I have to admit, when I first decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle, I didn’t intend to have the kids join me.
Like many people I had the idea that it wasn’t a ‘complete’ diet, that they would inevitably end up missing out on vital nutrients. Luckily, after much research I realised how wrong I was in making that assumption, and I’m now convinced that rather than imposing my ideals on my children, I am providing them with the healthiest diet possible.
My eldest was just 3 at the time of my ‘conversion’ and a complete cheese fiend, and although he’s very young, he’s very stubborn and knows his own mind. I thought that vegetarianism would be as much as I could hope for from him and to be honest, he’s still a work in progress. We eat entirely vegan meals in the house now but I know that when he’s at his grandparents’ house or out for a meal he inevitably chooses cheesy pasta for his dinner! I’m hopeful that once he’s a bit older and understands where his beloved cheese comes from, he’ll make the right choice! He doesn’t seem to have noticed that we no longer have any cheese in the house and he happily munches on the occasional packet of dairy free chocolate buttons without a word of complaint.
The baby is a different story – at only 5 months old when I took the vegan plunge he has no choice but to eat what is put in front of him! And so far he seems to be perfectly fit, healthy and happy on a vegan diet. He is a perfect weight for his age and has reached all of his milestones without any problems. He’s also made it to nearly 10 months old without a trip to the doctor and without having more than the odd sniffle.
I am by no means an expert in nutrition, nor am I a mother who would take the health of her children lightly. I am a mother who has done an extensive amount of reading and research into vegan diets for kids and I am confident that I can provide my children with a supremely healthy diet without the inclusion of animal products.
Since I cook for the whole family, when I get my pots and pans out the majority of my recipes are suitable for children and babies – where they are not, or where modifications are needed I’ll add a note to that effect. I have a very sweet tooth so many of the recipes are for cakes and desserts – moderation is the key word here for children (and adults too I suppose!).
Here are some useful tips for children following a vegan diet.
1. Try to limit fibre. Use white bread, pasta and rice. While brown is better for adults, high fibre foods fill kids up too quickly. The danger here is that they’ll stop eating before they’ve taken sufficient calories.
2.Peel fruit for the same reason.
3.If you don’t have allergies in your family and on the advice of your health visitor, use smooth nut butters. My boys love a peanut butter sandwich for lunch or pasta or rice served with a sauce made from cashew butter and coconut milk.
4. Tahini is fantastic to add to sandwiches in place of butter. Fairly high in fat and full of healthy nutrients, including calcium, I frequently feed this to my boys.
5. Consider having your kids weighed regularly. I don’t know if this is strictly necessary but I find it encouraging to hear from a health professional that my babies are thriving – even though I can see for myself that they are growing like weeds! It also gives me good ammunition for when I meet resistance from those who would question my decision to feed my boys a vegan diet.
6. Consider giving your little ones a supplement. My 3 year old gets half a vegan vitamin daily while the baby is given vitamin drops that my health visitor kindly gave me. No matter how tasty and healthy the meals you provide your children, all kids go through faddy phases when they won’t eat their meals – the vitamins give me extra reassurance for such occasions!
*Please remember that small children can choke on nuts and seeds so smooth nut butters, seed pastes and ground nuts are advisable. Also, consult your doctor or health visitor if you have any concerns regarding possible food allergies.
*Many health visitors aren’t clued up on vegan diets so if you meet any resistance, keep pushing. My lovely health visitor contacted a dietician especially for me when I had questions about the kids’ diet she couldn’t answer herself.
*If you have more questions about a vegan diet for kids, contact me or go to the Vegan Society’s website for more information. They have a fantastic book for sale, ‘Feeding your vegan infant – with confidence’
Update June 2011
I have found an interesting article outlining the benefits of a plant based diet for children – where it says ‘vegetarian’ it means ‘vegan’.
Update July 2011
The kids are now completely vegan and have been for a couple of months. The baby is thriving – the picture of health! Rosy cheeked, just the right amount of cute baby chub and at 11 months is crawling with super speed, attempting a good few words and even standing unaided when he’s feeing brave.
The toddler, the one, who I thought would be tricky? Well, he goes around the supermarket asking ‘Mummy, is this vegan?’. When I say no, he puts whatever it is back with no complaint. He knows that milk is for baby cows and as long as he gets the occasional slice of vegan cake or dairy free chocolate, he’s perfectly happy. Like the baby, he’s thriving. I was slightly worried that he hadn’t gained any weight (on an omnivorous diet) for over 10 months. A month of being vegan and he has gained a lb and at age 3 and a half is finally wear age 3 – 4 clothes. He’s a whirlwind of energy, always on the go!
We regularly see our local health visitors who are perfectly happy with the progress of both boys.
Update November 2011
My wonderful husband has decide to join us in becoming vegan so we’re a completely vegan family now.
Update April 2012
Well, we’re all still happily getting to grips with our new lifestyle.
My eldest is getting ready for school (starting in August – yikes!). His nursery teachers are very pleased with him. His latest report card talks about his skill with computers (he’s four!!), his love of counting and numbers and his overall fabulousness. As if I didn’t already know all that!
The baby is growing like a weed; normal height and weight for his age and is just a typical 19 month old – running riot, causing chaos and throwing tantrums whenever he doesn’t get his own way!
Although both boys have just recovered from chicken pox, we survived the winter relatively unscathed by illness. In great contrast to previous winters when the eldest would be floored for weeks at a time by coughs, colds, chest infections and earaches, we hardly had more than the odd sniffle and runny nose between us. Is this related to their diet or simply a coincidence? It’s such a dramatic change for the better though that there’s no way we’ll be straying from our plant based diet.