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!"
I recently spoke on the Raising Vegan Kids panel at The Seed: A Vegan Experience in NYC. It was exciting to be part of such an important event-- and to be able to connect with other parents raising vegan kids. If you missed the panel, here are a few highlights from my presentation...
I was very excited to be asked to be part of the ‘Raising Vegan Kids’ panel along with Nora Kramer, Michelle Schwegmann, and Chloe Jo Davis at The Seed: A Vegan Experience in NYC. I’ve gone to many vegan and animal rights conferences and events, but there is hardly ever a mention on the topic of raising vegan kids. And now that I have my very own vegan kid, it's relevant to me. I think because more and more adults are becoming vegan, and those adults are having kids, it makes complete sense that the subject of raising veg kids is also becoming more popular, and worthy of discussion. Thank you to The Seed for hosting a whole panel dedicated to the subject of raising vegan kids... definitely a big step in the right direction towards a better world for animals (and the health of our kids, and planet too).
Here are a few topics I discussed in my presentation:
Embracing veganism is the most effective step a family can take to fight animal suffering. If you have a vegan family, be proud that while you are not necessarily taking the easy road, you most definitely are taking the high road. Encourage your family to be proud and courageous in your family’s decision. We obviously know that a vegan diet is the best decision you can make for the well-being of animals, and according to many studies, (including by the United Nations) it's also the best decision you can make for the environment. It's also the best decision you can make for the health of your child. Despite countless messages being drilled into our heads about how we need meat and dairy to survive and thrive, there is now overwhelming evidence by many top physicians and organizations that say the contrary. In fact, countless studies show that if we leave meat and dairy off our plates, we have a better chance of avoiding many types of cancers, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes other debilitating and fatal diseases and illnesses. So when it comes to the animals' well-being, the environment, and our children's health, the facts and science are overwhelmingly on our side. So be confident in your decision to raise compassionate, healthy vegan kids.
Nora Kramer, Michelle Schwegmann, Chloe Jo Davis, Robyn Moore
Laying the Foundation Early to Raise a Compassionate, Healthy Child:
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 (things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint, etc.). So researchers tested this by giving women garlic capsules or sugar capsules and then took a sample of their amniotic fluid and asked volunteers to smell the samples. The people could easily pick out the samples from the women who ate garlic. This shows that babies in the womb can also taste it since taste is primarily based on smell. 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.
Research also shows that the foods our children eat in the first 10 years of their lives has a critical and profound effect on their lifelong health, so it’s important to introduce as many different foods as possible. Be consistent- it can take up to 15 times exposure to a food before a child accepts/likes a food. Don't give up!
Here are a few tips to help develop healthy eating patterns in children:
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.
Cook and bake with your kids- kids are more apt to try something that they’ve helped make You can start at a young age. 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.
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, or go to a farm to see vegetables growing in the ground or go to a farm where you can pick-your-own fruits and veggies in season.
Remove the competition- just as you remove meat and dairy from your households, 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.
Order a Today I Ate A Rainbow Kit!- which encourages kids to eat at least 5 servings of fruits/veggies a day, including one from each color of the rainbow. They can track it on a refrigerator chart with magnets. It's fun and interactive.
Social Side: 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 also 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. Try to 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, besides kids books, 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, please 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 them 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.
Dealing with Playdates, Sleepovers and School Functions
The first thing you want to do is make sure that your relative or child’s friend’s parents know that your child is VEGAN. Next, make sure they know what a VEGAN is, and exactly what foods they can’t eat. Nowadays, many kids are allergic to specific foods (e.g. dairy, peanuts), and there are more and more vegetarians and vegans so different diets shouldn’t be unfamiliar to them.
For events such as sleepovers, birthday parties, school functions, pizza parties, and cookouts, the number one most important thing you can do is find out ahead of time what they’ll be serving and supply your child with a vegan substitute, if possible. This will require a little more time and effort on your part, but it’s worth it to make your child feel part of the group.
Create a LIST- for grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends, babysitters, daycares. This is actually something that my Mom recommended. This can be especially helpful for grandparents who have other grandkids too-- so that they can buy snacks that all the kids can eat, because it’s inevitable that kids will want to share or have what the other one is having. On the list you can also include some non-obvious vegan ingredients to look out for when shopping that people may not know- such as whey, casein, honey, gelatin, etc. Click here for list.
Recommended Resources for Raising Vegan Kids
Despite living in a society permeated by mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and milk... it's getting easier and easier to raise vegan kids because there are so many resources available, online and in books. You can google almost any subject about vegan parenting and you'll get back tons of answers.
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.
Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World by Erin Pavlina of Vegfamily.com
Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil (makes a great baby shower gift!)
50 Awesome Ways Kids Can Help Animals by Ingrid Newkirk of PETA
Vegan Lunch Box: 130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love! by Jennifer McCann
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.
