Kids are the future of the vegan movement, so it's crucial that we involve them at events, conferences and festivals. Thank you to the NYC Veg Festival for offering a dedicated space just for families-- a place for parents to stop by and pick up information about raising vegan kids, and where kids could participate in vegan-friendly activities that promote kindness and compassion towards animals. The kids and their parents were inspired and empowered to make a difference for animals, the environment, and their own health. With the help of my husband, I set up the children's area literature table with coloring books, wristbands, bookmarks, tattoos, comic books, stickers, and other materials for kids and their parents. We also had fun, giveaway prizes. Thank you to all the wonderful organizations for participating including Teachkind, Vegbooks, Mitch Spinach, Today I Ate a Rainbow, Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, Kids Gone Raw, Grey2K USA, and the individuals who participated including NYC Vegetarian and Vegan Families Meetup members, Lottie Hanson and Christina Burke, HEART Humane Educator, Kim Korona, Institute for Humane Education graduate student, Kate Skwire, Vegbooks Outreach Coordinator, Jennifer Gannett, Super Sprowtz founder, Radha Agrawal, Certified Holistic Health Coach, Ellie Aaron Chef Maddie Sobel from PCRM (Physicians for Responsible Medicine), Fiona Walsh from the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, nutrition and wellness consultant, Jennifer Medley, and Vegan Chef and Yoga Teacher, April Dechagas.
We also had a table for kids to play the animal-friendly board game, Fur & Feathers, as well as table filled with printouts to color, including this fun Vegan Plate page. Another table was set up for the activities, including making healthy vegan snacks such as rice/kale balls and rice cakes with hummus/apple butter/apple sauce spreads, seeds and grapes used for making faces. There was a mat for kids to sit on and read from our kid's vegan library with books provided by Vegbooks. There was also a table set up for puppetmaking.Also, congratulations to Danette Suarez who guessed how many fruits and veggies were in this jar (below). She guessed the exact number- 401!! The prize.... a Rainbow Kit donated by Kia Robertson from Today I Ate a Rainbow! Danette is a second grade teacher so she is looking forward to using it in her classroom!
Guess how many fruits and veggies?
Here are photos from the children's area...
Such a wonderful, jam-packed weekend full of activities to inspire and empower kids to be kind to animals...and eat healthy! Thank you to all who participated and made the children's area special for all of the kids and parents who stopped by.
My Talk on Raising Vegan Kids
I shared personal experiences as well as ideas, tips and resources I've gained from researching and talking with other vegan/vegetarian parents.
Laying the Foundation Early to Raise a Compassionate, Healthy Child
Pregnancy Research shows that what a woman eats during pregnancy may shape food preferences later in life. In the womb, the baby gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid a day and this fluid is flavored by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten. So what you eat in pregnancy can result in preferences for certain foods for a lifetime. In other words, if you eat broccoli while you're pregnant, there's a much better chance your baby will like broccoli. So for the sake of your baby, eat a varied, healthy diet and skip the soda, chips and ice cream!
Research also shows that the foods our children eat in the first 15 years of their lives is critical and has more of an impact in determining later diseases and illnesses than the last 50yrs of your life.Here are a few tips to help develop HEALTHY eating patterns in children: Healthy eating is really 2 parts: It’s what we DON’T feed our kids (animal products), and its about what we DO and SHOULD feed our kids. Healthy eating is about adding nutrient-dense foods into your diet that fight cancer and other illnesses, and provide phytonutrients to keep us healthy. (Read: Disease Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right by Dr. Joel Fuhrman)
Be Consistent: it can take up to 15 times exposure to a food before a child accepts/likes a food. Don't give up!
Be a good role model: you can’t snack on oreos and potato chips and expect your child to eat carrots and celery. Let your child see you eating healthy foods. Eat together.
Cook and bake with your kids: kids are more apt to try something that they’ve helped make. My daughter helps me by mixing and pouring ingredients, mashing up tofu in her hands for tofu scramble, ripping kale, and adding fruits to the blender for green smoothies. An added bonus is that she often eats half of it before the recipe is even finished! Buy kid-friendly baking tools, and a fun apron. This also reinforces science/math/motor skills!Bring kids grocery shopping: let them pick out foods that they already like and also challenge them to find new foods that they want to try. Adults should do this too!
Grow vegetables in your backyard or windowsill if possible. Go to a farm to see vegetables growing in the ground. Also, pick-your-own fruits and veggies in season.
Remove the competition: just as you remove meat and dairy from your households, you should also remove the junk and processed foods. If kids are hungry and there isn't any junk food around, they'll be forced to grab something healthy to eat. Keep fruits and veggies visible out on the counter so when kids are hungry, that's the first thing they'll see/grab.
