and sometimes I make a green smoothie with kale/spinach, banana, apple/kiwi, fruit juice and dates. Delicious, nutritious and easy to make! For lunch, it’s rice cakes and humus, pasta with homemade pesto, or a sandwich. She’s not great with vegetables so I often make soups full of beans, lentils, various veggies and nutritional yeast. She takes a multivitamin every day but I like to try and boost her B12 intake by adding fortified foods. We try to have a different meal each evening. She loves rice, pasta, potatoes – the usual starchy carbohydrates. I make sauces and blend them so I know she’s getting what she needs.
- What about snacks?
Michelle: Pitas with hummus and other dips, like baba ganoush. For convenience we sometimes get Nakd bites (good for car journeys!) or rice/oat cakes. She also loves fruit, especially trying to eat whole apples and other round shaped fruit by herself! We also snack on edamame beans and broccoli.
Martin: We always buy a lot of fruit and try and keep it as accessible as possible, so the children can come and take it when they want. We don’t tend to have unhealthy snacks in the house unless it is a special occasion, as that creates bad habits for us as well as the children. People often ask us how we get our kids to eat healthily when they struggle with their children wanting unhealthy stuff. But it’s simple… Just stop buying it.
Alice: Nuts and seeds, the organic range of baby snacks, crackers, Nakd nibbles and fruit. I am working on cucumber, celery and carrot sticks. She loves ice cream, occasional chocolate and cake!
- Is it easy raising a vegan family?
Michelle: At the moment, yes. I suspect it might get harder (or have different challenges) as she gets older. It does mean I think quite carefully about what we’re eating each week to make sure that meals are balanced. Also if she doesn’t want whatever we’ve made we try not to make a big deal of it. Kids’ eating varies so much, and for all types of reasons, so it’s important not to get too hung up on it. Instead of focusing on what they’ve eaten that day, try and look across the whole week…
Martin: It is very easy raising a vegan family. We find that life is simpler since going vegan. Our children have made the ethical connection as well, so they don’t even think about it as a choice. We love the fact that we can be completely transparent with our children about where their food comes from.
Chava: I love raising my kids as vegans. It’s so much easier to explain compassion than to justify eating or abusing another being! Choosing a vegan diet also means we’re teaching them to question the status quo. Hopefully we’re teaching them that change for the better is possible and that it’s worth standing up for something that you truly believe is right.
Alice: My daughter is nearly two and hasn’t encountered any real difficulties yet. We have a sociable lifestyle and attend many events, such as, the ‘Chocolate and Cake Appreciation Meet-up’, the ‘Vegan Families Meet-up’ and various fairs/festivals. As she gets older we may come across more challenges but at the moment our way of life is all that she knows.
- What does/do your child(ren) think about being vegan?
Martin: Being vegan brings so much joy to our family, it occupies a lot of the conversations we have with the children, our children feel that they are special and they enjoy telling people about veganism. We find the community aspect is very good for them too, especially as it is always growing.
Chava: My kids are six and nine and they love being vegan. I’m so pleased that they take pride in it too. We’ve built up a great relationship with their school. Twice a week they get to eat a freshly cooked vegan school lunch, and the rest of the time they take packed lunches. I bake vegan cakes for every cake sale, and offer to provide vegan alternatives at events. However, most of the time that’s not even needed anymore. Whenever there’s an Easter Egg Hunt, or when Father Christmas comes to school, the PTA already plans ahead and provides a vegan alternative. It takes diplomacy and being respectful as a parent. But I feel our gentle way of asking, rather than demanding, has created real change and the next vegan kids are going to find it so much easier!
What are your hopes for the future of your family and how does being vegan impact this?
Martin: Our hope is that we will continue to empower and nurture our children in the best way we can, and that they, in turn, will inspire others. We want our children to follow their joy and passions. We hope our children continue to feel confident about being vegan, and that we continue to grow compassionately together as a family. Teaching our children compassion is one of the most important things we can do for them.
Top Tips for Vegan Parents
- Knowing the facts boosts confidence. Our Starter Kit and Myths sections are great to refer to for nuggets of info and answers to the most commonly asked questions.
- Be prepared. Whether its school lunches, a play date, or a sleepover, the best way to avoid embarrassment for your children is to communicate. Phone or email ahead, offer to meet for a chat, or to provide food or vegan info. Most people are accommodating and willing to learn, but they won’t know unless you tell them.
- Be friendly and approachable. The ‘V word’ still scares a lot of people, and initial reactions are often based on lack of knowledge. If you make it sound easy and hassle-free then they’ll pick up on that.
- Make sure you’ve got the nutritional basics covered. Our Nutrition in a Nutshell is so simple to follow!
- Keep meals fun and varied. There are lots of family friendly ideas in our Recipe section or at Flavourphotos.wordpress.com
- Get support. Feeling part of a community can only ever be a good thing; whether it’s an online forum or a local family meet-up. You can share recipes and ideas, swap stories, and you’ll feel less isolated. There are lots of parenting groups on Facebook and you’re welcome to join our ready-made Veganuary community!
- Relax and have fun! Being vegan is a joyful thing, but it’s easy to get side-tracked by negativity. Martin from our interview talks a lot about raising a vegan family on his YouTube channel; follow him for a dose of plant-powered enthusiasm!
This article was written for the next edition of Vegan Food & Living Magazine, out August 18th 2016.