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.
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.
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 Villamagna
Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward Rebhal
Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Happy, Healthy, Vegan Kids by Tracie DeMotte
That’s Why We Don’t eat Animals and Vegan is Love by Ruby Roth
RaisingVegKids (my own of course)
TheKindLife (Alicia Silverstone’s website)
Institute for Humane Education (IHE)
HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers)
Farm Sanctuary and Catskill Animal Sanctuary
PCRM: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (nutrition)
Vegetarian Resource Group (nutrition)
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!