Redefine the word “snack” dessert” etc: snacks don’t have to be crackers, chips, ice cream, or sugary stuff, they can be what we typically view as breakfast, dinner, or side dishes. (Ex. pieces of roasted cauliflower, chickpeas, chunks of tofu). Dessert can be fruit, not ice cream. Try freezing 3 bananas and then blending them in a processor/vitamix, and you instantly have creamy banana ice cream using only one healthy ingredient (add peanut butter too)!
Be Creative: make art/faces out of fruits and veggies. Put food on a kabob. Use cookie cutters to make shapes. Tell a story about a bunny who loved carrots, or Mitch Spinach, etc. Kia Robertson from Today I Ate a Rainbow recommends making it fun!Doctors- Dr’s receive little to no nutrition education (20hrs average, but some don't receive any training) in med school. Their courses have a heavy emphasis on treatment and pharmaceuticals, rather than prevention. It’s likely in regards to nutrition that you know more than them. Dr's always want to fatten up thin kids to get them on par with the rest of the kids in this country (obesity epidemic!), but because veg kids often eat more fruit, veggies and other lower calorie but higher nutrient-dense foods instead of high-calorie, high fat foods such as doritos, ice cream and mac & cheese, then it's common sense that they will be thinner.
Don’t worry about being perfect: the typical standard American toddler eats the same few foods over and over (chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, ice cream, pizza) so by not feeding these foods, you’re already ahead of the game! It's not about purity, it's about the overall picture.
1) Protein- if you’re eating a sufficient caloric diet, then it’s almost impossible to be deficient in protein. The protein myth in this country was created by meat industry, and we typically get 400x more protein that we need. Animal protein is what’s killing us! According to Forks Over Knives...“We’ve never treated a single patient with protein deficiency, yet the majority of patients we see are suffering from heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases resulting from trying to get enough protein” 2) 25% toddlers between 1-2yrs old eat no fruits/veggies at all!
3) American kids eat less than 2% of their entire diet from fruits/veggies! They move into adulthood eating 90% of their calories from dairy products, white flour, sugar, and oil.
4) Heart Disease risk factors are being seen in kids as young as 10yrs old.
5) CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has predicted that this is the first generation of children that may NOT outlive their parents.
6) By the time American children are 15 months old, French fries have become their most commonly consumed vegetable.
Kids don't want to feel left out or different; they want to fit in with their peers. So it's our job as parents to help them with this. There are also ways for kids to gain a better understanding and appreciation for why their family is choosing a vegan diet. Here are a few suggestions: Visit a farm sanctuary- so kids can get up close and personal with rescued animals
. These sanctuaries are very successful in creating a powerful, long-lasting connection to animals. Kids are less likely to want to eat animals after meeting them. Since most vegans don’t visit zoos, this can be a good replacement for that. Make holidays and events extra special- you can come up with new family traditions, but try to also include some classic traditions that other kids will be doing- just do it with a vegan twist. Nowadays almost everything can be "veganized." For example, you can make a vegan gingerbread house, color wooden or paper mache eggs instead of dying real eggs, snack on vegan jelly beans
, and make vegan candy corn for Halloween.Read kids books that affirm vegan values- where animals are respected and shown in a positive light, rather than being used by humans in exploitative situations such as in zoos, circuses, and horse-drawn carriages. Skip the books that show kids eating hot dogs, drinking milk, eating ice cream, fishing, etc. Vegbooks is the best online resource for finding veg-friendly books. Also read books about brave people throughout history who were once viewed as being different and in the minority such as those who worked for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights but were later viewed as heroes, who despite challenges, spoke up for what was right.
Find a vegetarian/vegan parenting group in your community, and if there isn’t one, start your own. It’s really important for kids to be around other veg kids, and it’s also a great resource for veg parents to get together with other like-minded parents to exchange advice, ideas/tips, recipes, etc. If you live in the NYC area, join the NYC Vegetarian and Vegan Families Meetup
. Show your kids the power of activism. If they feel strongly about a specific animal or issue, encourage them to join a protest, write a letter to a newspaper, have a vegan bake sale, hand out literature, or create an art project. They’ll most likely have fun doing this, and it will teach them to be a voice for the voiceless.
Remember there are opportunities for teaching kindness and empathy all around us- here in NYC every time I step outside I come across pigeons, squirrels, and bugs such as spiders, ants and flies. Teach kids to respect these not so cute and cuddly creatures as well. Encourage your kids to stop and watch their behaviors. Instill curiosity and reverence. Model kindness by teaching them to never intentionally step on creatures/animals, chase them, or hit them.
