Keeping your kids safe and healthy is your number one priority as a mother. Ensuring your child eats well and gets the right nutrition is high up there on a mothers list of things to do. How we mothers feed our children will affect our child’s development in the early years as well as impact on our child’s attitude and habits when it comes to eating and health for the rest of their lives.
***Disclosure – This post is sponsored by Nature’s Healing Strategies. The views in this post remain my own.***
While growing up our family meals were simple and it usually consisted of meat, a starch and some veggies. It is hard to get your head around another way of eating when you have been brought up like this. I guess the way your mother feeds you sticks and this is the way that I have been feeding my own family until recently.
I have two sisters, my older sister is a vegetarian and my younger sister is a vegan – she has a vegan review website and she has been involved with Beauty Without Cruelty, PETA, The Vegan Society Of South Africa, and probably many more organizations. Needless to say I have been exposed to a lot of information about why a plant based diet is best, not only for your health but also for preventing cruelty to animals and for the health of our planet.
Until recently I had no plans to change the way that I live my life as a meat eater but something has started to change in me and in January this year I made a decision to start making different choices in my life. I won’t go too much into that, you can read my statement on Facebook below instead.
Since the beginning of this year I have been slowly replacing some of the things we eat with plant based options, with my end goal being that I follow a plant based diet at some stage in the future. My daughter is quite keen to be a vegan too which pleases me. I don’t see the point in anyone being an unhappy vegan and I don’t want to force my children into anything they don’t want to do.
I’ve been researching some ways to help make bringing up children on a plant based diet easier and trying to implement these things in my home.
Here’s what you want to know:
What Do Vegan Babies Eat?
Most infant formula is produced from cow’s milk and altered to make it easier to digest and give it the appearance of breast milk. If you are going to bring your child up vegan right from the start consider breastfeeding your baby. This would be the most logical approach since your breast milk is produced for your baby.
If you are unable to breastfeed your baby or you choose not to then there are plenty of soy-based formulas available on the market.
When your baby is older and ready to start solids you can mix breast milk or soy-based formula with rice cereal.
Early foods are usually things like mashed up bananas, avocado and apples, then moving on to cooked carrots, peas, potato and even bread. Meat is not usually introduced to a baby’s diet early on. This means that in the early stages there is not much difference to bringing up a vegan baby to a non-vegan baby.
You can choose to breastfeed your child long past the baby and toddler years and let your child wean when he or she is ready. This will ensure that your child gets plenty of milk. There are lots of moms that breastfeed their children up to 4 years and even beyond.
What About Nutrition?
There are so many discussions online about vegan diets and whether you will get in the right nutrition if you are vegan, this is especially pertinent with children that are still growing and developing.
While many people claim that bringing up your children vegan will rob them of getting in the right vitamins and minerals that their bodies need, this is far from the truth. You can get most of the nutrition that you need from plant sources and eating a plant based diet will actually have your children growing up healthier, with less risk of heart disease due to taking in less saturated fats.
Just like you must ensure your meat eating child takes in the right foods you will need to do the same with your vegan child.
According to the American Dietetic Association vegetarian diets, including vegan diets, that we well-planned are considered appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.
You will need to pay particular attention to Vitamin B12 since is it virtually non-existent in plants. Vitamin B12 is found mainly in fish, meat, dairy and eggs. This means that you will need to look at giving your vegan child (and yourself) supplements to get in their essential dose of Vitamin B12.
Vitamin D is not commonly found in plant based foods, but you can ensure your child gets in some Vitamin D through eating mushrooms, fortified soy milk and almond milk, fortified tofu and of course don’t forget sunlight. So let your child get outside to play, outside play is always good for your child anyway.
It is a common misconception that Calcium is mainly found in dairy, there are in fact plenty of plant sources high in Calcium such as kale, collards, spinach, white beans, okra and soy beans. You can also get calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice, breakfast cereal and oatmeal.
While it is a great idea to get some vitamin supplements for yourself and your children, most of what you and your children need to be healthy can be sourced from eating the right plant based foods, placing special emphasis on those foods that provide Vitamin D and Calcium.
