My Top 5 Tips for Plant-Based Nourishment

This post is the fourth in a series of “Top 5” posts, in which I share my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. If you missed the others, you can catch my energy tips here,  my mindset tips here and my well-being tips here.

As I have mentioned in some of my other posts, one of the most basic ways I take care of myself is through plant-based nourishment, wich contributes significantly to my energy, mindset and well-being. Here is a very brief overview of the many health benefits of plant-based nutrition.

I hear a lot of questions, concerns and objections to eating plants exclusively. I won’t address all of those here, but I hope these tips will help you understand that it is easy to eat nourishing, delicious plant-based food.

  1. Keep it simple. Use this simple formula for preparing plant-based meals that are tasty and nourishing: Beans + Greens + Grains. You can choose from any number of combinations of these three types of foods to create quick meals that satisfy. One of my favorite examples is black bean burritos. Rinse and drain some black beans (or any bean really). Combine them with spinach and frozen corn in a saucepan. Sprinkle some cilantro and any other seasoning you like into the mixture. Serve as a burrito, on whole-grain tortillas, or as a bowl. It is quick, delicious and full of nutrients.
  2. Find a go-to resource or two for recipes and meal-planning. Two of my favorite are The Engine 2 Diet, which contains a meal-planning matrix for every day of the week, and lighter.world, which allows you to set up a profile of preferences and will then give you three recipe choices each for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week. Whether or not you follow these resources precisely, they are great guides for getting started, as well as for ongoing inspiration. A good plant-based-eating resource (There are countless others. These are just two that I use regularly.) will help you avoid ruts and keep you motivated to stick with your commitment to healthful, compassionate eating.
  3. Be prepared. It is easier than ever to eat a plant-based diet in the mainstream world. However, it still requires some planning and flexibility to do it well. I just finished my 21st trip across Kansas on a bicycle (www.bak.org). Over the years, I have had more and more options to eat, largely because the Board of Directors (of which I am a part) does a terrific job of communicating with the host cities to raise awareness that there will be people with a range of dietary needs and to suggest to them what they can serve vegans and vegetarians in their fundraiser meals. Still, on BAK and in my everyday life, I carry back-up snacks. I don’t function well wen I get hungry, so I make sure I have something to eat if a catered function or restaurant dinner is disappointing or inadequate. Fruit, nuts, nut butter packets and bars (like Macro Bar or ProBar, among many possibilities) are easy to carry and will hold up in a bag or purse. If you are going to be traveling, use an app, like Happy Cow, to find restaurants that are friendly to plant-based eaters.
  4. Ask questions. Just as you need to read labels to make sure there are not sneaky animal-based products in food that you purchase, it is important to ask questions in restaurants or at catered functions and potlucks. It can be done in a friendly, courteous way, such as, “Do your rice and beans contain any animal products, like lard or animal broth?” If you are committed to taking excellent care of your body and/or to living your ethics through plant-based nourishment, it is important to take the initiative to find out if a certain food will meet your needs or not. Your health and ethics are too important to acquiesce to the mainstream, out of fear of offending someone.
  5. Be adventurous. There was a time when I was frequently asked, “So, all you eat is salad?” That was never the case (although a good salad is wonderful), but it is definitely not true now, when there is so much more awareness of, and interest in, plant-based eating. As long as it is made from plants and serves your nutritional needs (minimal added oil, sugar, salt, processed items), be open to trying new food. Just this past weekend, in Holton, KS, a sweet, grandma-looking woman told me that she had “researched diligently” to learn how to make vegan breakfast burritos with tofu, potatoes, onions and a delicious combination of spices. She was adventurous and willing to try a new way of cooking. Those of us eating plant-based should be open to trying new things. Pick a vegetable you have not tried and Google a recipe or preparation instructions. Try tofu and tempeh, if you have not. Experiment with different plant milks (almond, flax, coconut, rice, soy, oat, cashew—endless possibilities!).

