You can stay vegan while raising your baby — and s/he can be vegan, too!
There are a few scary stories out there. You’ve probably heard of the malnourished child, starved to death, medically neglected? Parents happened to be vegan? Yeah, it’s easy to point the finger at veganism for this tragedy. But the reality is, we’ve heard the same terrible tale many times and somehow the presence of (or lack of) animal products in the family diet is only questioned when vegans are involved.
Truth is, many physicians agree that a child can thrive on a well-planned vegan diet and that nutrition based on a foundation of whole, fresh foods is the key to balanced health.
Find a vegan-friendly pediatrician.
The last thing you want (or the first thing you don’t want) is a trusted health professional pretending they support your lifestyle choice but trying to derail it should the opportunity arise. It’s immensely important to be on the same page as your medical team. Visit this link to find a plant-based doctor near you.
Forget the Food Pyramid. Learn about vegan nutrition instead.
Seriously though, the “official” Food Pyramid in all its incarnations sucks and has always sucked. Instead of wasting time scratching your head over how to make the government-approved Food Pyramid work, try teaching:
- the difference between hunger and appetite
- the importance of caring for your body
- how to read nutrition labels
- how to listen to your body’s signals
- how energy input vs output works
- which foods help you grow/develop and how
- which foods can be used to treat or prevent illness
- food safety & hygiene
- how to avoid excess food waste
- how to eyeball normal portions
Dining out as a vegan is now easier than ever!
Go-to options when dining out with a vegan child:
- Side of fresh fruit
- Steamed rice (ask for no broth for cooked rice)
- Corn tortillas (ask for no lard or butter)
- Sweet potato/regular fries
- Raw/steamed veggies & hummus, salsa or guacamole (ask for no yogurt/cheese in the dips)
- Plain baked potato
- Pasta with marinara (ask for noodles made without eggs or dairy)
- Nut butter & jelly sandwich (look for bread without egg, whey, honey, butter, buttermilk, other dairy derivatives)
Many restaurants now have separate vegan menus — request one when you get seated. Plus, a lot of food is ‘accidentally’ vegan or easily customized — look up ingredients online. Find more dining out ideas here.
On navigating school lunches and social events…
Plant-based versions of popular foods are increasingly accessible these days. Pizza, burgers, hot dogs, nuggets, ice cream, macaroni and cheese — timeless childhood favorites that can easily be made vegan (and healthier if you’re limiting junk food). Make it a regular thing to bring your own snacks to events, come full, or save room to eat a proper meal afterward. For example, if you’ll be skipping the eggy/milky cake at a birthday party, have a slice of vegan cake ready for your child at home.
Look into the principles of Food Freedom.
Be a guide, not a dictator.
There’s no need to punish a child for natural curiosities. He’s still learning, and it’s your responsibility (and honor) to be the one he can turn to for honest explanations.
If he really wants to eat the same items as his non-vegan peers, don’t shame him for it or outright rule against it. In the same way that we wouldn’t want our children to be forced to eat animals — especially without being fully informed about how it got to the dinner table (a conversation that isn’t exactly PG in full detail) — we don’t want them to feel like they ‘can’t’ have/do the same things as their peers.
Inform him about healthy, ethical choices but also realize there are limits to a parent’s ability to control our children’s world and we must also give them room to explore, make mistakes, and understand (in their own way) why we’re vegan.
Let your child know what’s vegan and not vegan, and answer questions about ingredients and their source, but give your child the agency to choose for himself (dangerous situations involving food safety, allergies, etc notwithstanding). Chances are, he’ll opt out of the baseball stadium hot dog made of pig anus and entrails and be perfectly happy with fries or a veggie dog you smuggle in.
Thankfully, veganism isn’t about deprivation, it’s about adopting a completely different mindset.
Some may feel uncomfortable with framing veganism as a personal choice (me! — because it can’t be a personal choice if the affected being had no choice), but if you’ve raised a baby through toddlerhood you know they don’t think twice about what’s edible or not (plastic beads are food, right?!). What I’ve taught my oldest is “Animals aren’t food food we can’t/don’t eat; they are simply animals, just like us — not food.” So when we come across a dead cow shaped into a patty, we have the shared perspective of this not being a meal option, much like roadkill usually stays off human lunch menus.
Another way to make things easier for your littles is to give a veganism crash course to their other caregivers — grandparents, daycare workers, teachers, babysitters. Give them a list of foods they like, ingredients they don’t eat, and keep them stocked with tasty options if you aren’t sure they get it just yet. This way your child isn’t put in the awkward position of needing to explain himself, of constantly asking “Is this vegan?” or feeling upset when mistakes happen.
Get kids involved in food preparation and cooking.
What better way to get a kid interested in cooking, become a self-reliant chef, make memories and family traditions, learn the satisfaction of enjoying the fruits of his labor, and grow knowledgeable about how food connects to health and emotions?
Vegan Kid Cookbooks:
Foster a sense of compassion for all living beings.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to grow up with a compassion-for-all perspective from the very beginning? To always have a healthy skepticism of false advertising from industries that profit from animal cruelty?
So what happens if/when your child is faced with the opportunity to visit a zoo, aquarium, petting corral, wear a feather boa, ride a pony, complete a homework assignment full of animal slaughter industry propaganda, and other activities that make ethical vegans cringe (or cry)?
What happens when you see other children chasing geese at the park, maybe even throwing dirt at them? Or you witness your child’s friend smashing a snail with his foot, or teasing a dog with scraps? What if your child is the one who acts aggressively or disrespectfully around non-human creatures?
Offer ethical alternatives.