Healthy Eating for Life for Children by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Eating for Kids by M.S.J. Dana Villamagna and M.D., M.Sc. Andrew VillamagnaVegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward RebhalSkinny Bitch Bun in the Oven by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Happy, Healthy, Vegan Kids by Tracie DeMotteThat’s Why We Don’t eat Animals and Vegan is Love by Ruby Roth
My message to vegan parents: Your decision to raise vegan kids means that you will often be challenging the status quo and swimming against the current, but don't let that deter you. Never apologize for choosing a lifestyle based on compassion and integrity. Deep in your heart you know you're doing the right thing for the animals, the planet and your children, so be proud and confident in your decision. Feel empowed. Live with a clean conscience knowing that you and your family are living according to your deepest values. Make veganism fun! Make vegan pancakes on the weekend, have vegan pizza parties, and make vegan ice cream sundaes!
The authors of The Secret Life of Mitch Spinach give us 10 easy suggestions for encouraging kids to eat more fruits and veggies. A lot of good tips. Read and share with other parents!
So, what else can you do when your child refuses to eat anything green and seems to subsist on chicken-fingers and French fries alone?
1) Educate your kids about nutrition.The more they know the easier it will be to guide them into making good choices. Remember how smart kids really are. Don’t sell them short. If they enjoy sports, are interested in beauty, or want more energy, teach them how the foods they eat will help them do what matters to them most.
2) Make food preparation a family affair.The more you involve your kids in the preparation and selection of meals and snacks, the more willing they are to try healthy foods. Even a simple trip to the grocery store to allow them to pick out the fruits and vegetables for the week (each child in the family should get his/her own choice) can make a world of difference. Let older children find recipes online that sound good to them using healthy foods. Allow them to choose how the vegetable of the day is prepared and even help in the preparation.
3) Have a make-your-own smoothie party. Fill bowls with various ingredients, such as berries, mango, spinach, broccoli, flax or chia seeds, and let kids pick what they want. They can even turn the blender on! They love to be in control!
4) Make your own salad. The same trick will work for salads. But don’t just include lettuce. Use seeds, fruit, dried peas, anything goes!
5) Let them dip. Make a dip like hummus or use a healthy store-bought version and watch them eat string beans, carrots, celery, cucumbers, and any other veggie that you cut into strips for dipping.
6) Make veggie and fruit shapes. Thinly slice carrots and cucumbers and use tiny cookie cutters to make shapes. Everything is more fun when it’s in a shape (think silly bands).
7) Make a vegetarian soup at least one night of the week. Pureed soups are great because you can’t see what’s in them (kale is easy to use this way). You’ll be amazed what they’ll eat when it’s been whizzed in the blender or mixed with an immersion blender.
8) Remember that food preferences are formed by one’s environment and taste is a learned phenomenon. In fact, studies show it take 8-15 times before a child accepts a new food. Try a different way of preparing the same food. Once you find a way that your child likes that food, you can branch out and experiment with it because their taste buds have already adjusted to it. Food preferences and tastes are formed early in life, so it is important to introduce your children to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
9) Don't make excuses. Don't say, "My kid only eats chicken fingers." He/she is not purchasing those chicken fingers with his/her allowance. You make the rules in your house. You purchase the food. Don't buy the junk! Kids are born with survival instincts. They will not starve themselves. True hunger is difficult to deny, and when children are faced only with healthy food options their natural hunger will drive them to eat the healthy foods available, without bribing, coercing or any other schemes. Scientific research shows that children most often take on the eating habits of their parents. Once they realize that there are no other options, they will eat, and then they will begin to change their habits. So will you.
10) Lead by example. If you permit only healthy foods in the house the entire family will learn to eat properly. You can't tell your children to eat broccoli while you are eating French fries. You must show them how to eat by doing it yourself. The entire family needs to eat the same foods at mealtime. The food that is being served is the only option. Include a number of choices so that children maintain some feeling of autonomy in what they eat, but NEVER make a separate kids’ meal or allow them to order off of the kids’ menus at a restaurant. Mealtime is a communal, family time to come together. Let that attitude be reflected in the sharing of the meal. Kids’ menus are rife with terrible food. Stay away from them an order from the sides for your kids or share what you order (the portions are usually too big for one adult anyway).
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Secret Life of Mitch Spinach was written in collaboration with renowned, board-certified family physician, Joel Fuhrman, M.D., who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods.
To get kids on the right track with healthy eating, order the Mitch Spinach book series at www.Mitchspinach.com
BIO: Frustrated by the lack of a healthy, smart, cool role model for their five and six year-old children, Hillary Feerick and Jeff Hillenbrand created the Mitch Spinach children’s book series. They decided to combine their expertise (Jeff holds a BS in Exercise Physiology, and Hillary holds a BA and MA in English) to teach kids about the importance of eating healthy foods and reduce the number of children struggling with weight, chronic colds, ear infections and other nutrition-related problems.