There are so many delicious ways to nourish yourself with plants. Commit to the lifestyle, own it proudly and take responsibility for making it work for yourself. Let me know how I can help. Although my primary motivation for being vegan is ethics, health is close behind. I am grateful for my good health and am convinced that the way I eat is a major contributing factor. I would love to assist you in your journey toward living with no regrets. Connect with me at sheri@justwindcoach.com. You can also click this link to schedule a complimentary coaching call. To connect with others who are interested in living as well as possible, become part of our JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1958072857557272/.

My Top 5 Tips for Creating True Well-Being

This post is the third in a series of “Top 5” posts, in which I share my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. If you missed the first two, you can catch my energy tips here and my mindset tips here.

What does “well-being” mean to you? For me, “well-being” means excellent physical and mental health, accompanied by a deep sense of inner peace and confidence that comes from living my purpose. It may mean something different to you, but my guess is that it encompasses some of the same elements.

Much like mindset, I find that well-being requires constant attention and maintenance. It is not a destination that I reach and remain, without additional effort. However, these are some of the habits and practices that I have found to be crucial components of my well-being:

Outdoor Vegetable Market
  1. Live a vegan lifestyle. Not only is eating plants the most health-promoting way of nourishing my body, but it also allows me to live my most important value—compassion. Living my values is part of well-being for me. Doing so promotes inner peace. I believe that all of us—human and non-human—are the subjects of our own lives. While we enhance our lives by choosing to serve others in a variety of ways, no one—human or non-human—is on this planet to be used by others. By eating plants, my conscience is free, and I feel good about what I am putting into my body. Not long ago, someone asked me if I would get sick if I ate meat. I answered that I might, since my body is accustomed to plants. I have been vegetarian since 1982 and vegan since 2008. But, even more than potential physical effects, I told her it would be very emotionally upsetting. Even the thought makes me feel queasy. Compassion is such an important value to me that violating it would seriously compromise my well-being. Cultivating well-being in our lives requires an honest examination of our conscience, as well as asking ourselves what choices truly support health and inner peace.
  2. Move my body daily. Physical activity plays a dual role in my life, too. Besides keeping me physically healthy, movement is one of the most important factors in my well-being. It makes an unbelievable difference in my mental health. Research has shown exercise to be at least as effective as pharmaceutical anti-depressants, in many situations. It is my biggest stress reliever. Finding a type of exercise that you enjoy is most important. It is valuable to incorporate a variety of types of exercise, including cardiorespiratory exercise, resistance training and flexibility work. It doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Finding something that you will do on a regular basis is more important than constructing a perfect training plan. (If you want more precision, hire a coach with experience in physical training or a personal trainer.) It is better to do something than to have a perfect plan that you don’t execute. A friend recently posted this quote on her Facebook page: “Cycling isn’t a hobby for me. It’s my inner peace.” I absolutely relate.
  3. Practice mindfulness and meditation. Consistently implementing a morning mindfulness practice that includes meditation has made a tremendous difference in my well-being. I have felt, and been, healthier in the past year than I probably ever have. My resistance to colds has been strong. While everything I mention in this post plays into my physical health, I think committing to my mindfulness practice has ratcheted it up another notch. Part of that is probably due to (presumably, based on how I feel emotionally) lower levels of stress hormones circulating in my body. High levels of stress hormones are associated with inflammation, which contributes in a wide array of health problems. Reducing inflammation by decreasing dietary stress on the body (See item #1.) and through increasing inner peace through mindfulness and meditation truly can keep us healthier.
  4. Honor my passions. Some people think that honoring our passions as adults is selfish. I disagree. I think our passions are critical aspects of who we are and are key avenues through which we grow and develop. If there is something that excites you, take time to learn about it and engage in it. Passions come in a lot of different forms. Mine include cycling, reading, writing and contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world through building my coaching business and living a vegan lifestyle. I grow through all these activities. Ignoring them would leave a void in my life. I believe that they excite me for a reason, and I have both the privilege of, and responsibility for, honoring them. I am a better person when I do. Your passions—those things that truly excite and ignite you, those things that won’t leave you alone—are also there for a reason. Honor them to become more of who you are meant to be and enhance your well-being.
  5. Engage in regular introspection. I am an introvert, which simply means that I energize by spending time and space alone. It is exhausting to be around people constantly, without some time alone. Introspection is one of the treats of my time alone. When my son was young, one of the most difficult aspects of parenting for me was feeling like I could never be alone in my head because of constant noise and company. My bike rides were my salvation (and they still are, even though life is different now). They were the only way I could get a little time on my own to be in my head. Whether or not you are an introvert, there is value in introspection. It is how we figure out who we are, what we think, what we believe, what is most important to us. Journaling is a great way to be introspective, and I do it at least nightly, but my time on my bike, where I can think freely is another terrific opportunity to be introspective. I love to think about a question as I ride. It could be anything that helps me understand more about what matters to me. For example, “What is clearly no longer serving me?” was a recent question I pondered on the bike. This helped me make some important decisions. Experiment with the best ways for you to ask yourself key questions and spend time examining them. It will be good for your well-being.

