Plant-based diets are soaring in popularity for both ethical and health reasons, but only 3 percent of Americans are vegan, so when people hear I’m a vegan raising vegan kids, it results in confused expressions and probing questions.
I knew since childhood that I didn’t want to eat animals, who I considered friends, but thanks to the "clean your plate" philosophy of that era, I was always the last one sitting at the dinner table, still trying to stomach the final bites of a pork chop. Luckily, I became best friends with my neighbor’s vegetarian family and, from a young age my eyes, were opened to the fact that meat wasn’t a mandatory food group and that meatless cuisine was delicious.
When I left home, I became a vegetarian, but it wasn’t until both of my kids started having severe acid reflux that I went vegan. I cut out all dairy products after researching that the cow’s milk they were ingesting via my breast milk may have been the culprit of their condition. Once I stopped eating dairy, my babies were cured of their acid reflux and mild eczema—and I never went back to eating animal products.
I continued to educate myself by watching documentaries like "Fork Over Knives" and "What the Health." I couldn’t unsee the pain of factory farming and animal abuse or unlearn the facts about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. I was profoundly impacted and committed to the compassionate lifestyle of veganism.
Raising vegan kids is definitely a challenge, but it’s worth it. Sure, you have to bring just-as-enticing alternatives to the cheese pizza and birthday cake that’s at nearly every kids' gathering, and find the holiday chocolates that don’t contain milk, but it’s more convenient than ever to buy the vegan option for any type of food from meat to candy. My kids still eat mac 'n' cheese, chicken strips, grilled cheese, burgers and ice cream—just in their vegan form.
And I know what you're thinking (because it's what everyone asks): “Where do they get their protein?”
I’ll admit, it’s much easier to raise kids on a vegan diet before they enter school and know they eat differently from other kids, but this presents the opportunity to teach them how to be accepting of others while following their own path—a life skill they need across the board.
Now that I have a middle-schooler, she’s able to answer with her own voice about why she’s a vegan, and since this diet and lifestyle have been a part of her since infancy, she does so with solid conviction. We’ve graduated from singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and reading children’s books about not eating animals, to visiting animal sanctuaries where we tickle the tummies of pot-bellied pigs, hand-feed cows and cuddle chickens, and we make sure our beauty products and clothing are animal-free.
And I know what you're thinking (because it's what everyone asks): “Where do they get their protein?” Protein from plants and grains is available in abundance in foods like spinach, quinoa, lentils, oatmeal, peanut butter, broccoli and beans, to name only a few. I also use supplements to ensure my kids get enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, etc. A vegan diet also encourages kids to eat more fruits, vegetables and foods that promote heart health.
I hope that in my kids’ lifetime, there’s a wave of change to consume less or no meat and to normalize veganism for future generations. I’m proud of the fact that my kids are changing the earth’s landscape by not eating animals—even if that concept is still a lot to swallow for the vast majority of the planet.