Raising vegan kids can bring such joy as well as a few challenges. The good news these kids tend to grow up with such a deep and beautiful awareness of the environment, their health and compassion for all animals.
Although vegan living is becoming more and more popular, it's still not completely mainstream and this can present a few challenges to navigate.
Mum of two vegan kids Bianca from A Good Scout, recently sat down with two other vegan mums to ask their top tips for bring up vegan kids. So let's see what Corinne Nijjer, Nutrition & Wellness Counsellor & Ash Nayate, Neuropsychologist & Writer had to say.
1. Educate them! Provide them with continuous age appropriate information about why we eat the foods we eat in relation to the impact these foods have on our bodies, on the lives of animals and on their environmental impact on our planet.
2. Make it FUN! My kids love Superheroes so I regularly link veganism back to being a real life superhero for the animals and the planet, whilst also making the connection that superheroes are strong because they eat delicious whole plant foods like the Gorillas & the Rhinos. ;-)
3. Get them INVOLVED! Get your children involved in picking new recipes to try, helping to chop and prepare food to whatever extent they're able to help out in the kitchen. Start planting a small veggie patch and getting them involved in watering and harvesting the seeds and delicious fruits and vegetables produced in your garden. It doesn't have to be anything more than a little tray of alfalfa sprouts or a pot of cherry tomatoes, but they'll love watching them grow and tasting the fresh flavours when they're ripe. I've found this has been such a wonderful thing to help during those times when kids can be particularly fussy. When they are given some choice about what they're eating and have helped to make it or grow it, they're much more excited to try it out.
4. Keep them HEALTHY! Introduce kids to a low fat, whole food, plant-based diet as this is the diet that has been proven over and over again to result in the highest level of disease prevention and reversal and to the longest and healthiest ageing populations throughout the World across all of history.
5. Keep it REAL. Don't make food such a big deal. We are obsessed with food in this culture and the cost of this obsession is literally killing us. 70% of our population are currently overweight or obese, resulting in a host of debilitating chronic diseases that drastically impact our quality of life and decrease our overall life expectancy. Make food about providing the best source of nutrition to their bodies and less about rewards. Of course you can go online and find delicious plant-based recipes to share with your kids that they will love, but don't make food the entire focus of their lives. Things like love, joy, being in nature, play, etc... should be the focus of our lives and food merely the fuel we give our bodies so they can perform at their best whilst we pursue the things we love.
1. Teach Vegan Values. In teaching vegan values, like fairness, equality, and justice, it’s important to explain them in ways that our children can understand. It often helps to use examples from their own life, to which they can more easily relate. For example, a child who is breastfeeding has first-hand experience of a mother producing milk for her children, and can more easily understand why cow/goat milk is made by mother cows and goats, to feed their babies.
2. Invite Questions. Children are naturally curious, and our own behaviour can come under intense scrutiny. Especially for transitioning families, expect an array of questions about your decisions. Sometimes our kids’ questions can be uncomfortable, especially when they shine a spotlight on areas that need improvement. Perhaps we emphasize the health benefits of veganism, but we engage in unhealthy habits like smoking cigarettes. Perhaps we’re passionate about sustainability, but are continuing to produce huge amounts of plastic waste. Keeping open lines of communication helps our children develop critical thinking skills, improves their understanding of vegan values, and highlights areas of improvement for the family unit.
3. Focus on ending speciesism, alongside other -isms, such as ending racism, sexism, classism, and ableism. Inclusivity is an important component to vegan living, as a common objection of non-vegans is “but why don’t you help humans first?”. By encouraging young vegans to care about all forms of oppression, we break down the misconception that empathy and compassion are finite. Instead, we show the world that it’s possible to care about humans and animals together.
4. Create healthy emotional patterns. Sometimes, our children may express feelings and thoughts that we find uncomfortable, or perhaps trigger unpleasant memories from our past. For example, our child may tell us she ate non-vegan food, either accidentally or intentionally. Common responses from parents might include: condemning our child for her behaviour, minimizing her experience (ie. Just get over it), or becoming enraged or over protective and seeking vengeance against the person who misled our child. Our reaction to our children’s errors is a powerful demonstration of our emotional intelligence (or lack thereof). As parents and role models, the way we handle our children’s mistakes becomes a template for how they will handle their own and other people’s mistakes. If we condemn and punish their mistakes, our children learn to avoid trying unless their completely certain of success, or to hide errors from being discovered. Healthier ways of dealing with mistakes are to acknowledge and admit the error, work through feelings of anger, guilt, and sadness, address the underlying unmet need that led to the behaviour in the first place (eg wanting to fit in), and problem-solving ways to meet the need in healthier ways so that the same mistake doesn’t happen again.
5. Understanding rebellion. A common concern (and criticism) of vegan parents is that children who are raised vegan will inevitably rebel. First, it’s important to note that “rebellion” is a healthy part of a young person’s development, and is crucial in forming an identity separate to their parents. Second, rebellion is rarely total or indiscriminate. Children tend to rebel against authoritarian rules; those that are enforced without explanation or rationale. When raising vegan children, it’s crucial to teach them the ethics behind the vegan lifestyle. The philosophy of veganism is steeped in logic and fairness - two things that children can naturally appreciate.
Ash Nayate is a neuropsychologist, activist, writer, speaker, mum, and ten-year vegan. She is passionate about animal liberation and children’s rights, and she promotes positive mental health habits particularly amongst animal activists, young people, and families. Ash currently works in private practice as well as major hospitals around Melbourne, and she is the author of “Staying Positive in a F*cked Up World”. www.ashnayate.com, Facebook, Instagram
Corinne Nijjer is a Nutrition and Wellness Counsellor, author, speaker and host of the When Life Gives You Lemons, Go Vegan podcast.where she shares peoples incredible stories of recovery after adopting a low fat, whole food, plant-based diet. You can find the podcast and more from Corinne at her website www.corinnenijjer.com/ and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube