Our family began the journey into a plant based diet when our daughter was 6 months old and we were thinking about going vegan and were faced with whether or not to introduce dairy products to her. Given our dairy allergy history and some of the research we were doing at the time around a vegan diet, we decided to take the step and we have been on this journey ever since. Of course, it is one thing for me and my wife to follow such a diet, but it is an entirely other thing to raise kids on such a diet in a world that seems so counter to the idea. To be sure, we had no intentions of making our kid the odd person out or for her to be ridiculed by her peers. We were making the best decisions for our health, the environment, and keeping it all connected to our strong belief in the power of non violence as a philosophy. I would say that over all, our journey over the last 8 years has been largely positive and enriching, but certainly not without our fair share of challenges. We are not perfect parents. We do not have all the answers and certainly do not see ourselves as better than other parents or people on other diets. But, I can say that we have learned some things in the process. I can say that we have worked hard in being prepared, honest, vulnerable, and as faithful as we can. In this light, here are 5 tips for those parents out there who are thinking of raising your children on a plant based diet, or simply just want to get more fruits and veggies into their meals.
1) Offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables…..yes, they will eat them. I have heard many people argue that when it comes to feeding children that they will only gravitate to the sweets and will not eat any vegetables or fruits. In my experience, this is just not true. Sure, who doesn’t like a sweet or two, but given how addictive white refined and processed sugars are, such foods are hardly the bastion of healthy eating. Our kids may not like every vegetable we put on their plate….Lord knows, my kids do not (Isa loves collards and kale, but will not touch green bell peppers). But, I believe that the more fresh veggies and fruits you offer the greater the possibility that one of these will stick with your children.
2) Recognize that every child is different….and that this is a good thing. We have two children and it is incredibly clear that when it comes to their eating habits that they are vastly different children. While we cannot make 4 different meals for 4 different people in our homes, we also have found that when we offer something that does well for both of our children that this opens up doors for creativity in our food habits. We made eggless egg salad recently and our son loved it and our daughter wouldn’t touch it. We just have come to the conclusion that there will be meals like this where one likes it and the other does not and so we adapt. My son could eat tacos or chili for every meal, but when we eat some other soups, stews, or something with black eyed peas, then we know that our daughter is more likely to eat these than our son. We try to find ways to let the tastes of our children dictate our meal planning and this is a good thing because it makes things very versatile and our eating habits fresh.
3) Be Flexible! Not only will there be times when your child does not like the food you have prepared, but there will come times everything you have planned in terms of diet will change. Recently my wife and I have dabbled with a variety of meal plans from John McDougall and Happy Herbivore and we discovered very quickly that we have to be flexible in order for it to work. In the Happy Herbivore plan, we had 5–7 meals in the course of a week that were wraps of some sort. The kids (and the adults) got kind of tired of wraps by the end of the week. So, near the end of the week we took out a meal or two and added some of our own. Don’t worry, your kids will let you know when something isn’t working for them and if you can adjust and compromise, this will make things easier. The more stringent and strict you are with sticking to certain foods the more likely your children will rebel or complain. Compromise in small ways and with snacks and allow this flexibility to make room for your kids to have their own voice in the family meal planning.
4) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! We have found that the more we communicate with our children about our food habits the more likely they are to go along for the ride. When we think there will be something we are eating that might seem strange, we talk about it ahead of time with them. When our children will be going to a birthday party that will have non vegan food, we speak both with our children to let them know what their choices will be when they get there and we also speak with the parents of those throwing the party. If we are invited to a home for a meal, we always like to communicate our needs as a family and also offer to provide food as a part of our visit. It takes some of the stress off them. Additionally, when it comes to school lunches and such, we communicate with our children about what is in their lunch box or if they are eating at school we communicate with them about what their options are. When we have neglected to talk with our children about what we are eating or what they can expect when we go out to eat or at school, then it all too often ends in disastrous results. Communicate often and communicate well and this will make the process easier.
5) Most of all….treat your children as individuals. We have found that the more we can include our children in the process of our food choices and the more we can treat them as individuals with their own desires and taste buds the better off our relationship to each other and food will be. In the very early years it was quite easy to pretty much dictate what we will eat and what our diet will look like because they were hardly able to communicate or express their likes and dislikes. But, now that our kids are older (3 and 7) and can fully express themselves in terms of their needs and desires for food, we have come to see them as equal participants in this process. In fact, we try to include our kids as much as possible in cooking our food or in meal planning (Taking the kids to the grocery store, however, is another conversation altogether). Treat your children as though their beliefs, feelings, and taste buds matter and are valuable, then this can go a long way in keeping them connected to a plant based diet.
….I am sure that there are at least 10 more of these tips, but these are some of the essentials that we have come to see over the past 7 years in our own vegan family life.
This article is a slightly edited version of its original posting on the One Whole Step blog.