An article in PBNM’s March newsletter (Food Without Fighting: Kids Do Eat Vegetables!) shared tips on how to encourage children to eat more vegetables. This month I interviewed two moms whose children are being raised vegan. They share what being vegan is like for their family and how they navigate the vegan lifestyle with their children.
Robyn is mom to three homeschooled children ages 12, 8, and 7. Along with being a mom, Robyn, her parents, brother, and sister have been animal rights activists for many years. They have protested the abuse of animals at circuses and aquariums including Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, and have protested at malls that promote the sale of fur.
Robyn and her children quit eating meat eight years ago. Not eating meat was not a difficult choice for Robyn. Her youngest two children were young enough to have been raised vegan, and the oldest child was just four years old when the family became vegetarian. It took another year for the family to eliminate dairy. Each of the small incremental steps they took to eliminate dairy became permanent changes. First, they eliminated milk, then eggs, and then ate cheese only when at restaurants. The final step in the process for them becoming vegan happened a year later when they stopped eating cheese at restaurants. During this time, Robyn read stories to her children about showing kindness towards animals. Robyn suggests taking the family to visit animal sanctuaries and rescue sites helps children understand why a vegan diet is important.
When her children attend birthday parties, they bring Oreo cookies or an apple pie from Costco (which is vegan) to eat. The children have no problem eating food different from their friends at parties because they understand the food they bring is not made with animal products. Robyn always equips her children with vegan food to take with them when they go to an event or a friend’s house.
Some of the foods the children enjoy eating include bean dishes, veggie burgers, salads, tofu, tofu scramble, and vegan chili. “My high speed blender is my best friend” Robyn reports. Using her blender, Robyn makes cashew cheez to put on pizza and nacho cheez to make broccoli and cheddar cheez soup.
Her family has many options when going out to dinner. They go to vegan restaurants and look for Mexican, Thai, and tofu options at traditional restaurants. They also search www.happycow.net to find restaurants that are vegan friendly.
Unfortunately Robyn does have some family members that don’t invite them to holiday gatherings because of their choice to eat only vegan and feel they are too involved in protecting animal rights. However, once they made the decision to be vegan, Robyn’s mom and sister “jumped into becoming vegan right away,” and her dad and brother became vegan over a period of time. Robyn’s father-in-law became a vegan after suffering a heart attack.
Robyn and her immediate family know becoming vegan was a good decision. Her son was prescribed antibiotics every year for pneumonia and bronchitis but has not had neither of these conditions since becoming vegan. A doctor wanted to remove his tonsils because they were often swollen, but he has not had that condition either since being vegan and averted having surgery.
Rachel and her husband are parents of three year old daughter, Eleanor. Rachel is now 30 years old and went vegan 11 years ago after reading the book “Vegan:The New Ethics of Eating” by Erik Marcus. Reading that book, she learned of the cruel animal farming industry. Her husband was not vegan, and preparing two dinners every night was difficult, so over the years, Rachel veered back to a mostly Standard American Diet.
Last year the family moved to the Quad-Cities area that straddle Iowa and Illinois. Rachel learned there was a meat packing plant down the road from her. It made her feel very uncomfortable, and she quit eating meat again and stopped feeding their daughter, who was two years old at the time, meat as well. She and her daughter also stopped drinking cow’s milk. Rachel found the cramping and discomfort she had been experiencing for years went away when she quit drinking milk. Her daughter had never started eating cheese, and chicken nuggets and corn dogs she had been eating were easily swapped out with whole plant-based foods. After watching “What the Health,” Rachel stopped eating eggs and became completely vegan. Also watching the documentaries “Game Changers” and “Seaspiracy” confirmed she had made the right decision for herself and Eleanor. Her husband is very supportive of her decision.
The family has since moved to Rockford. Rachel feels she has more support in the Rockford area. Their daughter is now three years old and is enjoying the vegan lifestyle. At the grocery store, Rachel has taught Eleanor the names of fruits and vegetables by saying “This is an apple, this is a carrot” etc. and now she knows the names of nearly all fruits and vegetables. Eleanor particularly likes cucumbers and tomatoes. Another favorite is steamed broccoli – pretty cool for a three year old! She also likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chickpea salad, lentils, beans, mac and cheez, and chocolate nice cream. “She eats nearly everything!” her mom reports. Rachel keeps Dr. Michael Greger’s “Daily Dozen Checklist” on the refrigerator as a visual reminder of healthy foods to include in her family’s meals.
Rachel’s daughter was just two years old when she began feeding her only plant-based foods. At a young age, this makes the forming of healthy eating habits easier and her taste buds will be trained at an early age to enjoy all a WFBP diet offers. Eating a plant based will not be an acquired taste for her – it will be her normal.
Rachel has a few tips for helping children enjoy a vegan lifestyle:
- Have things ready. When children get home from school, have a healthy snack or fruit available. Children will go for the simplest things. If it’s Hot Pockets, that’s what they’ll grab. Keep junk food out of the house.
- If a child doesn’t like a food, don’t give up. Sometimes it takes several exposures to a particular food before a child will decide they like it (adults too!). As a child, Rachel didn’t like peppers, mushrooms, and onions. Now she eats them all the time.
- Be an example. When children watch their parents eating vegan food, they are more likely to do so too.
- Don’t attempt to hide vegetables in the foods you are preparing. This can backfire and cause distrust, making it even more difficult to get children to eat vegetables.
- Getting your children involved in the process of preparing meals will make them more open to eating what they have helped prepared.
For both of these families, living a vegan lifestyle has united them in knowing that
being vegan is best for their health and demonstrates compassion towards animals.