Many people believe that restricting animal protein from a child's diet is dangerous. Meanwhile, there has been a dramatic rise in chronic disease in children because of the increase in childhood obesity.
According to a report released in August by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there is a pressing need for children to achieve healthy eating habits early in life, and there are major nutrition concerns about the excessive intake of dietary fats, saturated fats, sugar and sodium in a child's diet.
Your child's eating habits are established between birth and adolescence so essentially you are teaching your children what to crave for the rest of their life.
Feeding your child a well-balanced diet of lots of fruits, grains, vegetables and legumes gives them a greater chance of optimal health throughout their life.
The truth is, meat is not healthy.
The average meat eater in the United States is significantly overweight and red meat is linked to numerous chronic diseases.
As one gets more plant-based, the average weight drops. As a matter of fact, the only dietary group that is at the ideal average weight are those eating strictly plant-based. In adulthood that difference can be more than 30 pounds between vegans and meat eaters.
Many families point out the costs of a plant-based diet, but truthfully buying grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in bulk is much less expensive than meat.
You can also buy in season fruits and vegetables to help keep produce costs down.
I understand it is a learning curve and maybe you're not ready to completely embrace a plant-based life for your family, but every plant-based meal you serve will enable your children to live a longer and healthier life. What more could you ask for?
People often ask me about bringing up vegan children, but I don't have any first-hand knowledge to share. That is why I reached out to Ordinary Vegan community member, Suzanne M.
In this interview, Suzanne addresses some of the major challenges and non-challenges in bringing up a vegan family. If you are raising a vegan or vegetarian family, please comment below. We would love to hear your story.
Thanks so much Suzanne for sharing your experience with us and your family's favorite vegan breakfast recipe: baked oatmeal with fruit and nuts. It was very yummy and a perfect healthy, plant-based start to a child's morning.
To make sure you don't miss a plant-based recipe, sign up here for all of Ordinary Vegan's free recipes.
Here is the interview with Suzanne and photo of two happy, healthy vegan babies.
Bringing Up a Vegan Family With Suzanne M
Why did your family go vegan?
Well, this was kind of a long time coming… My kids (daughter 6 and son 12) started to score on the higher percentiles for weight and the response from my pediatrician was always the same… They are not ‘overweight' now, but they are on the path. My daughter is in cheer/tumbling and my son is a very active baseball player (on two competitive teams at once). The ped mentioned a few times about limiting access to animal milk. I started to look into animal milk and children and a quick google search gave me a lot of information on school milk and the added processed sugar. Plus, both my husband and I started to notice trends with our health that we wanted to manage quickly. After talking with a few friends, one recommended that I watch FORKS OVER KNIVES and our journey had an official ‘START'. I watched the docu on a Monday night, alone. Tuesday, when my family came home from work/school, Netflix was cued up and we all watched it, together, during dinner. By the end of dinner, the 12 year old (my son) said to be “So, we're doing this, right?”. I was actually very surprised to see that different parts of the docu struck everyone in the family a little differently, but we were all on board.
How long have you been vegan?
Next week will be 5 wonderful months.
What was the children's response?
My daughter (6) doesn't fully comprehend the reasoning behind our transition to plant-based. She is the only one that has given me any push back. My son is an intelligent young man and recognized the impact his diet had on his body and the planet. He is the most aware of us all, about his footprint on the planet and how the mass production of meat is affecting our planet. Their only collective requests are “arugula sucks, don’t buy it anymore” and my son has started a list of stuff he doesn’t want to be forced to eat J The list stands at mushrooms and red bell peppers for now. Madison is glad to show off her mushroom eating skills and will try to steal them from his plate to earn brownie points.
What was the hardest part of becoming vegan?
Truthfully, it has been the reactions of others. I have cooked the same meals for 20+ years. Having a goal of 100% whole foods/plant based, has given me new inspiration to cook with pleasure again. Thank you Pinterest! The reaction from family and friends who know has been the most surprising part of our transition. Everyone starts with ‘WHAT DO YOU EAT?' (which my husband laughs off easier than I do—- we eat freshly mowed grass, what do you think we eat?).
But, comments like “We were going to have a BBQ, but you can't eat anything, so we are just going to have drinks” or “Can I stop on the way over and buy the kids some ‘real food'?' (which was KENTUCKY FRIED FRICKING CHICKEN, which we didn't even eat before going vegan), but I think my favorites are the questions that start with ‘Are you allowed to eat…” or “will Suzanne let you have”… as if it's a punishment being implemented by food police. My son had a good amount of teasing from his pre-teen friends when he told them also… most of it was directed towards using food to treat sickness or disease. One friend announced that my sons’ family was ‘So stupid, they think they can prevent chronic disease with food.” Some people are almost offended at the discovery that we don't eat the same foods they eat or look at food choices solely based on how much pleasure it will give us “But it’s SOOOOOOOOOOO good, have some!’. As if somehow our decision was based on a disapproval of their lifestyle. The food has been easy… the social aspect, not so much.
What was the easiest part of becoming vegan?
