Sunday, September 11, 2011

How To Raise A Vegan Child

I find myself getting bombarded daily with really great questions from parents, friends, family members and even strangers about the ins and outs of how I manage to raise my three children on a strictly plant-based diet.  Although I certainly don't always have the answers, I sure have learned a lot along my road to veganism.  I wanted to share some of that with you in case you're wondering along with so many others.

Eating raw broccoli from the garden.

Raising vegan children can be a daunting, yet incredibly rewarding task.  Maybe you've made the decision to go all the way plant-based or are leaning into it. Or maybe you're just starting off with vegetarianism for now.  

So many parents I've met have said the same things to me:

 "I really want to feed my kids a more vegan diet, but don't know where to start."

"How will my child get enough protein, calcium, iron, Omega 3's or Vitamin B-12?"

"We're so used to consuming meat with most meal, what do I substitute in it's place?"

If you're one of them, keep reading!

Q.  "I really want to feed my kids a more vegan diet, but don't know where to start."

Start with baby steps.  

Becoming vegan doesn't just mean you eliminate all foods that come from animal sources, but you will find that you become generally more aware of what you're consuming and where it actually comes from.

Baby Step #1: 
Replace ALL refined carbohydrates with whole or unrefined grain products.  Why?  Refined carbs are processed and stripped of many of the nutrients they once had.  If you don't think you can stand to replace all at once, start with as many as you think you'll be able to maintain.  This includes breads, pastas, cereals and other grains.

-pasta:  You'll be surprised by how quickly you can become used to the flavor of whole wheat pasta!  It fills you up because it's full of healthy fiber.  Not sure?  Start with half whole wheat, half white pasta and slowly transition to all whole wheat over the course of a month.

Healthy whole-grain pasta

-flour/sugar:  There are so many great alternatives to your standard white all-purpose flour.  Try whole wheat flour (or mix 1/2 white flour with 1/2 whole wheat flour in your baking to start with), spelt flour (contains protein, minerals & vitamins!), kamut (great for baking!) or amaranth flour (gluten free!).

As for sugar, there are so many great options!  Don't ever buy another bag of that processed white sugar again-instead, look for date sugar (my very favorite-contains amazing minerals & vitamins plus fiber because it comes from dates!), brown rice syrup (be sure to adjust your dry ingredients if using for baking, comes from brown rice!), honey, stevia or pure maple syrup.

Baby Step #2:
Meat.  Or the lackthereof.  
Get used to the idea of not having to add meat to every meal-or even to every dinnertime meal.  Get used to the idea that many plant-based foods contain protein.  (Most Americans consume twice the amount of protein they actually need.)  If you're looking for a meat replacement, there are many great alternatives out there from "chicken nuggets" to burgers.  See more information below in regards to protein.

Baby Step #3:
Stop consuming dairy!  Not only does dairy not make sense (why the heck do humans drink milk that comes from cows!?) but it's actually doing damage to your body.  There are so many studies & articles proving that dairy actually causes osteoporosis (here's onehere's anotherhere's one more).  If you can eliminate dairy products from your and your children's diets, pat yourself on the back!

yogurt: Try soy yogurt (in my opinion it tastes just as yummy as the dairy version!), coconut milk yogurt, or if you're concerned about getting the beneficial probiotics into your body, you can find kombucha (a drink), miso (a fermented soy product), tempeh (also a fermented soy product), sauerkraut, non-dairy kefir (can be found here) or certain pickles (try this!).

milk: Almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk, coconut milk.  A favorite among my kids is vanilla flavored almond milk.  It's great over cereal or in a smoothie.  Try the chocolate versions too.  Did you know you can actually make nut milks at home?  Amazing!

Fruit smoothie using almond milk

ice cream: There are just as many ice cream alternatives as there are milk alternatives.  My favorite brand is So Delicious-they make an awesome chocolate peanut butter zig zag that will have you fooled into thinking your eating a dairy-filled product!  The best part is that they are cholesterol free-just remember, they do still contain fat.

coffee creamer: If you're used to your morning cups-o-joe with a nice creamy, flavored creamer, don't worry-you can still have it!  There are a few alternatives out there.  One great product is MimicCreme.  Another one to try is Silk, which comes in a few different flavors.

Q.  "How will my child get enough protein, calcium, iron, Omega 3's or Vitamin B-12?"

Overconsumption of protein is rampid in America.  Protein can be found in many non-animal sources such as beans, cereals, fortified soy milk,    (Vegetarians can find their protein from yogurt and eggs.)
These healthy treats are loaded with protein! (recipe)

The dairy industry seems to be brainwashing the mainstream with it's "Got Milk" ads.  Milk protein from animals actually has been proven to cause osteoporosis!  But that's a whole other topic.

