I have been a vegetarian since the age of six. It was my own choice and much to my parents dismay.Then, a few years ago I became vegan and when I did this I made my son (aged two at the time) vegan too.
When I first changed to a vegan lifestyle I joined lots of online vegan parenting groups both for support and advice. There are also numerous websites from which Ive been able to source information and guidance such as the
Vegan Society and Viva. Ive not talked too much to other non-vegan parents about our choices but those that know have been supportive, making special arrangements for things like childrens birthday parties so my son doesnt miss out.
We didnt speak to a doctor about going vegan as Ive learned they have little training in nutrition, so instead we chatted to some nutritionists who were very encouraging and fully in support of the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
I read up on what child vegans need and make sure my son gets all the right nutrients and so forth. Getting calcium is easy for us as were a family of kale lovers and kale is a great source of calcium, which we also get from fortified non-dairy milks, chickpeas and other leafy vegetables.As far as calcium goes its much more easily absorbed from these sources than from cows milk and far healthier so Ive no concerns about calcium. By avoiding dairy we also lower the risk of diseases such as osteoporosis and some cancers.
I have seen the health benefits of being vegan (for example, I havent had a cold for ages) and my son has been bug-free too. Before going vegan he was always catching things but thats all changed now.
I can advise people to do research before making the change, not only to ensure your child has a healthy diet but also so youre prepared to answer any negative comments you might get and that you can competently answer any questions. Unfortunately, people can be very misinformed about how healthy a vegan diet is and so can be set against it, so it is helpful to be able to inform them properly about it.
Jamie Paton, 26, Fife, Scotland: We know we are doing the best for our child
We always wanted our daughter to be vegan but, at first, we were unsure about how to go about it. I feel very strongly when it comes to the ethics of veganism we wanted our child to be compassionate and were also aware of the health benefits of this diet.
It wasnt hard to make the switch. We did it when Harley was four months old. Harley craves lots of fruit and vegetables. We have tried her with mock meats but she isnt really keen on them so we tend to stick to a whole foods plant-based diet. In terms of how we will explain it all to her when shes older, we just plan on educating her about why we dont eat animals. As parents we hope she stays vegan but thats ultimately down to her. We are strict with her now because when you eat animal products you are taking the life of another being and we completely disagree with it.
Photograph: Jamie Paton
It might seem like bringing up a vegan child would be hard, but there are lots of different options these days. The only hard part is the judgment passed on us by other parents. There was a great deal of this when we first started out and we have been told it is child abuse and that is sick, and that we shouldnt force this on our child. However, we are confident parents now and know what we are doing is best for our child, for the animals and for the planet.
To be safe we just made sure Harley was getting everything she needs supplement-wise such as iron, calcium, etc. We do all that with the food she eats. We also make she is getting a lot green vegetables and a lot of high carbohydrate low-fat foods. Protein has never really been a concern because we know the food she is eating has more than enough protein and this is just a misconception about vegan food.
I run a vegan podcast and I speak to vegan activists from all over the world and a lot of vegan parents. I have spoken with leading vegan childrens author Ruby Roth and she was extremely helpful with Harley (as has
YouTuber Vegan Geezer). They told me how to deal with the judgment from other people, and to remember that when others judge you for what you do they most likely dont know much about the vegan lifestyle.
You will hear a lot of people tell you that you cant raise a child vegan because your child wont be healthy and will lack energy. This is completely untrue so just be confident with what youre doing and if you need help reach out to the vegan community because they are always there for you.
Charlotte Farndon, 31, north London: George knows why he is vegan and thinks it is highly important
George, who is now four, has been vegan for about two years. We were vegetarian before that and made the decision as a family. People ask me a lot, why not wait for him to ask to become vegan? I know a few vegan families who bring up their children as vegetarians. However, if you believe in something morally as a parent then you should pass on those morals. Its up to him to change his mind and question it as he gets older but I teach my son to say please and thank you, so I dont see why I shouldnt teach him to be vegan because I believe its the right thing.
I dont think he remembers what it was like before he became vegan but he is a headstrong little boy and does know he is vegan. He knows he is different from other students (I think he is the only vegan in his school) and he is really proud of that. George cannot have hot lunches like most of the other children and when they make honey bagels at school or jelly or cakes, he is the only one who will not have any. But that doesnt bother him at all and the teachers know about his dietary requirements. When George tells me that they made jelly at school he says he didnt want to eat it because its made of dead pig.
We didnt go to our GP when we initially became vegan but a number of my friends are doctors and are amazed by how healthy Georges diet is. We sought their advice and researched extensively online. George has since had a blood test too. A vegan diet can be a very healthy one, full of fibre, iron, protein and full of vitamins, minerals and nutrients but there are strongly required supplements for children such as calcium and B12. A vegan child can consume plenty of B12 and calcium in plant foods and milks but a supplement is beneficial to ensure an adequate amount. Supplements are provided by many parents following a range of diets. You need to be cautious and educate yourselves on your requirements. Not all vegan diets are equal and just as you can have a healthy or an unhealthy omnivorous diet, you can have a healthy or unhealthy vegan diet.
I would not base my vegan childs diet on refined carbohydrates such as white bread for breakfast, pasta for lunch and a pizza with a vegan cheese for supper. Typically, a vegan will put significant research into their childs diet. We are not only questioned on it regularly but have made a conscious decision to be different from the norm and more often than not
, based on thorough research.
A vegan dish made for George includes brown rice and grilled vegetables.
George knows why he is vegan which we believe is highly important and one of the main reasons he does not feel excluded from other foods. We eat a lot of beans, lentils, kale and quinoa and George will happily eat a bowl of spinach. He makes breakfast himself and is really involved in the food we make. He is very proud that he is vegan he thinks he is saving environment and the animals and making himself stronger at the same time.
Rachel Wells, 28, Bedfordshire: Preparation is key its definitely made me more organised
My son is now 15 months old. I didnt receive support for breastfeeding so he was formula fed until then and hes vegan because I am. Im vegan firstly for ethical reasons, then health and environmental ones.
I did my research online, reading articles and speaking to other vegan parents before making the choice. I spoke to my health visitor about it as well and she recommended
first steps nutrition as a source of information
The advice I would give is that preparation is key as there arent many vegan foods for on the go. Its not hard at all, however, and you get used to reading labels. I make most of our food from scratch so I know whats going in it.
The challenges are other people, especially online, where vegans get judged a lot. And family members who believe that eating meat is essential.
Being vegan from almost birth it will be easier for him to understand that we have to look after the earth and the animals and Ill talk to him about why others eat animals and drink animal milk I try not to normalise non-vegan activities like zoos or farms so its not confusing for him, this goes for TV shows as well.
His health obviously hasnt changed but compared to other toddlers and children hes very rarely ill. Other parents are curious and maybe a bit intimidated. They can be judgmental but if youre feeding your one-year-old McDonalds and giving them fizzy drinks you need to have a word with yourself before you start pointing the finger.