Encouraging Your Children To Eat Plant Based
Changing from being meat eaters to following a plant based diet is a process that takes time to adapt to – for you and for your family. If you would like your child to follow a vegan diet try not to force your child, rather lead by example and explain to your child why you feel a plant based diet is best. You can explain the health benefits and/ or you can let your child know the reality of why eating meat and animal products is inhumane as well as the effect it has on the planet.
Couldn’t resist…! pic.twitter.com/0ZsJAXykRM
— Amy Russell (@musteatplants) May 8, 2018
My vegan sister shared some of her thoughts with my 6 year old daughter about 6 months ago and she is keen to start eating vegan. She has happily started eating more vegetables and chosen to start eating vegan cheese and mayonnaise. We have also chosen some other vegan products to try out.
She sometimes eats her meat but sometimes she says she is only eating her vegetables and not any animal products. At most meals whether she eats the meat or not she asks what is meat, what has dairy and what is plant based – so she is very aware now.
My 4 year old son on the other hand has happily told me he “likes eating animals”. I don’t think he fully understands the concept yet so I am not pushing him.
Being Out And About As Vegans
Not all restaurants or homes are vegan friendly and very often people just don’t understand the concept of no animal products. I remember going out with my sister to a restaurant where she explained to the waiter exactly what she needed on her plate as well as the concept of being vegan. They brought her the most amazing meal exactly as she asked, then they sprinkled the entire meal with grated cheese.
This is a challenge that you will need to figure out how to overcome. It is best to always keep some vegan snacks with you for in case your children are hungry when you are out and about. If you are going out to an event such as a friend’s birthday party or a dinner with extended family it may be a good idea to take some food with for your children and yourself.
It may be a bit tricky when your children go to nursery school since kids often share their lunches and at that age they may not understand the concept of plant based eating. Talking to the school about your child’s needs will be helpful but may not prevent your child nibbling on the odd non-vegan snack. It might be a good idea to let little mishaps like that slide.
Have Fun With Recipes
Try out lots of recipes and new ways of cooking – there are some amazing recipes out there. There is no point in eating tasteless food and there are some amazing vegan dishes. Play around and see what you like and how you can make your favorite dishes with plant based options.
Whenever I stay with my sister I eat whatever she cooks as her house is a vegan friendly zone and her meals are delicious. I have never felt like there was anything missing. She makes the most amazing “cauliflower cheese sauce” with coconut milk and other plant based ingredients.
Plant based eating is taking off in a big way all around the world with more lovely vegan restaurants opening up all the time and more vegan products being stocked in stores.
Join Vegan Support Groups
When you are passionate about something, or need assistance with achieving something it is always a great idea to be in contact with people of similar interests. There are plenty of vegan Facebook groups where you can ask questions and get support. If you need ideas on how to replace some of the items in your diet with plant based options these groups are incredibly helpful – they helped me to find plant based cheese and yogurt in my area which was very helpful. It just makes it so much easier with a great support system.
It’s Not Just The Food
Following a plant based lifestyle is often not just about the food we eat. There are animal products in many different products that we use on a day to day basis and animal testing is still common practice. You need to ask yourself – are you prepared to “look beautiful” when animals have been treated with cruelty to produce that lipstick or the wonder cream that makes you look younger?
There are many products that claim they are “animal friendly” don’t be fooled by this, it does not actually mean those products are not tested on animals. Rather look for products that are endorsed by Beauty Without Cruelty (South Africa) or Leaping Bunny (International). Products that have been endorsed by these entities have gone through a stringent vetting process. In order to be endorsed no animal testing is done during the manufacturing process of the products or during the manufacturing process of any of the ingredients used to manufacture the end product.
There are many wonderful products that you can use that are endorsed by Beauty Without Cruelty and Leaping Bunny so there is really no need to purchase from any companies that test on animals if you are against cruelty to animals. It is a simple choice to make.
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Also published on Medium.