Ally from Made of Stars is a vegan mum & blogger that I hold in high regard. I was stoked when she agreed to write a guest post for me, not only because I’m a big fan of her blog, but also because she can discuss a topic that my readers will probably never hear about from me personally – vegan parenting. Ally’s approach is gentle, age-appropriate and practical. If you want to follow Ally, in addition to her blog, she’s also on Facebook & Twitter.
Enjoy the read and the wonderful recipes!
Does apple juice have eggs in it?
My daughter was 3 years old when she posed this question. It marks the first occasion that she asked about the ‘vegan status’ of a food. It was an important milestone in my eyes, and I remember the moment fondly.
Today, I have been sharing my life with tiny vegans for almost a decade.
For this blog post, I will share some of my experiences of raising vegan children in the age range of 0-5 years.
Before my young children have the ability to pronounce the word ‘vegan’ or ask if their apple juice contains eggs, they are exposed to vegan values in our home.
Parents and caregivers are their children’s earliest role models. Young children observe and emulate our actions and attitudes towards animals, both human and non-human. As a vegan parent, it is my role to nurture and promote my children’s natural curiosity and enthusiasm for animals.
For example, my toddler son is interested in the birds (magpies) that visit our garden. I encourage his interest by giving him the opportunity to spend time outdoors, observing the magpies as they go about their day. I speak kindly about – and to – the magpies. Also, we assist him to be gentle with companion animals, teaching him how to pat them and respect their space.
Reading books together provides an opportunity to nurture a child’s interest in nature and animals. If we encounter a book that promotes ‘non-vegan’ principles, I encourage my children to imagine the world through the eyes of the animal characters. For example, when observing a picture of a goldfish in a habitat the size of a soup bowl, I encourage my children to think about how the goldfish may feel about living alone in that type of home. Naturally, there are plenty of similar ‘real life’ scenarios that parents can use to encourage empathy and compassion.
I use the word ‘vegan’ in conversations with my children, and I am specific about what we do and don’t eat: ‘we don’t eat that yoghurt because it is made with cows’ milk’.
For toddlers and pre-school aged children, I aim to keep explanations simple: ‘We don’t drink cows’ milk because the cows don’t like it when we take their milk. It’s for their babies’. If my children ask further questions, I answer them directly, in an age appropriate context. I aim to avoid burdening them with information or images that could distress them.
My 4 year old son does not know what a factory farm is. I intend for many years to pass before he is inflicted with that knowledge. He has an understanding of animal suffering. For instance, he actively displays empathy for dead or injured animals. On occasions that he has observed a supermarket catalogue featuring fish and sea creatures (‘seafood’), he says: ‘oh, poor prawns’. In response, I usually repeat his statement: ‘yes, poor prawns’, and we sit with that feeling of sadness for a moment. I don’t attempt to ‘jolly’ him up or fill the space with half-truths and falsehoods. It can feel like a ‘fine line’ sometimes. I do not want my children to suffer, or experience distress. However, I want to be authentic with them. While I believe it is important to provide age-appropriate explanations, which oftentimes means withholding some information, I do not want to falsify the information or ‘sugarcoat’ it.
I am a strong advocate of breastfeeding (including extended breastfeeding, ie. beyond 2 years). I believe it is important to nourish my body with healthy plant foods (and the occasional slice of cake!) to nurture my breastfeeding child.
We all take a liquid sublingual B12 supplement. My toddler is still breastfeeding, but I have been giving him his own source of B12 since he was about 14 months old.
I am of the opinion that it is important to be clear and consistent regarding food. I do not want my children to experience confusion or frustration when encountering food choices on a daily basis. Consequently, my husband and I don’t promote or encourage ‘part-time’ veganism to our children. Our kids always have access to vegan foods at birthday parties and other ‘special’ events, whether provided by us or the hosts.
My children do not regard animals as food. My son, 4, recently commented: ‘I don’t want to eat chickens. I like chickens’ when he overheard a conversation that referred to chickens as food.
When we encourage our children to respect and admire animals that they encounter in their daily lives – cats, dogs, birds – it becomes easy for them to transfer those feelings to other animals, including those that are traditionally thought of as ‘food animals’.
I don’t think there is anything unique about vegan children in this regard. Generally, all young children have an affinity for animals. Most parents nurture this interest by teaching their babies how to ‘moo’, ‘meow’ and ‘oink’; parents read their children storybooks about animals, and buy stuffed animal toys as gifts.
