Raising Vegan Children
Posted on November 07 2017
Like me, my son Xavier and daughter Phoenix eat a vegan diet (I did breast feed them and yes breast milk is vegan.) I often get asked about raising a vegan child so I decided to write about it.
First of all, I am confident that they get all of the nutrition they need and I do not worry about them lacking nutrients. In fact, I think they are probably getting more nutrients than most children their age. I am confident that they are getting everything they need because ever since weighing over 9 lbs at birth they have been around the 90th percentile for height and around the 50th percentile for weight for their age. It shouldn’t be surprising that I did not start eating a vegan diet without a great deal of research. I am very interested in nutrition and health and have read a lot of books, articles and journals on health and nutrition. I am continuously researching this topic. Other than the health question some of the other questions that I am often asked are: Is it inconvenient to raise a vegan child? Will you let your children eat snacks like a regular kid? How will you handle parties and eating out at restaurants? Do you ever think they will be ‘missing out’? What if they want to eat meat when they grow up? What foods do do they eat? These are all very good questions that I will cover.
Health and Nutrition:
Because my children do not eat meat, dairy or eggs, in place of those things they eat a wide variety of plants, (plants meaning vegetables and fruits, nuts and legumes and grains). Many children are not eating enough of these important foods. Plants (preferably organic, especially for the dirty dozen) are nature’s most perfect food. They contain everything we need to live and grow and be healthy (vitamin B12 can be an issue which I will cover soon). A common misconception (which I discuss in more detail on this page) is that vegans do not get enough protein or iron or calcium etc. The fact is that plants contain all of these nutrients in abundance. Have you ever heard of someone being protein deficient? Probably not. For example, seeds, nuts, beans, grains and even certain vegetables and fruit are all great sources of protein. Oatmeal, lentils, spinach, coconut, tofu, tomato paste are all high in iron. Some examples of how vegans get calcium are almonds and almond milk, leafy greens, broccoli and blackstrap molasses.
Here is a comparison of how plant foods measure up to meat and dairy:
(per 100 grams)
(per 100 grams)
(per 100 grams)
Plants contain a wide variety of other essential vitamins and minerals. The irony is that most animals eaten for food are mainly plant eaters that get the bulk or all of their nutrients FROM PLANTS. When you eat flesh or secretions from an animal you are only getting some of those nutrients. My question is – why not get your energy straight from the source? As a bonus plants are naturally blood, bone and pus free unlike meat, dairy and eggs. As a vegan, Xavier and Phoenix consume zero cholesterol. This is not an essential nutrient as our livers make all the cholesterol our bodies need to function adequately. There was a recent study done showing that more and more young adults are at risk of developing atherosclerosis. Meat, dairy and egg consumption is linked and/or proven to cause a long list of debilitating diseases such as cancer, autoimmune disorders and heart disease. Read more about vegan nutrition and myths here.
Do we give Xavier and Phoenix supplements? There are two supplements we give them on occasion. In the winter months when their sun exposure is limited we give them vitamin D2 drops (D2 is vegan, D3 often is not). We also give them vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) about once a week. As I discuss in more detail here, B12 which use to be in our soil and veggies is now hard to consume without supplementing. The reason for this is that the majority of our produce is now grown in nutrient depleted soil that is lacking in B12. Although the requirement for B12 is low, it is an essential nutrient for cell division and blood formation. For this reason B12 supplements are a good idea, (not just for vegans I should add). Many vegan products we buy are fortified with B12 as well which is why I don’t worry about giving him the vitamin daily. It should also be noted that it isn’t uncommon for cattle to be injected with B12 to keep them from becoming deficient.
So far this has not been a big issue. Vegan food is really not that hard to find. Vegetables and fruit are sold everywhere we go and so are other snack type items. If we are on the go I will often bring along a banana, berries, a rice cake with hummus, bread with peanut butter, an organic veggie fruit pouch – for a few examples. Xavier and Phoenix's daycare are aware that they eat a vegan diet and we provide their lunch and snacks. Sometimes when they have a party day they are happy to make the cake vegan and buy some vegan snacks for Xavier and Phoenix which we really appreciate.
