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  • Building Vegan Bodies from Scratch: 3 Myths About Vegan Pregnancy and Raising Vegan Children Dispelled, Part 3 by Marcella Torres


    Myth #3: It takes too much effort to raise a child on a vegan diet, and they won't want to eat the food.

    A vegetarian mother approached us recently at Whole Foods and marveled at the fact that our son is happily growing away on a vegan diet. "But my son hates kale!" she said. Um, yes, if that was all vegans ate we might be in trouble. Fortunately, we eat a wide variety of foods that are perfect for the needs and tastes of small children. There are no pitched battles over the consumption of kale in our house. This is probably because I am quite content if Miles eats a banana instead, whereas another mother might be feeling desperate to get some nutrition into a kid that has eaten nothing but Kraft macaroni and cheese for the last several days. Here is why raising our son on a vegan diet has been easy for us, and beneficial for own health to boot!

    Our breakfast is the same: We all eat the same food for breakfast: oatmeal with various spices and toppings. You can do fun variations such as chocolate banana oatmeal (with cocoa powder and mashed banana) to keep your child from getting bored. It's the perfect food to sustain anyone throughout a busy morning!

    Snacks are fruit or smoothies based on Derek's famous bean shake. These are the same things that we snack on, and you can't beat fruit for convenience! I always have a banana or some mandarin oranges on hand for trips out. As for the smoothies, I see a lot of concern from parents about their vegan children getting enough calories — you will never have to worry about it with these. Kids can't taste the white beans, or the leafy greens if you add bananas and a date or two, or some cocoa powder and nut butter.

    Lunch is salad, lentil soup, and sweet potato, often made in advance. Again, we all eat the same foods here! Midday is a hectic time to be preparing a nutritious lunch, so it helps to keep it simple. Lentil soup and sweet potatoes have been a centerpiece of Miles's diet since he was about 7 months old and they're both incredibly nutrient-dense! I prepare a large batch of soup whenever we run out, and bake several meals' worth of sweet potatoes at a time.

    Dinner is where we diverge in our diet a bit. Miles rarely eats much for dinner, and I don't fight him on it because I know he's already gotten plenty of healthy food throughout the day. He'll sometimes join us if it's a meal he especially enjoys, otherwise he'll just snack on fruit or finish a smoothie saved from earlier in the day. That's fine by me, because kids really shouldn't eat a lot right before bed.

    There are almost too many healthy dessert options that kids love. Banana ice cream is a staple in our house, which is simply frozen bananas blended in a high speed blender. Another great food for active toddlers is date balls: combinations of nuts and/or seeds with dates, figs, and/or prunes with cocoa powder, blended in a food processor and rolled into balls. There's a lot of great ideas in the cookbook Unprocessed by Chef AJ For birthdays and other celebrations, I love this cupcake recipe, free of refined sugar even in the frosting which is date-based, from the Forks Over Knives blog — I always get requests for the recipe after the party!

    When you consider the time and money saved by sharing simple whole food meals as a family, without including packaged "baby foods" or separately preparing foods that are not baby-friendly for the adults, and when you consider the additional motivation for the parents to eat a clean diet as role models, you will see that it really is a blessing to raise a child vegan!

    Add to those benefits the money saved on medical bills by feeding your family an antioxidant-rich diet that boosts their immune systems, and all the exercise you'll get chasing your healthy energetic little ones around, and you'll find that a vegan parent has it pretty good!

    The above supports the argument that feeding your child a vegan diet is not especially difficult, but what about getting a vegan child to choose healthy foods when given personal freedom? I think the key here is to respect the intelligence and empathy of your child and explain why you eat some foods and not others, keeping the discussion age-appropriate. This is another great opportunity for you to reaffirm your own reasons for choosing to be vegan; I've found that parents who tell me they struggle with keeping their children away from animal foods are unsure themselves about what is motivating their choice. Make sure to do your own homework and pass the information on to your children so that they can form their own justification for eating this way. "Because I said so" is not going to cut it for an ethical lifestyle choice that will require some courage for them to adhere to!

    This is part three of a three-part series on vegan pregnancy and parenting that will appear here, and you can find more about my experience, diet, and feeding Miles at Vegan Muscle & Fitness. I am sharing only my personal experience with you, but healthy vegan mothers, children, and families of all types are out there! I encourage you to read some additional inspiring stories of vegan children here! Further resources include this article on raising plant-strong kids from the folks at Engine 2, Disease-Proof Your Child by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition by Julieanna Hever.

    Marcella Torres

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