COOKING TIME AND CLEANING! Oh my gosh, if someone had told me that I could prepare a meal in under 10 minutes every night, I would have become vegan years ago! I have most of my prep work done (always did) in advance. I have Tupperware filled with different pastas, rice, potatoes already cooked. I can pick a starch for that night's recipe and have a plated meal in under 15 minutes! I don't have to defrost meat, marinate and wait for it to become ‘SAFE' to eat. And the dishes… there's no baked on crud that requires hours or soaking. I HATE doing dishes… but… now it's all natural and organic material which is a breeze to clean up. Dishes aren't the worst chore in the house anymore. Including healthy desserts into our regular diet again was pretty awesome as well J No low-carb, low fat, high protein focus lets me balance our meals much easier.
What is a typical family dinner, lunch and breakfast for your family?
Breakfast is either fresh fruit with oatmeal or cereal. We love baked oatmeal and I try to make it the night before for a quick and easy morning. Lunch is usually last night's dinner 🙂 and dinners are all over the place. I found it really easy to stick to a ‘nationality' … so Mondays we do Italian, Tuesdays Mexican, Wed Greek, Thurs Thai and so on. I have to get most creative reinventing American classic dishes. Most other nationalities seem to have already evolved into a diet that already includes meatless meals, I found that odd at first too. My daughter has NO IDEA that many times she is eating a meat substitute. I try not to overly explain if not asked. She recognizes an all veggie dinner, it’s those rare nights that I buy a meat substitute that she is none the wiser. She loved her Chickn nuggets the other night J
Is it difficult for you to eat out as a family?
YES. We are lucky enough to have a great vegan restaurant about 20 minutes from here (Ethos – they serve American style comfort food) and a pizza restaurant (Mellow Mushroom) that will make any of their specialty pizzas vegan. Other than those two restaurants, most vegan offerings are limited to a garden salad or a collection of side dishes. Going to a traditional restaurant now is the only time that I really feel our new diet is hard to maintain. We eat at home a lot now, and that's not a bad thing.
Is it difficult for them to make plant-based choices at school?
Yes. Peer Pressure. My daughter is in first grade. She does NOT want to bring her lunch. We have met in the middle and she now skips the milk and chooses water and doubles up on her veggies and fruit. Her school has been very accommodating in that respect. She can choose to skip the meat and is not given any pushback. My son’s middle school has a salad bar. He eats from the salad bar a few times a week and tries to pick the other days based on what is being served. We decided this weekend that we are going to start using a very manly thermos J and taking left overs, when he chooses.
How do you teach your children about eating at friend's homes?
We don't stress this as much as we might in the future. We have had so many negative reactions from family that they are very anxious about telling anyone else. As parents, we try and talk to the other parents. We don't want the children to be excluded because the parents don't know ‘what they eat'. We also try to avoid any discussion while at the actual dinner table with friends and family. The mood quickly changes into a Q&A session and the kids get uncomfortable about having to explain themselves. We smile, pass the brisket and load up on veggies 🙂
What was your family and friends response?
Mostly teasing and condescension. We have received some very passive aggressive commentary, mixed with some very aggressive-aggressive commentary. Everyone is now very concerned about our kids not getting enough calcium or protein. Decades (if not more) of education has told everyone that meat and dairy are necessary to a healthy body. Questioning this sales pitch from our government has proven more controversial than I ever thought.
Do you talk to your children about the health benefits of a vegan diet?
Yes. My husband (who is a very fit athlete) was told by his doctor that his cholesterol was finally over the acceptable limit and wanted to put him on meds… this has been corrected by diet. I also suffered from Poly Cystic Ovarian syndrome and hypothyroidism for years. I went to my gyno last week and there were ZERO cysts for the first time since I was 18. (my last ultra sound – the tech stopped counting the cysts when she got to 100). I go back for another round of blood work next week to verify my last results were accurate on the thyroid issue. I haven't taken my thyroid pills in 3 months now. 🙂 The kids see this. They see that Daddy is now down to a very muscular 170 pounds and is faster on the baseball field than ever. I am down to a size 10, and reaching for 8s any day now. We get up easier in the mornings, we are more energetic and overall happier to be around. The kids see more than we could ever tell them.
Do you discuss the cruelty of factory farming?
Not with the 6 year old too much. We talk about all living beings have feelings and that animal mommies get just as sad as human mommies when their babies are hurt or taken from them. The 12 year old is very interested in documentaries and reading about commercialized farms. We have had some great discussion about how the industry has changed in the last 25-50 years, trying to keep up with the bigger/cheaper American demand.
Do you discuss the impact of factory farming on the environment?
Yes. inclusive with the above discussion, we talk about the amount of water it takes to raise cattle and the grain it takes away from other countries because the demand for feed brings in more money to the international farmer than the locals can pay. Without being overly graphic, we do talk about how other countries suffer to meet the ever growing demand of this Country and our obsession with resource consuming animal products.
Baked Oatmeal with Raspberries
- 3 cups quick cooking oats
- 3 cups non-dairy milk (or half water/half milk)
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 cups of fruit
- ¼ cup nuts, any type
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the above. Pour into a casserole dish and cover with aluminum foil. Cook for 18 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until all the liquid is visibly gone and the edges start to brown.
- Let cool 5 minutes. Serve with a splash of plant milk. Garnish with a drizzle of maple syrup.