So many people are so use to pre-packaged everything that they get lazy and think making something from scratch is not worth the effort. I think it is. Quick ready meals are good in a pinch, but I don’t think they should be a staple to our everyday diet. As my kids gets older, I plan to include them in the meal making experience more and more. Cooking with kids is a great way to teach them about food and health and at the same time it is a bonding experience.
Parties, Family Gatherings and Eating at Restaurants:
Our families know that Xavier, Phoenix and my husband and I eat a vegan diet and are great at accommodating our dietary choices. I am so grateful when they make delicious vegan meals and desserts for us. During a holiday get together we will often bring some of our own food. We will take some veggies out of the dish before the butter is added; we skip on gravy or bring our own. Those sorts of things are not at all difficult to do. I love to host gatherings at our house and am happy to make creative vegan dishes for everyone to try. We often have pool parties and BBQ’s where we tell people they are welcome to eat what we are grilling up or they can bring their own meat to BBQ if they wish. When we eat at a restaurant with our kids, so far and each time it has been fine. We usually order a little more and share each plate between us all. Sometimes if I am unsure, I will call a restaurant ahead of time to ask about vegan options. That might seem like a hassle to some but really it only takes a few minutes and most restaurants are happy to tell you what options they have or what they can make vegan.
As for children’s birthday parties, I get asked if I will let him eat the birthday cake and other food at the party. The answer is yes and no. It is 2017 and pretty much everyone knows what a vegan eats and doesn’t eat and I’d like to think that most people would respect our eating habits. I plan to talk to the host beforehand and politely inform them that we eat a vegan diet. I will gladly offer to send my kids with some delicious vegan cupcakes or ice cream or veggie dogs, etc. I have found that many birthday parties serve juice, fruit, veggies and other munchies that just happen to be vegan.
Snacks and Junk Food:
I will admit that as a kid growing up I thought that parents who would limit their kids’ sugar intake were weird. Now I completely see their point. I am one of those parents. I was definitely addicted to sugar as a child. Now that I know the ‘evils’ of sugar I do try to limit the amount my son consumes as well as myself. I am talking about white, refined sugar – not the natural sugar in fruits which I think are great! I do sometimes use sugar in recipes, but I prefer to sweeten with dates, agave or maple syrup, cane or coconut sugar which has some nutritional value and doesn’t affect the body the same way white sugar does. There are many problems with white, refined sugar; It is the leading contributor to obesity in children as well as adults, it is highly addictive, it has no nutritional value (empty calories), it leaches the body of vitamins and minerals, it acidifies the body, it is a major factor in dental decay, and a lot of processed sugar sold today is genetically modified. Those are just a few examples of what I’ve learned about sugar.
Although I’ve had a sweet tooth since I was a kid and am not the perfect example, I hope to raise my kids in a way where they learn how to enjoy food without always craving unhealthy sweets. Most processed foods like pop, juice, cookies, granola bars etc. are LOADED with RIDICULOUS amounts of sugar and those products won’t routinely be found in our household. If parents did only a little research on the effects of refined sugar on our bodies, I am sure most would agree that it should be limited or avoided completely. I enjoy making healthy snacks for Xavier and Phoenix such as muffins, cookies and other treats. I will continue to learn new recipes and adapt unhealthy ones into a healthier version. Of course we allow some leeway some of the time. Sometimes convenience does outweigh the healthiest option, I just try to let those less healthy meals or snacks not happen too often.
GMOs, Organic, Processed Foods:
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants that have been changed on a molecular level by inserting genes or DNA segments from other organisms into them. According to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network there are 4 crops currently grown in Canada that are genetically modified: canola, corn, soy, sugar beet (to make white sugar). There are several other crops that have been genetically modified outside of Canada including some fruits and vegetables as well as meat, milk and eggs (animals that are fed GMOs) that are being imported into Canada.
The use of GMOs is a controversial subject. Most of the studies done saying GMOs are safe for human consumption are done by internal industry agencies. There are other non-industry studies that prove otherwise. These studies show that genetically modified bits can survive cooking and digestion and can influence human cell function. The fact of the matter is that we do not know for certain the long term health effects of eating genetically modified food. Without going into too much detail, there have been studies done that indicate that GMO’s are linked to several heath concerns including: fertility issues, allergies, inflammation, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism as well as several other undiagnosed illnesses. Here is a great link about the potential risks.