As vegan parents, we take it a step further. We teach our children that animals are not commodities or waste products. We don’t serve animals for dinner, or consume the products of their ovulation and lactation. My children know that ‘pork’ and ‘beef’ are dead animals. They also know that animals want to live, and be free of pain. They do not regard a dog as more worthy of compassion than a pig.
Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
If we are attending a social event, I always plan ahead: will vegan food be available? If it won’t be, or I am unsure, we bring our own food or eat beforehand. My children’s tiny bellies have never suffered!
When my pre-school aged children are invited to birthday parties, I prepare them beforehand: ‘the birthday cake will have eggs in it, so I will make a vegan cupcake for you’. I contact the parents of the birthday child prior to the party if they don’t know we are a vegan family. I do not expect them to do anything special for my child. I inform them that my child will have their own cupcake, and I offer to bring a vegan dish to share with all of the party goers.
In my experience, ‘accidentally’ vegan foods are available at most parties – rice crackers, hummus, popcorn, fruit. I have also discovered that most young children are more interested in running around and playing games than sitting down to eat. My children have never been teased or interrogated for eating a cupcake instead of the birthday cake. It is not uncommon to encounter other party goers who are refraining from the cake due to a gluten-free diet or dairy allergy. Sometimes, we are fortunate to attend parties that feature vegan cakes. This is always very exciting, and it means that I don’t have to bake a batch of cupcakes. I appreciate that!
Orange and Coconut Mini Muffins
I keep a supply of mini muffins or mini raw cheesecakes in the freezer at my son’s pre-school. I have fallen down with this ‘requirement’ in the past. I was confronted with the sight of a half-eaten, pink princess cake as I arrived to pick my daughter up from pre-school. At that moment, I recalled that her pre-school muffin supply had run dry. Oh no! Thankfully, she took it rather well. Upon discovering that the freezer was empty of muffins, my daughter (aged 4) lamented: ‘I think it’s a bit unfair that I don’t even have a soy yoghurt’. Fair enough.
I also aim to be clear and detailed with pre-school staff. On enrolment forms, under the dietary restrictions section, I write ‘vegan diet’ followed by: ‘ie. no meat, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatine, or other animal products’. We have found our pre-schools to be inclusive and positive. When my daughter attended pre-school, her teacher asked me to write down some vegan sources of protein and calcium so that she could include the information in an activity for the children. The teacher also found a simple, vegan cake recipe to bake with the children, and she always checked ingredients with me prior to commencing cooking activities.
My son’s pre-school teachers cook vegan recipes on the days that he attends. I was delighted to learn that a parent had baked vegan cupcakes for all of the children in celebration of her (non-vegan) son’s birthday. This kind gesture was extended solely for my son’s benefit.
I believe it is important to educate family members from the outset. Chances are, your children will spend time alone with non-vegan family members (grandparents, aunties, uncles) at some time in their young lives. Make sure they are on the same page as you. This may require you to stock their pantry and fridge with healthy vegan food when your children are visiting. Also, be clear that your veganism extends beyond food, so you can avoid your children being presented with non-vegan gifts like leather shoes or woollen jumpers.
Vegan children love (and are loved by) people who do not share their family’s vegan ethic. My daughter was 3½ when she began asking why some family members ate animal products; specifically, eggs. I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer her. I replied: ‘not everyone knows that the chickens don’t like it when humans take their eggs’. She implored me: ‘You have to tell them mummy! You have to tell them every day that the chickens don’t like it’. Her passion brought tears to my eyes, and the conversation is seared in my memory. My 4 year old son appears to be satisfied with: ‘not everyone is vegan’. Thankfully!
It remains to be seen how my toddler will respond to the news that some people he loves eat animals.
As I write this, I can hear his tiny voice calling to the magpies. I hear their birdsong.
I feel saddened by the fact that he will one day learn about the brutality and violence inflicted on our fellow beings; knowledge that will make his heart weep.
My daughter calls to me from the garden, bringing me back to the present moment: ‘Mum, he’s calling out to the magpies’. His tiny voice, louder now: ‘maa maa, maa maa’.
A surge of love and hope banishes my pensive thoughts… and I smile.
Interested in more from Ally? Check out her blog! And just because I can… Here’s some more of her tasty recipes!
Green Curry Paste
Moroccan Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Stew (I’ve made this one – it’s pretty darn good!)