Raising a Vegan Family: Bringing up a vegan child doesn’t need to be difficult

Deciding to bring our daughter up vegan from birth was never difficult for us. The first thing we did was to get some valuable advice from Amanda Baker at The Vegan Society. She gave us lots of information and suggested that we do some nutritional research and buy key books on the subject. When I became pregnant, I realised that everything I put into my body would have a long-term effect on my unborn child. So I avoided salt, fat and sugar and opted for an organic vegan diet, ensuring that this included all the essential vitamins and minerals. Our health visitor was very supportive, but it was reassuring to know that if we hadn’t got the support we needed, we could have spoken to Amanda.

I got calcium from a range of sources: calcium-fortified plant milks, spreads and breakfast cereals. It was good to know that my calcium levels were well above average when I undertook a test at VegfestUK Bristol. I took a liquid iron supplement, and a tablet to boost my B12, vitamin D and iodine levels. I also included spirulina and hemp for omega-3s. I ate a very diverse range of foods and I enjoyed a wide variety of dishes such as shepherd’s pie, coleslaw, salads, stews, healthy bars and cakes, as well as lots of vegetables and fresh and dried fruit.

I breastfed Emily until she was 2. If I hadn’t been able to breastfeed I could have secured a vegan source of pumped donor breast-milk. Experts agree that a well-planned vegan diet can be a great start to life, so we felt confident about what we were doing once we started weaning Emily onto soft foods. We started by mixing breast-milk with baby porridge and baby rice. Later we mixed this with fortified plant milk. We also introduced organic apple purée, pumpkin, lentil and other fruit and veggie baby foods. Emily also had mashed bananas, apple rice cakes, mashed potatoes, baby muesli, hummus, soft Sheese (a vegan cheese substitute), soups and green veggies. We gave her nuts as soon as she was able to eat them – this is supposed to prevent nut allergies, but if you intend to do this, check with your doctor first.

Emily was never a fussy eater. She just ate everything we were eating. If we’re ever unsure about a product, we double-check with The Vegan Society, and if the product carries the trademark sunflower logo we know it’s fine. We make sure Emily gets enough B12 by giving her fortified plant milks, yeast extract and VEG 1 tablets (see Find Out More, below) on a regular basis.

School is always a bit of a worry, as sometimes children can be bullied for doing something differently. If Emily’s friends imply in a negative way that she isn’t ‘allowed’ to eat meat, we always suggest that she explain that she chooses not to eat meat and dairy. Because it is her choice. She knows why she’s vegan and she’s happy that she’s not harming any animals, our precious environment or her health with the foods, toys, clothes and products she enjoys. If you find that your child is being bullied, you can arrange for a talk to be given at the school by a vegan charity such as The Vegan Society.

We try to give Emily packed lunches for school that are comparable to those of her friends. In my experience, it’s not helpful for your child to stand out from the crowd, especially if she is just settling in at school. For example, you can get dippers from The Co-operative that are similar to the cheese ones but with hummus and carrots instead.

Once Emily started getting invited to parties, we always checked to see what they would be providing first and rang beforehand – we either suggested where they could buy things or offered to bring her food. Things we suggested were vegan sausage rolls, Marmite sandwiches, crisps, fruit, crudités and vegan ice cream. Even though most of these aren’t really the kinds of thing we eat on a daily basis, we thought it was important for Emily to fit in at parties.

Generally, we’ve found that it’s important not to get too panicky if Emily accidentally eats something that’s animal-based. The fact is that the majority of the time she eats vegan foods, and at the end of the day we can only do our best.

One thing that’s been really beneficial is meeting other vegan parents, which we first did at VegfestUK in Bristol. It was a real eye-opener. There’s loads for children to do, and opportunities to learn from other vegan parents, as well as nutritional advice at talks. The food is amazing – there’s a massive range of global catering and loads of food to try for free – from healthier sweets such as white chocolate to amazing vegan cheeses, salads, ice creams, yoghurts and even dairy-free chocolate éclairs, cream eggs and donuts! There’s also entertainment, with music, magic shows, juggling and contortion acts to enjoy.

The cookery and science demos are wonderful – Captain James Tea Cook shows the children how to make things like vegan rainbow sushi, a delicious chocolate dessert, and electricity from a banana, and how to pedal a smoothie bike! Vegfest shows are great fun for all the family – even Gran and Grandad come with us.

Emily is now a healthy and happy 10-year-old and we are very proud that we have brought her up as a vegan.

Jenny Liddle lives in Somerset. She and her husband, Ian, are co-directors of PR and design agency Excellart. www.excellart.co.uk

Artwork: Amber Locke  – ambaliving.com

FIND OUT MORE

VegfestUK takes place in Brighton, Bristol and London. Emily always looks forward to all the VegfestUK events and has made many friends there. www.vegfest.co.uk

The Vegan Society website has a big section on vegan diets for children. Amanda Baker offers pointers and guidance to parents and guardians as well as health professionals. The society has 70 years of experience of raising healthy vegan infants – with third-generation vegans to prove it. www.vegansociety.com

For teenagers – www.teenvgn.com

Becoming Vegan, Express Edition: The Everyday Guide to Plant-based Nutrition by Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina, Book Publishing Company

Supplements:

For Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Folic Acid, Iodine, Selenium – Veg 1 from www.vegansociety.com/shop/supplements

Omega-3s – Gourmet Spirulina from www.yaoh.co.uk and www.pulpastore.co.uk

Iron – Spatone from www.nelsonsnaturalworld.com

Organic Acerola-Vit C Powder from www.viridian-nutrition.com

Stock-free veg boxes – www.tolhurstorganic.co.uk/box-deliveries/

For vegan cakes and catering for children’s parties try Shambhu’s Catering – shambhus.co.uk

First published in Issue 40 (Summer 2015) of JUNO:

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