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!
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.
I'm honored to introduce this next post by Zoe Weil, co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education. Zoe is a leader in her field, and an inspiration to those who seek to make the world a kinder, more sustainable and just place for all (including animals). In this post she offers useful tips on how to raise a humane child in challenging times. A great post to share with other parents and educators.
Guest post by Zoe Weil, co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education
When asked about their deepest hopes for their children, most parents don’t mention elite colleges, the best outfits, high SAT scores, athletic prowess, or future prom queens. Above all, most parents want their children to be happy and kind. They want them to have abiding values that will carry them through life and enable them to be good, hard-working, successful people whom others like and respect. They want them to make healthy and wise choices and put their talents and skills into practice in meaningful ways. In a word, they want their children to be humane, embodying the best qualities of human beings.
Raising a humane child is challenging in today’s world. Parents are often raising their children in opposition to cultural norms. While today’s society promotes materialism, junk food, myopia, and endless competition, many parents want their children to experience wonder, to be healthy and wise, and to learn to collaborate. These parents are often trying to inculcate awe, compassion, gratitude and respect for self and others (including the natural world and other species), while their culture is busy producing ever more entitled,“screen-addicted” teenagers. It’s not an easy task to raise children even within a culture that supports one’s values, but it’s much harder when one’s deepest values are contradicted daily, in school, through the media, and within mainstream culture.
What’s a parent to do?
By utilizing the tools of the humane educator, parents can challenge cultural norms and raise their children to embrace those values their family holds dear. Humane educators rely on four key elements to teach children how they can be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers and to put their deepest values into practice in concrete, practical ways. They are:
• To provide accurate information (in age appropriate ways) about the challenges of our time
• To foster the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking
• To instill the 3 Rs of reverence, respect, and responsibility
• To offer positive choices and the tools for problem-solving
Finally, humane educators seek to model their message for their students by cultivating the 3 Is of inquiry, introspection, and integrity so that they, themselves, are lifelong learners who seek out knowledge that will allow them to live more humanely, who self reflect to understand where the confluence of their new knowledge and their actions lies, and who live with integrity to the best of their ability putting their values into action.
Parents can do this, too. By choosing humane products and foods, going outside in nature instead of to the mall, living consciously and conscientiously, they will model their own message of humane living. The next step is becoming their children’s first humane educator and teaching them about the challenges of our time. While it’s very important that parents don’t expose their young children to atrocities, by nurturing their reverence for others, human and nonhuman as well as the natural world, and by slowly introducing information in age appropriate ways, fostering their critical and creative thinking about that information, and offering them opportunities to make a difference, parents can raise their children to be humane.
Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil
For those parents interested in learning more about how to do this, I invite you to read my book, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and to register for the Institute for Humane Education’s online course for parents, “Raising a Humane Child.”
Editor's Note: If you are an educator, please sign up for Teaching for a Positive Future - a 6-week online course for only $135 to learn skills, tools and insight for teaching students critical and creative thinking about social justice, environmental ethics and animal protection. It's money well spent.
I've read both, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life by Zoe Weil and they are both excellent books. They will inspire you to change your way of thinking, and you'll look at many things including current systems, industries, products and habits/traditions in a new light. I highly recommend these books for individuals, parents and educators who want to make the world a better place for all.
You can follow the Institute for Humane Education's blog: Humane Connection.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers online graduate programs in humane education through an affiliation with Valparaiso University, online professional development courses, Summer Institutes for educators, and free, downloadable activities and lesson plans at its awarding winning resource center on its website: www.HumaneEducation.org. Zoe is the author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education; Nautilus Silver Medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind:Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, and Moonbeam Gold Medal winner for juvenile fiction, Claude and Medea, which follows the adventures of 12-year-olds in New York City who are inspired by an eccentric teacher to right wrongs where they find them. She has given an acclaimed TEDx talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach” and blogs at www.zoeweil.com. Zoe holds master’s degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow her on Twitter at ZoeWeil and become her friend on Facebook.