Vegan kids evoke all kinds of responses from folks. Even professionals often aren’t quite sure what to make of them. I’m here to tell you however that vegan kids are just kids. It’s absolutely possible to raise vegan kids without sacrificing their access to “fun” kid food. We still love mac and cheese! Nor are we dooming vegan kids to a protein or vitamin deficiency.
In fact, in speaking with fellow vegan parents I know a common concern for most of us isn’t protein intake, but fruit and vegetable intake, just like everyone else. I’ll say it again for the folks in the back: vegan kids are still kids. And kids don’t always want to sit and eat their entire meal.
When parents ask about this in vegan circles, there seem to be a few common responses, none of which I found particularly helpful as I was struggling to get my son to eat.
Common Response 1.) I just looove ____, follow her on YouTube!
I’m not going to single anyone out here as I’m sure there are some solid suggestions in there sometimes. Generally though it seems to be “move to Hawaii and feed your kid raw fruits and vegetables and sauerkraut” in disguise though. No thanks.
Common Response 2.) The American Dietary Association says a well-planned vegan diet is fine for all stages of life.
Technically true, but vague. What is a well-planned diet?
Common Response 3.) My kid just eats what we eat! They love broccoli!
That’s great! I’m genuinely happy for you. Too bad I already tried that and that’s why I’ve come to you lot.
Common Response 4.) They’ll eat when they’re hungry.
Not necessarily. My kid lost a ton of weight when it was time to start solids because he just didn’t like them.
Common Response 5.) Have you tried trying harder?
This covers a broad range of cute ideas that have no intention to make you feel like a failure, but aren’t sustainable and will inevitably lead to you feeling like a failure. Also, I doubt many kids go for it once the novelty wears off anyway.
There are times where my son has lots of different things on his plate, or at least wants to put them on his plate and poke at them. There are times where he just has bread and full-fat, fortified soymilk. A lot of times where he has just bread and soymilk, really. But I don’t worry about it.
It’s all part of becoming a competent eater, which really can only come from within, I can’t force it. Check out this inventory from the Ellyn Satter Institute about what constitutes a competent eater. It’s certainly something we need to have a handle on ourselves first to model to our children, and often contradictory to diet culture. I also really love this Teacher Tom post how we instill our values in kids in a respectful and ultimately authentic way (spoiler, modeling the values ourselves.)
Vegan Kid Friendly Meals
We have three meals and two snacks together at the table 99.9% of the time, even if it’s grab and go fast food. We sit down and SAVOR that road trip Taco Bell. All meals are served deconstructed/family-style as much as possible and practical featuring a starch, a bread/grain, 1-2 veg or fruit prepared in all sorts of different ways, a protein, differing sources of fats, and a source of calcium. Obviously some of those things will be combined into one food. We all sit down together, and can have as much or as little as we want of anything at the table, but nothing that isn’t at the table. Once I sit down, I don’t get back up, no going back and forth to check on things or get just one more thing.
Vegan Kid Snacks
Snacks are a protein plus a fat, and fruit or veg. Often just leftovers, I don’t buy much “snack” food, but when we do buy it we treat it just the same.
Vegan Kid Dessert
We don’t eat dessert very often but we’ll do a milkshake with dinner 1-2 times a month, or my husband will make cookies about once a month, and those are either at designated snacktime or with dinner. Never as a punishment or a reward, just another food. Often V isn’t into it anyway. Same way with “junk” food, though I don’t like to word it that way. Eat as many chips as you like, but they’re served alongside a hearty lunch, not shame eaten in the middle of the night kind of thing.
It’s been really hard for me, and really humbling, because I love to cook. When my immediate family only wants plain white rice it can feel personal. But it’s really, really not, and it’s a disservice to all of us when I forget that and try to coerce anyone into eating.
I hope this helps. Do feel free to ask questions! I have plenty more to say I’ll save for another post, including a sample meal plan if you’re just getting started.