Take advantage of social media to create a virtual support community. Ask questions, get advice and share some of your own tips and ideas with other vegetarian/vegan parents. Follow on Twitter & Pinterest and LIKE on Facebook any and all pages related to vegan kids/vegan parenting. You will be exposed to wonderful articles, recipes, ideas, and inspiration.
I wrote a post for Girlie Girl Army that I wanted to re-share on my website. It’s a piece for parents who are raising vegan kids. I hope it will give you the courage and pride to raise a child according to principles of integrity and compassion. Here it is!
"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." -- Bradley Miller
ORIGINAL ON Girlie Girl Army:"When I tell people that I’m raising my child vegan, I sometimes feel as though I have to defend and explain my decision. My decision is passive, I'm just leaving out certain foods from her diet. But parents who are feeding their kids meat, dairy, and eggs are actively adding in foods. So shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t they have to defend their decision to purchase that hot dog that came from a pig who never stepped foot on grass or saw the sky (except from the slot in the truck on her way to the slaughterhouse) and whose mother was forced to live in a tiny metal crate amid her own urine and feces, where she was unable to even turn around or take a step forward or backward for weeks on end?
Why don’t parents who are feeding their kids meat and other products taken from animals have to defend their decision? They’re giving their kids cow’s milk, which is exactly that … cow’s milk! Isn’t that a little strange? It’s meant to fatten up calves. Humans are the only species that drinks another species’ milk, and we’re the only species that drinks any milk past infancy. Casino mogul Steve Wynn said it best: “It’s liquid cholesterol!”
What exactly is it that people are concerned that my child will be missing out on … high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity? It surely can’t be protein, calcium, or iron because there are tons of healthy plant-based sources (spinach, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fortified juices, cereals, pasta, etc.) that don’t have the added fat and cholesterol, not to mention the hormones and antibiotics.
The sad truth is, in this society, any behavior or child-rearing decision that goes against the norm is often seen as wrong or irresponsible. Even weird. And that’s a shame because it often prevents people (in this case, parents) from doing the right thing. Unfortunately, society’s backlash is a strong deterrent, and so is the desire to adhere to the status quo.
NYC Veggie Parade, 2012
Despite the many studies indicating that vegan diets are not only appropriate for children, but may in fact be healthier (for example, the American Dietetic Association—the nation’s largest group of nutrition professionals—stated, “Well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes”), parents are still opting to add animal products to their children’s diet, mainly as a result of tradition and being constantly bombarded with messages from the dairy and meat industries. Years of slogans like “Milk does the body good” and “You need meat for protein” have been drilled into our heads by multi-billion dollar industries pushing their products. If milk does the body so “good” then why is it that the countries that consume the most milk are also the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis- and vice versa. And the more animal protein that a population consumes, the higher the prevalence of osteoporosis. There is a big protein myth out there, but the fact is Americans eat about 400% more protein than necessary, and even vegetarians eat more than they need.
It would be unethical for me to feed my child meat, dairy, or eggs based on what I know about how animals are raised for food. You can look the other way or deny that it’s as bad as they say, but the truth is, the majority of meat/dairy and eggs sold in this country (>95%) come from animals who have been raised in appalling conditions in overcrowded, filthy warehouses, where they are crammed into small cages and crates and denied basic necessities, including fresh air, sunshine, grass, and companionship. Simply put, I don’t believe that animals should be treated like this, so I’m choosing to leave cruel animal products out of my child’s diet. I’m teaching her that if she wants to help end animal suffering and also not knowingly contribute to major environmental problems including climate change, water and air pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion she has to be a part of the solution, and that means not supporting it (with dollars). This is what it really means to live according to your values.
Catskill Animal Sanctuary
People raise their children according to their own set of morals and values. Just like a Buddhist wouldn’t raise her child Catholic and an environmentalist wouldn’t raise his child to be wasteful, I wouldn’t serve my child chicken fingers or ice cream. Children are little extensions of ourselves (at least until they’re old enough to make their own decisions). In our society, we typically do not allow children to make the decision to participate in anything that is morally questionable until they are of age. Since I consider the way that animals are raised for food in this country to be morally abhorrent, I therefore would not impose animal products upon my child and would not allow her to make that decision until she is old enough to think critically and understand the consequences.
So instead of focusing on what a vegan child is not getting (fat-laden, cholesterol-filled slabs of meat as well as milk, cheese, and eggs from miserable animals who’ve been raised in terrible conditions), let’s focus on what they are getting (a healthy balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds). And my daughter is getting a whole lot more than that including a moral compass based on compassion, justice, courage, and integrity. So if you’re raising a vegan child like I am, stop being on the defensive, and start embracing it! Be proud that you are living with intention and consciously choosing compassion over cruelty!"