I personally find it is scary that our government does not require labeling of produce and other products containing GMOs. Approximately 80% of processed foods contain GMOs! It is still possible though to make a choice. Certified organic food does not contain GMOs because genetic modification is prohibited in organic farming. Organic products are also free from synthetic pesticides. Look for the organic label or produce with a ‘9’ in the beginning of its PLU code. Switching white sugar for cane sugar is one way to avoid eating GM sugar beets.
(In addition to the health concerns, there are other negative impacts caused by the industry that are quite concerning. Pesticides and herbicides are commonly super saturated on GM crops which pose environmental challenges to non-targeted organisms like bees and butterflies. GM crops have also reduced biodiversity proved by the loss of a huge percentage of crop varieties over the past 20 years. Monsanto (a company that produces the majority of GM crops) is causing all kinds of nightmares for smaller farms and farmers. I highly recommend watching the documentaries Food Inc., GMO OMG and Genetic Roulette for more information on this topic.)
Missing Out, Not Fitting In:
I don’t think my kids will miss out on any of the ‘normal kid stuff’ whatsoever. Although we are not religious, we do still plan on participating in certain traditions that we had a lot of fun and good memories of as kids. For Easter we still have Easter egg hunts (with vegan chocolate and candy). For Halloween trick-or-treating we just swap out non-vegan treats with vegan options that we purchase. Vegan ice cream has come a long way and is even being offered at some ice cream parlors now. I also recently purchased an ice cream maker so that we can make our own vegan summer treats at home. It may take a little more planning and effort to do things the ‘vegan way’ but I don’t see it as difficult.
So do I worry about Xavier and Phoenix missing out in some way? Not at all! It would not feel right to me to set aside my values just so that my children fit in perfectly with the status quo. It is my hope that with education and yummy vegan alternatives my kids will understand and be happy with our unique way of doing things.
Wanting To Try Meat/Diary/Eggs:
It is my duty as a responsible parent to raise my child in the healthiest way I know how. That being said though I realize my children may get to an age where they might be curious to try some of the foods they were not fed growing up. If and when this time comes that is their decision and I would not stand in their way. Of course I hope they learn all of the truths that I have and come to the same conclusion about meat, dairy and eggs that their father and I have, but if they think something differently when they are older than that is their decision. I know we will love our children no matter what.
What Does a Vegan Child Eat?
A toddler’s appetite is a funny thing. One day Xavier and Phoenix will love something and the next day they will want nothing to do with it. To plan for this I tend to give them a variety of options at each meal. The majority of the time though they love porridge or toast with peanut/almond butter for breakfast. For lunch and supper they love avocado sushi, pesto pizza/pasta, potatoes, broccoli, creamed spinach, quinoa and beans. For snacks they love bananas, applies, melons, berries and nuts. They also love smoothies packed with fruit and nut butters.
One thing is for sure, my kids usually have a big appetite and will often surprise people with how much they can eat at one sitting. I am hoping that because they are always given a wide variety of vegetables they will not turn into a fussy eater who doesn’t eat their veggies. I do not plan on making a habit of bribing them with snacks and deserts so that they will eat their main course, as I think this encourages picky eaters to continue being picky.
I hope whoever is reading this can see that raising a vegan child is really not that difficult and that with a little extra effort can be very beneficial and rewarding. I feel content knowing I am doing what I can to make my children happy and healthy. Xavier is currently 3 1/2 years old and Phoenix is almost 2. They are both very active and thriving toddlers. As I write this, I am pregnant with my third child and I plan on raising this babe the exact same way.
*******UPDATE April 2018********
My third baby was born last September. A healthy baby girl we named Vienna. She was 8 lbs, 12 oz and was exclusively breast fed until recently I have also added some people food (baby led weaning) the same way as we did with our other 2 children. She is an amazingly happy little baby and fills all of our hearts so much! I have a theory that vegan mom's that breast feed have happier babies with less tummy issues and are less fussy in general.
Xavier and Phoenix continue to do great living the vegan lifestyle. Xavier recently turned 4 and has started to ask more and more about being vegan and more specifically why people choose to eat animals. Kids are born with so much compassion! - It is adorable, and also a difficult/delicate subject to talk about when most of our extended family are not vegan - but that is a whole other blog post for another day!
-Kindness and Compassion