While your definition of “well-being” may be different than mine, I encourage you to try my tips and see how you feel. My guess is that you will feel better, even if you just incorporate one of my tips into your life. If you choose to include them all, I expect that you will feel exponentially better. These tips are not miracles or cure-alls. I do not live in a perfect state of well-being. However, my state of well-being is much more consistent and persistent than it was prior to prioritizing these things in my life.

Bicycle Shadow on the Road

I would love to help you improve your well-being. Contact me at sheri@justwindcoach.com or 316-259-9728, if you would like a complimentary coaching call. You can also click this link to schedule an appointment. To connect with others who are interested in living as well as possible, become part of our JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1958072857557272/.

“But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that.”

“But I was only in my late 70s when I did that.” When I heard those words, I knew this chance encounter was even more special than I had initially realized.

I wanted to write this post the minute I got off my bike on Sunday, because I was so pumped about meeting Dale, but life has been very full, so it had to wait a couple days.

I look forward to my longer weekend rides all week. Work and family obligations encroached on my time this past weekend, and I anticipated Sunday morning’s ride feeling frustrated that I would not be able to ride as far as I would like. However, I was determined to make the ride a positive experience and celebrate the miles I would get.

Empowered movement combines mindset and movement. Before I get on the bike (or practice yoga, do strength training, go for a walk, etc.), I choose a quote on which to reflect and set an intention for the ride. On this ride I decided that I would reflect on my quote and repeat some mantras and affirmations each time I turned a different direction.

One of the advantages of riding on quiet, rural roads is that I can talk out loud most of the time. Each time I turned a corner, I spoke my quote, some related affirmations and other words that came to my mind. It was all very stream-of-consciousness. I felt more inspired and energized each time I voiced my empowering words.

I was excited by the time I stopped for a bathroom break 23 miles into my ride. As I came out of the bathroom on a rail trail just off the road where I was riding, an older man rode up and propped his bike against a park bench. We greeted each other, and then he said, “I see you all the time on 21st Street. We are usually going opposite directions, and I say to myself, ‘There is the lady on the white Fuji, and she goes WOOSH!’” He introduced himself as Dale, and we shook hands.

We talked about how lucky we are to have great areas to ride and about various organized rides we have done. He said he had seen me riding with my son on the Wicked Wind this year, a ride in May, where it was pouring rain. We commiserated about how cold we got on the Wicked Wind. He told me about riding the Katy Trail and how well-supported that ride was. We were just two cyclists, enthusiastically sharing stories and our mutual love for cycling.

I asked Dale if he had ever done Biking Across Kansas, which I ride every year. This is when the conversation took an amazing turn.

Dale said, “No, I have never done BAK, but my brother and I rode across Kansas in four days. (BAK is an 8-day ride, often with multiple days in the 70-90-mile range.) But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that. I’ll be 90 in two days.”

