By Sarah Tierney of "Fit Vegan Diaries"
Nutrition is an integral part of raising children, however, the obesity epidemic is enormously high in the US with one third of children, including adolescents, being overweight or obese.
This leads me to believe that something is wrong with our current nutritional system.
In my early elementary school years, my parents were smokers (they've since quit, thankfully). I remember my watching my dad take smoke breaks on the stairway into our basement. I considered this our "bonding time", where I'd sit with him and tell him whatever was on my 8 year old mind. When he wasn't around, I would sneak down to the basement stairway and pretend to smoke a cigarette.
This was in the late 1990's when smoking was still a common practice and the States were just beginning to put in the effort to ban the sale of tobacco to minors. But I do know if my parents continued to smoke, I would've picked up the habit.
What does tobacco have to do with raising vegan kids? It's not the product in and of itself but the parental example. Parents are the number one learning resource for their children. The way I communicate with strangers, for example, is the same way my mom communicated with strangers. We pick up on many habits from our parents without realizing it. Nobody ever taught me how to introduce myself and socialize with others, all I did was observe my mother.
It's important that as parents (or soon to be parents) we take in seriously our daily habits, especially dietary. As a new vegan, my children ages 5 and 4 have not been vegan since birth, but I'm delighted to report in a smooth transition to veganism. Many people, including uneducated pediatricians, families, and friends, will say things in such a way that can plant doubt in your mind about whether you're doing what's right for your child. They may bring up concerns like increased nutritional deficiencies or creating awkward situations at holiday dinner parties.
Raising vegan kids is the single most wonderful thing you can do for your children if done responsibility. It takes a little bit of research and time to make sure your children are receiving adequate nutrition. It's important to become somewhat of an expert about it; who knows, you may even teach your pediatrician a thing or two.
If you're trying to make the transition to vegan with your children or are still in the family planning phases, here are some quick tips on making the process painless and even easy.
Purchase Children's Literature
Vegan picture books are becoming increasingly popular and more available. This was a vital component during my children's vegan transition. Ruby Roth's books in particular helped convey the vegan message in an age appropriate way and now my children understand what should be food and what shouldn't be. Also look at vegan pregnancy nutrition books such as the one written by Alicia Silverstone.
Raise Practical Vegans
Sometimes as working parents we cannot fully control what our children do and eat outside of the home. My children may consume non-vegan foods in school or daycare simply because my five year old wouldn't understand why everyone else gets pizza and she doesn't. This is where the individuality of vegan parenting comes in. It's up to you to decide if you want to fully control what goes into your child's mouth or if you'll allow your children to indulge in things such as cake and ice cream at a friend's birthday party (personally, I avoid birthday parties). Regardless of this, my children eat 100% vegan in our home.
Let Them Snack!
One of the leading problems in child obesity is that they're eating too much food and not expending enough energy. This is mostly due to eating and snacking on the wrong foods. In my house, I have a bowl on our dining room table filled with apples and bananas that I allow my children to eat to their heart's content. They're granted free reign of the refrigerator, which is always stocked with grapes, strawberries, blueberries, carrots, water bottles, etc. Not only do these foods have so much nutrients and disease-fighting power, but they're low in calories which allows them to eat and eat without gaining excess body fat.
It's Okay to Raise a Fruity!
My 5 year old loves all foods and will try anything once. I can usually get her to eat her veggies (we always have vegetables served at dinner). My 4 year old, on the other hand, doesn't like veggies but will eat fruits. This is okay; fruits are high in nutrients and carbohydrates! This doesn't mean don't offer vegetables. It can take up to 20 offerings of the same food before a child will try it. As they get older and able to communicate, talking more about eating veggies will become important.
Your Pregnancy Diet is Crucial
This is for my soon-to-be pregnant or already pregnant ladies. Because I became vegan just this year, I didn't have a vegan pregnancy, but I do know that I did my child a huge disservice with my atrocious diet during my second pregnancy. More studies are linking food pickiness to the mother's pregnancy diet. Throughout my own I ate many sweets and not nearly enough fruits and vegetables. I worked at a coffee shop so I indulged in the sugary coffee drinks and pastries. Thankfully my child was born at a normal weight and hasn't exhibited any health or behavior problems that can arise from a poor diet, but I'm definitely paying for it with his picky eating. It's important to remember babies eat what we eat, which makes healthy foods even more critical during pregnancy than not.
Are you raising vegan kids? What are you tips on handling opinions from your non-vegan friends and relatives? How do you handle social situations? Is your pediatrician supportive?
Sarah is a single mother of two children proudly living the veg life.
When she's not blogging at FitVeganDiaries.com, she's reading for fun, going to school/work, training for her first half marathon, glued to social media, all while avoiding doing laundry.
A Note From Hannah
This is the second time Oops I'm a Vegan has collaborated with an outside writer (Charlotte's Vegan Challenge, anyone?) - and I am over the moon! This post from Sarah is exactly the kind of content I want to publish, but cannot yet write about myself. Thank you Sarah for such a brilliant post and I look forward to more collaboration in the future! Look out for a post from me on Sarah's site soon!
Love and Sweet Potatoes! x
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