We now have three children under 4 years old and are working to instill those same habits in them. It hasn't been as difficult as you might imagine — they eat what we eat and they are especially receptive to the vegan lifestyle because of their innate love of animals.
Here are some tips we've picked up along the way that have helped in raising our young vegan family.
The biggest part of our transition as a family was the initial commitment. Find something that will change your mind forever about eating animal foods. It could be a study of the health benefits or a deep look into how animals are treated.
Offer nutritious variety
Start offering a variety of foods to children at a young age to help ensure they get all the nutrients they need. Our babies start off in much the same way any baby starts — exclusively breastfeeding for at least the first six months, rice and oat cereals at about 6-months-old, then raw avocados and bananas, etc. As they get older, they get more variety of healthy foods in their meals, such as hummus, green smoothies and tofu.
Be positive about food
We often get the compliment that our kids are good eaters. Our secret is to always stay positive. Validate your child's preferences when they don't seem excited about a food, but don't be afraid to try new ways to present the food. Our kids don't like onions, but if it is scrambled with tofu and vegan cheese, they help us put the onions in and love to eat them.
When your child begins to observe other people's eating habits, life can become a little more difficult. For example, treats at birthday parties may need to be declined. However, you can promise your child a special treat after the party or bring an alternative to the party — Oreos are a good choice (yep, they are vegan!).
Make vegan versions of favorite foods
Prepare foods that you are used to eating or that your child wants to try, by making a faux version with vegan substitutions. Every dish you can imagine can be made vegan, including deviled eggs for your husband. We have a few of our favorite vegan recipes on our website.
Involve your children
One of the easiest ways to ensure healthy eating is to involve your children in the shopping and food preparation. When we grow our own sprouts my 3-year-old daughter helps with planting and watering the seeds and is thrilled to watch them grow. Our kids wake up with Dad every morning and create a new green smoothie recipe by putting in their choices of fruits and veggies. Having them involved makes the entire eating process more inviting.
Raising a family on a vegan diet does take commitment, creativity and support from friends and family, but the tradeoff of a healthy and compassionate lifestyle for you and your children make it all worth it.
By Kaitlin Jones, president/CEO of Living Whole Foods, a vegan and a mother of three children under 4.