Holy smokes!!!!!

Dale told me that he started riding at age 71, when he purchased a $10.00 bike at a garage sale. He said, “I went for a ride and thought, ‘This is fun!’”  He bought many bikes after that, including some very nice ones, but said he had trimmed his bike stable from seven to two, just in the last few weeks.

“Until I was 85, I rode 7,000-7,500 miles a year,” he told me. (I ride 4,000-4,500 miles a year, and that is quite a bit.) “Now, I only ride 3,000-3,500.” Still, not too shabby for a nonagenarian!

“The Lord’s been good to me,” he said. “I don’t take any medicine, and that’s pretty good for my age.”

No kidding!

Then, he said, “I’m kind of a health nut, too. My wife and I have been vegetarian since 1951.” I said, “That’s awesome! I’m vegan.” “To be honest,” he said, “we eat vegan all the time, except when a relative is trying to be nice and makes us mac & cheese because they know we don’t eat meat. When that happens, we’ll eat it. But, otherwise, we eat vegan.”

We talked for several more minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. Despite our age difference, we clearly understood each other.

Finally, we parted ways because we were heading different directions. I was excited and energized as I got back on my bike, really uplifted by our conversation.

Then, it hit me. Dale was a gift from the Universe, helping to affirm that I am doing the right work with my coaching practice, including my free Facebook group. My mission is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Some of the key pillars of what I teach (and practice in my own life) are mindfulness, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement. Dale is the embodiment of living and aging with power and purpose.

And, seriously, what are the odds of running into a nearly-90-year-old, nearly-vegan cyclist on this particular ride, where I was putting so much energy into manifesting the conditions I want to create in my life . .  . in KANSAS?! He had apparently noticed me for years, but we had never talked until that day.

One of my mantras on that ride and since was, “I am grateful that I am attracting exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, for exactly the right reasons.”

As I pedaled north, I knew, really knew, that Dale was one of my people—a true gift from the Universe to encourage me to continue working toward my goals.

I am grateful for Dale and look forward to seeing him again. Meeting him was amazing! My only regret is that I didn’t think to ask him if we could take a selfie together. I have a great, warm picture of him in my mind, though. What a gift!

Intention

Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines “intention” as “a determination to act in a certain way” and “what one intends to do or bring about,” among other usages.

Bringing intention to just about anything can enhance both the experience in the moment and the effectiveness and level of satisfaction induced by the activity. Several synchronistic encounters have generated a resurgence of interest in practicing intention in my everyday life. Here are a few of the ways I am doing that.

Sleeping: Right before I go to sleep, as part of my nightly journaling practice, I set an intention to answer a question or solve a problem. I write it in my journal and ask my inner guidance to help me find the answer or solution. This sometimes leads to vivid dreams that steer me to a resolution. Other times, I awake with greater clarity or peace around the issue. Either way, I find that it is crucial to take a moment immediately upon awakening to record and process the guidance in my journal. Doing so contributes to deeper understanding and an increased chance of remembering and implementing what I learned in my sleep.

Eating: Adding intention around eating can be life changing. For me, intentional eating manifests in many ways. First and foremost, I eat plants, not sentient beings. My primary intention behind doing so is to add to the compassion, as opposed to the suffering, that exists in the world. A bonus is that the most compassionate way of eating is also most life-enhancing for my own body. By eating whole plant foods, I am intentionally doing what is best for raising the level of compassion in the world and for optimizing my own wellness. Beyond this most critical intention, I have committed to checking in with my emotions before I eat, to consciously and thoroughly chewing my food and to putting my fork down between bites. It is amazing how this can transform eating from a function to a practice. It can be challenging to accomplish this in the midst of a hectic day, with lunch squeezed tightly between appointments, but I make every effort to maintain my intentional practices around eating even then. I find that it helps my body to be in a calmer, more peaceful state to accept the nourishment that I give it.