Did he read a story about a zoo and now he doesn’t want to miss out on the “fun”? Take him to the “nice zoo” instead — a reputable animal sanctuary!
When you notice an animal in distress, don’t pretend you don’t notice. Say “The geese don’t like being chased” or “It isn’t funny to tease dogs.” Your child will learn that what he’s seeing isn’t acceptable and one day he may be empowered to stand up for victims, too.
Set an example.
Instead of crushing house spiders to death and poking sidewalk toads with sticks, show him this is unnecessary violence by rescuing them instead. You can gently capture creepy-crawlies in the house and rehome/release them outside — or just let them be, if they pose no threat. When coming across small beings outside (toads, worms, grasshoppers, etc), say “Let’s respect their space” and continue to admire it’s interesting features from a non-imposing distance.
Individuals, like us.
Whenever it makes sense to do so, refer to non-human creatures by “he/she” pronouns instead of “it/that/thing” or by their name (if they have one).
Discuss what to say when others eat animals around them.
The number of vegan children is rising enough that your child will probably know at least a few kids in real life who are plant-based, too. Still, most others will at some point eat animals in close proximity of each other. Give your child a safe space to express his feelings about it (upset, angry, unbothered, sad, awkward, whatever). These are all valid emotions. Let him know you understand it’s hard to see others hurting animals, even though they may not fully realize what they’re doing.
It’s up to him whether he wants to let it be or speak up about it. If the latter, help him learn how to talk to others in a diplomatic way. There are peaceful ways to make a point about not supporting cruelty. Making fun of other children for eating animals is never okay. Neither is it tolerable to insult them or bully them.
Let’s say a friend offers him a slice of dairy cheese. Empower him with a few response ideas:
- “No thanks.”
- “Thanks, but I don’t eat cow cheese because I’m vegan.”
- “It hurts cows to make cheese so I don’t eat that.”
- “Thanks, but I like nut cheese better.”
- “I love cows too much to eat cheese made from their milk.”
- “Thanks, but I only eat vegan cheese.”
- “I don’t think cows want us to have their milk so I’d rather have my own snacks.”
- “Oh, you like cheese too? How about I bring some nut cheese to share tomorrow?”
My oldest has a hard time grasping why everyone isn’t vegan. I tell him it’s not something people used to think about, many people don’t know what happens to the animals, and it takes time for some people to change. I also say: People who eat animals are not bad people. We can be friends with anyone. It feels good to be nice to animals and people.
I let him know he isn’t obliged to sit next to someone who’s eating animals, or to attend events that hurt animals. One time I brought him to a farm so we could plant our own strawberries. They also happened to have a chicken hatchery on-site. I didn’t try to keep him from learning about the process from the farm workers (though I did supplement the education with a few factual corrections). He said he never wanted to go back even though his strawberry plant was there. Even young kids know instinctively, it feels better to do what you feel is right than to just go along with what others are doing.
Children naturally have a much less developed filter than adults so there will be instances of unabashed shock, horror, disgust when they witness unbelievable acts (to a vegan child, it could be a culturally normal thing everyone else is desensitized to — like seeing fried chicken legs to be eaten with mashed potatoes). So try not to dampen his passion, even if he might come across harsh sometimes. Applaud him for sticking up for animals/victims (and for himself!) in situations most adults would walk away from.
Kid-friendly tools for educating about veganism.
- Vegan Kids Magazine
- V is for Vegan: The ABCs of Being Kind
- Vegan is Love
- That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things
- Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World
- Raising Vegetarian Children: A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony
IS IT VEGAN?
You can give supplements to fill in any nutrition gaps. This is recommended by the medical community for all children, vegan or not. (I personally like the idea of fortifying foods before popping pills, but I’m not a doctor so I won’t make a blanket statement about that for everyone).
If baby is breastfeeding, you can take supplements that will come through the milk for your baby. If s/he’s no longer nursing, there should be a variety of kid-appropriate vitamins at your local grocery.
You want to look for capsules without gelatin, without dairy byproducts as filler/binding material, and with plant-derived DHA and vitamin D. You can use supplement powders to add to food or whole food based pills to cut down on artificial ingredients and absorbency issues.
Find ideas for vegan kid supplements here.
Baby Foods / Plant-Based BLW
Yes, some pureed baby foods are vegan. But honestly, you can just skip them! Why not go straight to table foods when your child is ready? Learn about BLW (Baby-Led Weaning or Baby-Led Solids):
Check out this book: Baby-Led Weaning For Vegans
Be wary of kids’ cough medicines as they tend to include honey.
Following a plant-based diet alone doesn’t make one a vegan. Veganism is concerned not just with living beings on dinner plates, but also on coat racks, in zoos and laboratories, in the range of a hunter’s gun, and so on. True vegans extend this compassion to all animals — including both human and non-human animals. Veganism is based on doing the least harm to all living beings.
Neonatal circumcision is harmful to the most vulnerable among us, and completely unnecessary. Therefore, neonatal circumcision isn’t vegan.
You wouldn’t circumcise an animal companion, so why would we consider doing this to our own newborn babies?
Circumcision is not a cruelty-free tradition. Did you know circumcision tools have been tested on animals?
Cloth & Disposable Diapers
Many commercial diapers contain latex, which is made using the milk derivative casein. Most are also tested on animals. Try cloth/reusable diapers or choose a cruelty-free disposable brand.
The Orange Drink
Candles Used During Labor
Artificial Induction & Pain Management
Consuming Your Placenta
- Mother’s Breast Milk
- Donor Breast Milk
- Plant-Based Formula
- Conventional Formula
- Homemade Formula’
- Nipple Cream