Marsha from The Institute of Humane Education shares some very valuable tips for raising kind and compassionate children. As parents, it's our job to model and guide the behaviors we wish to see in our kids...and this post will show you how to do that. It will re-energize you....and make you rethink your role as a parent. These seven insightful tips should be on your "to-do-list" everyday!
Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar. - Bradley Miller
Guest blog by Marsha Rakestraw from The Institute for Humane Education (IHE)
When people are asked to list the best qualities of humans, kindness and compassion are always at the top of the list. We're able to be compassionate with others in large part because we can empathize with them. Empathy and connection are key to a healthy, compassionate person (and a healthy, compassionate world), and studies show that we're innately wired to be empathetic; even at a very young age we demonstrate (and show a preference for) empathy.
But in a culture dominated by violence, cruelty, and self-absorption, empathy and compassion must be nurtured; and studies show that young people are becoming less empathetic than in generations past. It is during the early years that the foundation for our children's beliefs and behaviors are formed. As your child's first and most important teacher, parents have an important opportunity to start building pathways to kindness and compassion for people, animals, and the earth, starting when children are very young.
Here are 7 tips for helping nurture compassion in your children:
1. Educate yourself about ways to be compassionate to people, animals, and the earth, so that when your child starts asking questions and exhibiting behaviors that do (or don't) reflect your family's values, you have the knowledge to help. Additionally, as your child gets older s/he will be exposed -- through media, friends, school, and other sources -- to messages and values that may not value compassion. By educating yourself and maintaining mindfulness, you'll be ready to take action to help protect and nourish your child's sense of compassion for others. There are a variety of resources available (including those in IHE's Resource Center).
2. Model a message of compassion. Every day you are modeling a message, and your children are watching and learning from everything you say and do. Are you modeling the message you want to convey? Consider your choices: the food you eat, how you get from place to place, the way you communicate, the products you buy, and all your other daily choices. Do they reflect your values of compassion toward animals, people, and the earth? If your actions don't match your values as much as you'd like, start making small changes, and talk to your children about why you're choosing differently.
3. Read books and tell stories showing compassion and care for others. Stories are a wonderful teaching tool, and of course, regular reading and storytelling build important communication skills. Consider the values and messages in the stories you read to your children, and look for stories that encourage compassion to animals, other people, and the earth. There are numerous resources available, including IHE's Resource Center, and websites like Vegbooks. You can also share stories from your own life about how you learned compassion for others.
4. Build reverence. We tend to protect what we love. If we want our children to connect deeply with others in the world, we need to provide them with regular experiences that nurture and celebrate their love and compassion for animals and the earth. We can engage our children's innate curiosity and invite them to observe ants, get to know a tree, learn about the other beings around them, and explore the beauty and uniqueness that is part of their world.
5. Provide direct experience with others. It's so easy to make judgments and assumptions about others when we don't know them personally. Help nurture a compassionate spirit by providing lots of opportunities to engage with others. Observe animals in their natural habitat at a park; visit a farm animal sanctuary with your child; take your child to events and locations that expose them to people of a variety of backgrounds and experiences; plant a garden; go camping; take a hike (or at least a walk around the neighborhood).
6. Gently guide their choices & help them think critically. Teach your children right away how to engage kindly with animals, other people, and the earth. If you see them involved in unkind behavior (such as hitting your family dog), have an age-appropriate conversation with them to gently guide them to a kinder choice. As children grow, instead of just telling them an answer ("We don't eat eggs because we believe it's important to be kind to animals"), we can ask them open-ended questions that help them think critically about why your family makes the choices it does.
7. Provide them with opportunities to help. Even from an early age, children can be involved in helping others. From accompanying you to take a meal to a sick neighbor, to fundraising for a compassionate cause, to volunteering as a family at an animal shelter, there are numerous opportunities to cultivate generosity and empathy. Just be careful that the experiences are age- appropriate for your child.
To gain additional tools and support for raising a conscientious, compassionate child, sign up for IHE's online course, Raising a Humane Child, which begins April 9. Find out more & register here.
Marsha Rakestraw is the Director of Online Courses, Online Communications & Education Resources for the Institute for Humane Education and is a 2005 graduate of IHE's certificate program. Although she is not a parent herself, Marsha has taught at the PreK-graduate levels and worked for more than 14 years as a children's/young adult librarian. She misses doing family storytimes, but now dedicates her time to working and volunteering as a humane educator. When not trying to make the world a better place, she's hanging with her husband or entertaining her precocious puppy and schizophrenic cat in Portland, Oregon.