Exercise: Physical activity, in itself, is wonderful for our bodies, minds and spirits. Engaging in regular physical activity has been one of the most transformative habits of my life. I have been a consistent exerciser since I was 23. My focus has shifted from gym to running to cycling over the years. While each has played an important role in who I have become, cycling is an absolute passion. I find the mood-enhancing and spirit-boosting effects of physical activity are elevated when I add another layer of intentionality to my exercise. I am committed to exercise because I know that moving my body in challenging ways makes me far, far happier and healthier than not doing so. I can get even more out of the movement when I meditate on a resonant quote and/or repeat affirmations to myself. On a recent bike ride, the quote that formed the basis for my intentional mediation was this one by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

This is a poignant reminder for me as I work toward some challenging goals. I also include on my rides affirmations designed to reprogram long-held beliefs that are not serving me. I find the combination of powerful physical activity that I love (cycling for me, but it might be something else for you) with positive self-talk and deep pondering of a worthwhile idea to be a particularly potent strategy for improving my confidence and my sense of well-being.

I recently read the excellent book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, by neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. She explained how a workout called IntenSATI changed her life. The creator of IntenSATI, Patricia Moreno, combined a fusion (dance, martial arts, yoga and interval training) workout with powerful affirmations. Suzuki found that the intention this brought to her exercise changed the way she thought about herself, her body and what is possible in her life. She noticed that her creativity was enhanced, and she was more willing to take reasonable risks in her work and social life. I related strongly to what she said. My experiences on the bike, particularly combined with positive messaging to myself, permeate every aspect of my life and bring me renewal on a regular basis.

I am not necessarily successful at bringing intention to everything I do, but the areas where I do are more rewarding and help me to grow. In our highly distracted world today, the more intention we can introduce into our daily lives, the better. I believe that I have a responsibility to live my life with as much focus and purpose as possible so that I don’t miss the moments that comprise the whole of my existence.

My Favorite Books in 2016

Once again, reading was a rewarding and enriching aspect of my year. I am excited to share my second annual list, roughly, by the order in which I read the books listed in each genre, of my favorite books from a year of reading.

Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and it was interesting to note how many of the books I most enjoyed in 2016 came from that category. A number of them were about epic journeys of one type of another. I love the idea of a quest for personal growth and soul searching. Many of my bike rides become those in miniature for me. Vicariously, I learn and grow from the memoirists’ quests, and they inspire me to explore the idea of setting out on adventures of my own, whether geographic or metaphorical in nature.

These are the books that I gave four or five stars in Goodreads during 2016.

Business

Health

History

Memoir/Biography

Nutrition/Cooking

 

Personal/Professional Development

  • Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, It’s a Financial Number, by Chris Hogan—I felt motivated to take action toward improving my financial future after reading this book. Unfortunately, I haven’t followed through on everything that I planned at that time, but I do intend to refer back to this competent guide.
  • What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey—I just love Oprah, and this collection of her popular column, “What I Know for Sure,” in O Magazine is light, easy reading that imparts a lot of quotable wisdom.

Social Justice

True Crime & Justice

Writing

Success, Redefined

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” Benjamin Disraeli

I have decided that constancy to purpose is also the secret to happiness and inner peace. After my wake-up call from stress-induced B6 toxicity and small fiber neuropathy, I realized that I needed to focus on the things that really matter to me and let go of other expectations whenever possible. There are so many obligations, options, opportunities, causes, people and ideas competing for our time and attention. Trying to keep up with all of them and stay healthy is just not feasible.

We each have to find our own best way to make a difference—to make the contributions we want to make to the world, while remaining as healthy and centered as possible. This requires focusing on our unique opportunities to be a positive force in the universe and spending our time and energy doing those activities that feel most right. These are some touchstones that I find helpful in striving for this focus:

Clear values. Compassion. Excellence. Integrity. Fitness. These are the ethical aims that drive me and the most basic characteristics for which I want to be known. When I am clear about what ideals are most important to me, they guide my decisions in the directions that reinforce and enhance those principles in my life.

