I have been vegan for eight years and vegetarian for 34 years. My 11-year-old son has been vegetarian since birth. I didn’t require him to become vegan when I made the switch to veganism, but I did talk to him about why I was making the decision. When he was in kindergarten, he told me he wanted to become vegan, and he has never looked back. Here is how we do it.
- Make sure he/she is not left out. This is my number-one rule. I never want my son to feel deprived, so, I provide food that he enjoys for every gathering—family, school and community. I send vegan treats along to birthday parties at friends’ homes and vegan popcorn for movie day at school. When a physics professor visited and made liquid nitrogen ice cream, I sent delectable vegan ice cream for my son. This requires paying attention to school activity dates, and it is certainly extra work, but it is very important to me that my son doesn’t see being vegan as a sacrifice or drag.
- Make delicious food to share. My cookies and chocolate cake are very popular with some of my son’s friends. One, in particular, considers vegan food a delicacy and gets very excited when I serve it at school parties. Having his friends like what his mom brings helps my son feel cool and normal.
- Nourish your child appropriately. Like any vegan, she/he should take a B12 supplement. Emphasize whole foods and never assume that your child won’t like a fruit, vegetable or bean. Let him/her see you enjoying a wide variety of whole plant foods, and encourage her/him to do the same.
- Pack appealing lunches. At home I make almost exclusively whole-food meals. Since I pack a lunch for my son to take to school every single day, I need to keep those interesting. He has access to a microwave, so I send things like frozen spring rolls, frozen burritos, frozen sliders and frozen butternut squash ravioli. These are not necessarily the most healthful vegan options, but they are better than animal-based alternatives, and they keep him feeling good about taking his lunch, instead of eating the school lunches.
- Talk to teachers. At the beginning of every school year, I make a point to talk to my son’s teacher to let her/him know that my son is vegan, sometimes explaining what that means. I assure them that I will provide food for all parties and ask if he can keep snacks (usually a dozen individual packs of pretzels) in the classroom cabinet, so that he will have a snack for birthday parties that pop up throughout the year. One teacher asked me for books on veganism, and another asked me for recipes. Communicating with teachers is a great way to raise awareness while advocating for your child.
- Anticipate conflicts and approach them proactively. When I knew that Easter eggs would be colored at school, I purchased wooden eggs and provided special markers for my son to color the eggs. Other kids wished they had his eggs.
- Provide rationale . . . but don’t overwhelm. I want my son to understand why we are vegan, without getting depressed by the horrific details. This requires a balance of education and protection from pain, telling the truth, but not too much.
- Help to educate others. When my son was younger, he took Benji Bean Sprout Doesn’t Eat Meat or That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals to school to read to his class. It helped the other children understand more about our values.
- Celebrate vegan milestones. On his vegan anniversary, I give my son cards, telling him that I am proud of his ability to keep a commitment and live his values. He saves these and even posts them on his bulletin board in his room. I also make him a special dinner of his favorite foods.
- Foster the development of an identity. Early on after he became vegan in kindergarten, I bought matching pendants for the two of us. Recently, I purchased a vegan cycling jersey for myself. He wanted one, so I bought him one. I want him to feel proud of being vegan.
- Find a community. It can be tough to find other vegan kids, but my son has benefitted from attending vegan potlucks and other “adult” gatherings. He loves seeing other vegans and knowing that everything on the table is vegan.
- Pick your battles. We live in an imperfect world that has not really caught up to vegans yet. So, there will be challenges. We will become exhausted and frustrate our children if we try to fight everything at once. Your child will be exposed to things you wish he/she were not, and family and friends will take her/him places you wish they wouldn’t. Decide what is most important and stand firm about those things. Relax about the others.
Just as it is not difficult to be vegan, it is not difficult to raise a vegan child. It takes creativity and planning and a willingness to put in the extra work to make sure that he/she always has delicious food, but it is worth it to know that I am living my values and contributing to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion by nurturing another compassionate being to carry on the work. Best wishes in your journey as a vegan parent!