Howdy and happy (almost) fall!
With autumn in the air and kids going back to school, it seemed like the perfect time to share information about raising vegan kids and vegan parenting. This post is perfect for those of you who are raising plant-based kiddos or for those of you who are interested in learning more. I met my guest, Beth Arnold, a couple years ago at Natural Products Expo West and we became fast friends. Beth is a vegan, a mother, a children’s book author as well as a whiz when it comes to all things marketing and natural products related. In fact, Beth is the current the Marketing Director for Beanfields Snacks — a vegan, gluten free non-gmo snack company that creates delicious tortilla chips made from beans and rice. Today Beth shares some frequently asked questions that you may find helpful, especially for those who are worried about vegan diets and pregnancy, vegan diets for kids as well as some of those tricky questions vegans get asked on a regular basis. Welcome to Cowgirls & Collard Greens for the first time and take it away Beth!
From the moment the second line turned pink on the pregnancy stick, people who I barely knew were truly concerned for the welfare of the tiny human I was growing. The questions seemed silly to me. Of course I was getting enough protein. Of course I was getting all the vitamins and minerals I needed.
During my pregnancy, I ate an extremely healthy plant-based diet. I gave into cravings, such as vegan chocolate chip cookies from Whole Foods and So Delicious Dairy Free ice cream. But overall, my diet was loaded with veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. It seemed odd to me that the people who were concerned about my diet were less concerned with the diets of pregnant women consuming fast foods, hormone-laden dairy products and artificial colors and dyes.
After an easy pregnancy and giving birth to a healthy baby boy, a whole new barrage of questions about raising a vegan child started coming my way. At first, the questions annoyed me, but then I realized I was in a unique position to educate parents about how easy it is to raise a vegan child.
Although I have less than three years of parenting under my belt, I thought I would answer some questions I am frequently asked to help other parents facing similar challenges.
Does your child drink milk?
Yes! My child drinks milk, but not cows’ milk. According to my pediatrician, children need milk until they are two years old. In my opinion, breastmilk is best. I breastfed my son until he was two years old. Our bodies create the perfect food for our babies; just like cows make the perfect food for their babies. There is no other animal on the planet that drinks the milk of another species. If you are unable to breastfeed, work with your doctor for the right solution. There are plenty of vegan options available.
When I stopped breastfeeding, I started making homemade hemp milk from water and organic hemp seeds. Hemp seeds are rich in protein, healthy fats and essential fatty acids. Hemp seeds also provide high amounts of calcium and iron. We mix the hemp milk in with our smoothies, oatmeal and cereal. We don’t drink hemp milk plain, but you certainly can.
To make hemp milk, mix water and hemp seeds in a blender – preferably a high-speed blender. The ratio I use is 1/2 cup of hemp seeds to a cup of water. You don’t even need to strain it. It’s that easy.
How do you know your child is getting the proper nutrition?
My husband and I had our son’s vitamin and mineral levels tested. After getting bombarded with so many questions about his vitamin levels, I grew concerned. We all want to do the best for our children, so to ensure he was getting enough of what he needed, I had bloodwork done at 12 months, 18 months and 24 months. I asked my doctor to do a complete vitamin and mineral panel to test his levels. These tests are not standard and are not always covered by health insurance.
All of his tests came back perfect. He is a picture of health from eating a plant-based diet. The only supplement my son is given is vitamin B12. If you are raising your child vegan, you will need to work with your doctor to find a B12 supplement.
What do you do at school and at birthday parties?
My son is still home with me, so we don’t have to deal with school quite yet. When we have babysitters, we simply educate them on what he can and cannot eat. We prepare all snacks and meals ahead of time. When we go to birthday parties, I bring a vegan cupcake for my son so he doesn’t miss out on treats. I also bring additional vegan snacks with me in case there are not any vegan food choices available. A lot of children have allergies and dietary restrictions, so I have not had any issues with parents being offended that I brought food to their parties.
What if your child wants to eat meat?
I am not at a stage in my parenting journey where this is a concern. My child is still completely dependent on me to choose his meals. However, when he is able to make his own choices, I don’t believe that he will choose to consume animal products. By introducing him to a compassionate lifestyle, we are providing all the tools and knowledge he needs to continue down a path of kindness. We have introduced compassion towards animals in a gentle way without introducing him to the horrors behind animal product industries. We have taken him to several farm animal sanctuaries to interact with animals. Even at two years old, he makes the connection that animals are friends and not food. One of his friends had mentioned eating chicken and my son thought it was a joke. The idea of eating a chicken was completely ludicrous to him.
What does your child eat?
As a vegan, you definitely don’t miss out on delicious food. We are always trying new things, but my son does have some favorites.
At breakfast, he eats a variety of foods, such as avocado toast, cashew butter toast, oatmeal, fruit, smoothies or smoothie bowls topped with granola and fresh fruits. For lunch he eats quinoa, beans, rice, veggies, or a lentil pasta-based meal. At snack time, he eats a lot of fruits, crackers with cashew cheese, hummus with veggies, peanut butter, or popcorn topped with coconut oil, salt and nutritional yeast. Like most families, our dinners vary, but we eat a lot of quinoa and veggies. My son has a few other favorites, such as sweet potato enchiladas, veggie burgers, avocado rolls, coconut milk curry soup, tacos and pasta. For special treats, we even eat junk food, such as pizza, ice cream, cookies, and macaroni and cheese. There are vegan versions for virtually every food imaginable.
As more people are transitioning to a compassionate, plant-based lifestyle, it’s becoming a lot easier to raise children vegan. Check out Robin Fetter’s article, Four Tips for Simplifying Vegan Parenting, for some great tips and resources.
About Beth Arnold
Beth Arnold is passionate about veganism and is raising her son to embrace a compassionate lifestyle. She lives in South Florida with her husband, son and three very old cats. Recently, Beth published a children’s book, Always Be Kind, which provides a gentle introduction to veganism for preschoolers and young children. Through fun rhymes and colorful images, children learn fun facts about different animal species and why we need to be kind. Click here to find Always Be Kind on Amazon.com.