Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Raising Vegan Children

This is G, my lovely, intensely serious girl. Today is her second birthday.

As the mama of a two-year-old who has never eaten Kraft macaroni and cheese, who has never gnawed on a drumstick or held a sippy cup of cow's milk, and who eats mostly raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, I can say that it's pretty easy to raise your children vegan.

A question I heard frequently while pregnant was, "Are you going to stay vegan while pregnant?" (I did.) And later, after my daughter was born, "Are you going to raise the baby vegan?" (yes, I'm doing it.) After some initial inquiries on protein and social outings, everyone just let me do my thing. Confidence is essential in being a parent, and when you have solid reasons for co-sleeping or homebirth or doing anything differently, there's no need to feel you should constantly explain yourself. Happy, healthy children speak for themselves.

I've had lots of trust from those close to me (of course, I'm always happy to answer their questions), and I'm grateful for their fantastic support. I've also been very fortunate to have great caregivers, who give her only vegan food, so I never need to worry what she ate while at a playmate's house. And her papa is completely in agreement with raising her vegan. In all these things, communication is vital: I make sure those spending time with G know what to expect, and why it matters.

And while the ethics may seem complicated to some, the reality of being vegan is really very simple. Here's some of the everyday stuff my daughter eats.

got green smoothies?

We drink gallons of green smoothies around here. Glory loves the bright green color and the sweetness. I love the amount of undetectable greens I can pack in. If your toddler is thin, coconut milk can be added for healthy fat. And it stands up well to a sippy cup full of whole milk: although milk contains more protein, the smoothie has a superior amino acid profile.

Orange Cream Green Smoothie
1 smoothie
To get a creamier texture, scrape the whole insides of the orange--membranes and all--into your blender. And if you’re new to green smoothies, start with a smaller amount of spinach, and add more next time.

1 banana, frozen
juice of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon orange zest (taken from about 1/4 of the orange with a rasp)
generous handful (1-2 cups) spinach
½ cup water
1/2-1 cup ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender until completely smooth.

Each serving contains nearly 20% of your RDA of calcium, 15% of iron, 6 grams of protein, over half the recommended amount of folate, and 225% of vitamin C. Blend in some kiwi or dates, and it provides a complete amino acid profile.

Here's what I packed for G's lunch for a childcare swap: rice, beans, avocado, salsa, and Pepita Lime Cashew Cheese, sprinkled with cilantro.

And here's roughly what a day of food looks like for this vegan toddler:

breakfast: green smoothie, half an avocado (sometimes a whole)
snack: lime-salted raw pumpkin seeds, half a pear,
lunch: dal, brown rice, roasted vegetables or crudites
tea: almond-hemp-chia milk sweetened with dates, seasonal fruit, raw brownie/larabar
dinner: half an avocado, raw carrot hemp croquettes with lemon tahini sauce, a few bites of cupcake or some other treat
+ water, breastmilk, and smoothies/fresh juices throughout the day

I also supplement G in several areas, using a rotation of the following, usually one every day: B12, soy lecithin (for choline), K2 + calcium, and DHA-infused flax oil. If your child doesn't consume any animal products, it is essential that you supplement with B12 or eat enough foods fortified with the stuff. DHA is also vital for brain and eye development during the first year, so keep your own levels high if you're breastfeeding, and be sure to give your baby a trustworthy source if you're not. (This is also true if you're feeding your child formula, regardless of your diet--not all formulas contain DHA, and some DHA can be harmful to babies.)

If you're raising a vegan or raw child, there are lots of resources available. I highly recommend Evie's Kitchen by Shazzie, and Raising Vegetarian Children by Joanne Stepaniak and Vesanto Melina.

More parents are choosing to raise vegan children now, so you're in good company! I was at a birthday party yesterday where everything was vegan, and it was so peaceful and fun to know that my daughter could eat anything she wanted. And if you do have to check labels during celebratory occasions, or bring your own cupcake to a school party, don't worry: these little interruptions are so small compared to what your child is doing for animals, the environment, and other people. It's worth it, and I'm reminded of that every day I see this sweet face.

Happy birthday, little magpie!


karen lang said...

a great post! fabulous writing and heart-warming pics of G.

Niki said...

What a great post Joy! And it takes away some of the 'stigma' or 'mystery' surrounding raising a vegan child.

Gorgeous pics of Glory too - she's absolutely divine!

herbstsonne said...

Lovely post, so inspiring! I was so picky as a kid, it's nice that Glory loves (nutritious, tasty) food! :)

Keep it up!

HB said...

What a cute little girl! This post really inspired me because the husband and I have been talking of children and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed concerning vitamins and nutrition. I'll definitely be picking up the vegetarian mother book but the second is out of print. Will have to try to find it somewhere cheaper than Amazon.

Rachael McClair said...

On the days my (non-vegan) 2 year old stays with Joy, he is the happy recipient of yummy snacks that he loves. I believe the chai-hemp-tea-somethin' is a favorite!

Kristen's Raw said...

So precious. Love the pictures! And... yay for green smoothies. :)


Andrew J Wahlquist said...

Had the green smoothie this morning, it was excellent!

happygreenvegan said...

Hey Joy!
Haven't been on your blog for a while and you've posted so much good stuff while I was gone. Especially informative and inspiring I found this post. I have told my husband that if we do have children they will probably be vegan, but he did not receive that very well. Oh, well, I feel that the mother should have a choice about her baby's diet as long as that diet can be nourishing and healthy. Your baby once again proves that vegan children are as healthy, and I am sure,even much-much healthier than omnivorous children.

Thanks for this post!

Elizabeth said...

WONDEFUL post! And your photos are beautiful. We like Raw food detox diet by Natalie Rose ( there is a section on families in the back), Superbaby foods by Ruth Yaron, and my favorite is The Vegetarian Mother and Baby by Rose Elliot. Elliot also has an amazing book on vegan and vegetarian Christmas cooking, which I drool as I look over...
Can't wait to get a copy of your book!!