A philosophy for living. It is my responsibility to use my strengths and maximize my gifts to ensure that my net contribution to the world is positive. I express my gratitude for the strengths and gifts I have been given by putting them to effective, positive use.

Awareness of my strengths.  Honesty. Love of Learning. Perseverance. Gratitude. Judgment. According to the VIA Survey, these are my top five strengths. I frequently check in with myself to determine how well I am utilizing these strengths. Focusing my energy, whenever possible, on activities that allow me to employ these strengths optimizes both my effectiveness and my ability to find personal fulfillment in what I do.

Acknowledgement of my gifts. This list could go on and on. I am aware that I have been given so many resources and gifts, ranging from a loving upbringing to robust health to a quality education to a love of cycling and a drive to be fit. As an undergraduate student doing both paid and volunteer work in the nonprofit sector, I felt guilty for having been given so much, when I regularly witnessed so much suffering around me. In the years since, I have transformed the guilt into a healthier ownership of responsibility. I strive to maximize, not squander, my gifts. To provide just one example, I celebrate and express gratitude for my good health by nurturing it through cycling; eating a whole-food, plant-based diet; parking at the far reaches of parking lots; taking the stairs—even to the tenth floor when visiting people in the hospital—and making responsible decisions to take care of myself. To do otherwise, in my opinion, would be to scoff at the universe that has given me so many wonderful resources and to neglect my responsibility to give back.

A mission. To contribute to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion. Compassion is my cornerstone value. I strive to live a life of compassion and to structure my decisions and actions around this value.  I can’t magically change the world into the one I wish it were, but I can keep pushing the needle in the direction of compassion. I am encouraged by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” By living and modeling compassion, I hope that I am planting seeds that will grow and flourish in this and future generations, gradually improving the conditions of both humans and nonhumans.

Recognition of the intersection of my passions, my strengths and the needs in the world. Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation,” and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I picture these ideas together as a Venn diagram that guides me to my own best way to make a difference in the world. (I created a cool Venn diagram in a Word document, but I absolutely cannot get it to paste here, so I am presenting it as an equation below.)

Passions/Gladness+Talents/Strengths/Gifts+Need=Vocation


And that leads me to where it all comes together . . .

A motto. Fitness is advocacy. This is where all of the above ideas come together in a concise, encapsulated statement that directs my actions and focuses my efforts. There are so many needs in the world, and there are so many ways to address them. We each have to find our own best ways to serve the needs that speak to us most urgently. Represented in the above Venn diagram/equation and summed up in the motto, “Fitness is advocacy,” my unique way of adding compassion to the world becomes clear. When I am fit and healthy and ride hard, while fueling my body with plants, I demonstrate that no one has to suffer or die for us to be well nourished. Being a vegan cyclist has allowed me to educate people in small towns across Kansas about eating well on plants, and it has allowed me to inspire others to try plant-based eating. I give my mind, body and spirit the freedom and movement of the open road while advocating in an upbeat, positive way for compassionate living. There are many other important ways to make a difference. I sometimes participate in other strategies, but I have become clearer and clearer that my signature style of advocacy is through the example I set in my own life. In this way, I feel balanced and at peace.

I started this post with a quote about success, and I will finish it with one of my favorite definitions of success. Mike Ditka said, “Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.” I have come to a point where I really believe that. I am successful when I adhere to the habits, routines and strategies—the disciplines—that help me to remain consistently focused on my purpose. Deviating from that self-discipline for very long throws me off balance and disturbs my inner peace. When I keep my purpose in focus, I feel peaceful. That is my bottom-line determinant of success: Does this (way of life, relationship, job, commitment, activity, food, etc.) bring me more stress or more peace? Choosing the direction that is consistent with my purpose and nurtures inner peace is success.

 

Tips for Raising a Vegan Child

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!