It's easy to consume enough calcium from plant-based foods such as broccoli, bok choy, kale (a favorite in my house-ever made kale chips? Try this recipe. So tasty!) and collard greens.

Other sources of calcium include tofu, almonds (try almond milk over cereal!), sesame seeds, sea vegetables (like nori-such a yummy snack or use it to make veggie sushi rolls) and bok choy to name a few.
By the way, many folks assume you drink milk for Vitamin D as well, right?  Instead, you can obtain Vitamin D from sunshine, fortified soy or rice beverages and fortified breakfast cereals!

There's iron hiding in these cookies!  (recipe)

Good sources of iron are soybeans, blackstrap molasses (try these cookies!), lentils, cooked spinach, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, swiss chard, chia seeds, oatmeal, wheat germ and many others.  Occasionally, however, supplements are needed in young children.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
It is possible to consume your Omega 3's without consuming fish oil!  Walnuts, flax seeds, hemp products (try hemp seeds or hemp milk), pumpkin seeds and canola oil contain the beneficial amounts you'll need.  Tip:  I find it easy to add flax and hemp seeds over breakfast cereals or into my baking and no one is the wiser.  You can also take fish-free supplements containing algae.

Vitamin B-12:
Vitamin B12 is found in eggs and milk products, but vegans can find B12 in fortified cereals, dairy-free milks such as rice, soy or almond milks, or nutritional yeast (if you haven't heard of this yet, it adds a cheesy flavor to whatever you make-try it over popcorn, use it to make vegan mac n cheese or add it to pizzas-here's a great pasta recipe!)

Q.  "We're so used to consuming meat with most meal, what do I substitute in it's place?"

You've most likely heard of "meatless Mondays"?  Well, I think we can do better than that!  (Check out this article.)
Whole wheat pasta is a great alternative to meat.  And if your family is used to meatballs with it's spaghetti, try this easy and delicious meatless meatball recipe.
There are so many fabulous meat alternatives.  True, they are processed and it's best to eat more whole foods than processed, but if you're transitioning your family or child away from meat, this is a great way to go!

Vegan pizza with meatless meatballs (recipe)

The ADA (American Dietetic Association) says "well-planned vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers".  Of course, the same would go for adults and teens too!

The great thing about all this is is the awareness you're bringing to yourself and your family.  Generally, vegan children are healthier than their meat eating peers.  They are leaner, eat more vitamins and minerals, and eat from more of a variety of foods.  Thanks to their health-concious parents, vegan (and vegetarian) kids are much more aware of their own food choices and where foods come from. 

Don't forget to SUBSCRIBE to Veggie Kids!  
look for this on the right side of the VK home page

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  1. This is a great post!!! I am just catching up on reading blogs so I have lots to read!! LOL I love your new header...did you make that yourself?? AMAZING!!!

  2. Saw this from a friend who posted it, thank you so much! We are in transition from mostly vegetarian to vegan and some days it seems daunting. I really appreciate the info, links, your enthusiasm, and the wisdom you share from your experiences!

  3. Jenn, so glad your family is transitioning to a more plant-based lifestyle! It is most definitely a challenge but it also gets easier as time goes on and you figure all the food stuff out. Thanks so much for reading!

    Samantha, thanks-yes, the header is a project the kids and I did...a bit wrinkly but it works for now..haha!

  4. Great post, Sarah. And I love the new header.

  5. Thank you, Gin! And I'm sure all of the above applies to dogs as well...nothing wrong with a vegan/vegetarian doggy!!

  6. Oh, I don't know. Oscar really likes squirrels. Don't know if I can wean him. ;)

  7. i love Vegan pizza with meatless meatballs it's healthe :)
    fertility center

  8. I love your blog! I am following you now. Check mine out when you can :) I am pregnant now so I am trying to get all the info I can now on vegan kids.

  9. IVF-Cancun, yes, the pizza is super decadent and seems naughty but it's healhty!

    Carissa, thanks for following me! Congratulations on the baby-I hope you're feeling well. What part of Hawaii are you in? I just went there for my first time over the summer and fell in love...ahhh. Love that you have green juices/smoothies every morning too!! So great for that growing baby!

  10. Vegan diet is the best diet for kids. It helps them keep healthy and grow faster.