Raising a vegan kid: the first 2 1/2 years

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Our daughter is 2 1/2 years old now. She’s never consumed any meat, dairy, or eggs. She’s being raised vegan and is being taught compassion for animals right from the start. Of course, if you listen to some people, we’re killing our child by denying her animal products.

I’m very thankful that from the very beginning, we haven’t faced any resistance from our families. No snide comments, no threats to call child services, no sneaking meat into her food during family gatherings. We’re very lucky in that sense. Our families understand that we’re doing what we think is best and that we’re not going to be stupid about it and feed her only soy milk and apple juice.

We’re first-time parents, so we didn’t exactly know what to expect going in. What if Rasine was a picky eater? What if she was constantly wanting what her friends at playgroup were eating? What if she “failed to thrive,” as they say? I thought I’d talk a little bit about how things are going so far since I really don’t talk about the parenting side of veganism very often here. (If you just want a cute photo and a funny audio clip, jump to the end.)

Food

My wife and I held our collective breath hoping that Rasine wouldn’t turn out to be a picky eater or stricken with a slew of food allergies. Thankfully, she didn’t and she wasn’t.

Some of Rasine’s favorite foods right now are lentils (which are a staple in her diet — she has them nearly every night mixed with nutritional yeast, DHA or olive oil, and ground flax), pears, tofu, quinoa, rice, steamed broccoli, grapes (as long as the skin is peeled), apples, hummus, grits, whole grain pancakes and waffles, banana muffins, tempeh chicken salad, smoothies… and the list goes on. Sure, there’s stuff she doesn’t like and there are some days where she’ll even deny her favorites, but that’s true of any kid. Her diet is primarily whole foods and she’s been exposed to a wider variety of grains and soy/rice/nut/seed milks than I was until my late 20s.

We also keep her involved in the making of food. She’s always playing in the kitchen when we’re making dinner and she loves helping out with stirring pancake batter, pressing the button on the food processor, or licking hummus right off of the spatula. We want her to be close to her food and to enjoy the process of making it, not just eating it.

Really, the food part of things has been the easiest. I’ve become a firm believer that if you feed kids healthy stuff from the start, that’s what they’ll develop the taste for. Rasine’s not really into fake chicken nuggets, hot dogs, or stuff like that (though Veg Booty and ice cream sandwiches are her vices).

The Social Side

Without a doubt, the most difficult part has been the social side of things. My wife is the one that deals with it most frequently, since she’s staying at home with Rasine right now and hauling her to playgroups, weekday birthday parties, and picnics with friends. It takes some extra prep work to be prepared for these situation. For instance, we make sure to always come with a cupcake when headed to a birthday party. And if we know her friends are going to be having cheese crackers, we’ll pick up some Eco-Planet vegan cheddar crackers. There are times when she wants something someone else has, but if we’re prepared, we can usually deal with it without too much trouble.

I think this will continue to be tricky as she gets older and starts school or going to friends’ houses and realizing that there is a difference between what she’s eating and what her friends are eating. Hopefully the “why” behind it all will be enough to help her work through it.

Health

One of my concerns before Rasine was born was finding a pediatrician that was vegan-friendly. I knew we weren’t going to get a vegan pediatrician, but if we could get one that was knowledgeable enough to know that vegan kids can be perfectly healthy, I’d be happy. Rasine’s first doctor had to have the term “vegan” defined for her, but she was hands-off enough and trusting enough of us to make the right decisions that she worked out well for us. Until she stopped taking our insurance.

Right before Rasine’s 2-year check-up, we had to scramble and find another doctor. We found one that seemed decent and OK with the fact Rasine was vegan. However, during the check-up, the doctor expressed some concern that Rasine was quite low on the growth chart and had fallen slightly off of her curve. She asked that we go see a nutritionist to have Rasine’s diet analyzed.

Damn.

This ended up being a major stress for me. Not because I thought Rasine was unhealthy, but because I was worried the doctor might. See, our daughter comes from small stock. I’m a touch under 5’6″ and was always very, very low on the growth scale growing up. My sister was, too, and her kids have all also been small, but healthy. My wife’s just under five feet tall. Neither of us had any expectations that Rasine would be a center in the WNBA.

Never mind that Rasine had never had an ear infection, had only had one high temperature, and was way, way healthier than many kids her age. The weight thing was becoming an issue.

We visited the nutritionist and, thankfully, things went wonderfully. She was very impressed at Rasine’s diet and had no concerns that our girl was thriving. It was suggested that we add some oils and more calorie-dense foods to Rasine’s current diet to help boot her caloric intake a bit. We did and six months later Rasine was back on the growth curve and our doctor was ecstatic. She’s still a small kid — one of my elementary school friend’s son weighed more at six months than Rasine does now, at 2 1/2 — but she’s healthy and active and well-proportioned.

Teaching Compassion

Rasine loves visiting the farm. When I go to volunteer, she says, “Daddy help bock bocks!” She’s not freaked out by bugs and enjoys helping usher them back outside. The other day, I even noticed that she was taking special care not to step on some Boxelder bugs that have started gathering outside our house.

She also loves our dog Amina. Rasine helps us feed her, loves taking her for walks, and says good night to her before bed. Sure, if she gets in Rasine’s space, Rasine will push Amina away, but we try to catch that as it happens and explain that Amina’s being nice and so she should be, too.

All kids naturally love animals, I think, but explicitly cultivating that love early on by exposing them to what many would consider “food animals,” by using positive language, and by helping them look at animals not as lower beings to be dominated but as peers worthy of equal treatment and consideration, that love won’t die once they get older and more hardened to the realities of the world.

I’d love to hear from some other parents here. Chime in with all your cute stories as well as any challenges you’re facing.

And now, the cute stuff…

Here’s something we recorded last week:

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(Translation of her definition of vegan: “No eat bock bocks (chickens), no eat piggies, no eat moos (cows).”)

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