When we decided to bring up our daughter Emily (now 13) as a vegan from birth, we got lots of support from our health visitor.
Experts agree that well-planned vegan diets can be a great start to life . We did lots of nutritional research. I recommend ‘Becoming Vegan’ (Express Edition) by Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina and consulting with a state-registered dietician.
Everything you eat has a long-tem effect on your child during pregnancy. So I avoided salt, fat and sugar, following an organic vegan diet, with essential vitamins and minerals. I took iron, spirulina, hemp, B12, vitamin D and iodine. We got calcium from calcium-fortified plant milks, spreads and cereals. The only way to be vegan from birth is to breastfeed and I did this until Emily was 2, overlapping during weaning at 4 months. If I hadn’t, I could have sourced a vegan source of pumped donor breast milk.
When we were weaning, we started mixing breast milk with baby porridge and baby rice, later mixed with fortified milk. We introduced organic apple puree, pumpkin, lentil, other fruit and veggie baby foods, mashed bananas and potatoes, apple rice cakes, baby muesli, hummus, soups and green veggies. She had nuts as soon as she was able to – as this is supposed to prevent nut allergies, but check with your doctor first.
School is always a bit of a worry at first. If Emily’s friends imply she isn’t ‘allowed’ meat, we suggest she explains it’s her choice, not ours. She knows why she’s vegan and is happy that her food isn’t harming any animals, the environment or her health. If your child is being bullied, you can arrange for a talk to be given at school from a charity such as Animal Aid or VIVA!.
At nursery and primary school we provided packed lunches comparable to her friends’. There are many ‘accidentally vegan’ products out there, so you’re spoilt for choice. Now she’s at secondary school, she’s well catered for, with tasty nutritious meals specially prepared for her.
Once Emily started getting invited to parties, we checked to see what they’d be having – we either suggested where they could buy things or offered to bring food. Things like vegan party-sized sausage rolls, marmite sandwiches, crisps, fruit, crudités and vegan ice cream.
If your child accidentally eats something that’s animal-based it’s best to be chilled about it, as the fact is that they’ll be eating vegan most of the time and if you panic about it, your child will pick up on your stress. And at the end of the day it’s better that children have a relaxed approach to food.
Now Emily is a teenager she’s a bit more rebellious. Teenagers need to decide for themselves. It’s quite common for them to try friend’s meat dishes for a while, although they’ll usually go back to being 100% vegan afterwards – they just need to have chosen to do it for themselves. Reactions from Emily’s friends to her veganism have always been positive – one of her friends tried some of her cheese the other day and said she actually preferred it to her own.
About the author:
Jenny is a former Trustee of The Vegan Society and is currently Co-Director of vegan-owned PR agency, Excellart, which she runs with her husband, Ian, a former Chair of The Vegan Society. They’re currently helping promote an exciting series of vegan festivals from Vegan Events UK. Each event includes a feast of mouth wateringly delicious food, fantastic stalls, world food caterers, cookery demos, inspirational talks, workshops, yoga and children's activities. For more information click here.
 The British Dietetic Association, ‘Memorandum of Understanding between The Vegan Society and the British Dietetic Association’, 12th March 2014.