Raising vegan children is a commitment that isn’t to be taken lightly but, as health and environmental concerns continue to plague the meat and dairy industries, it’s a choice that more parents are debating.
While making the change to go vegan in today’s environmentally conscious world is quite common, the concept of raising vegan children is, however, a much trickier one. My Good Planet spoke with Irish vegan mum of two and Instagram blogger, Siobhan Waters, to find how the controversial lifestyle choice has impacted on her children and where the challenges lie.
My Good Planet: At what stage in your life did you become vegan, and why, and when did you decide you would raise your kids vegan?
‘We went vegan around three years ago and, like every vegan says, my only regret is not doing it sooner. I was a rare steak kind of girl and was made to believe animals were here for us. I began researching, though, and I was shocked to learn how damaging animal products are for our health and our environment. I honestly felt let down that these products are promoted as part of a healthy diet. I knew animal products were not good for me so I was not going to continue to give them to my kids. My son Patrick had eczema that cleared up straight away after cutting out dairy.”
My Good Planet: How do your kids feel about being vegan?
”Patrick was a little over two years old when we went vegan so he remembered the usually suspects: ham and cheese sandwiches. Éireann on the other hand is a total vegan baby. I had a healthy vegan pregnancy with her and she is now two. She doesn’t know the difference because it is all she knows in our house and she is only two! We never scared Patrick by telling him what happens to animals. We just explained to him that we do not want to hurt animals and there were no arguments there! There is nothing my kids miss out on being vegan. In fact they are always trying new and exciting foods.
My Good Planet: Do you encounter much stigma/challenges, particularly from other parents opinions on where your kids get their protein?
”The protein question – every vegans nightmare! Honestly I can say I haven’t experienced much stigma around this issue. I can think of one example where a parent asked the question, but I explained that my kids get the protein they require from plants directly and not filtered through an animal. I suppose you can’t blame people for thinking protein is only found in animal products, because this is what we are led to believe. We get our protein from beans, nuts, seeds, pulses and grains. So far my kids are not protein deficient!
As far as challenges go,a lot of non vegans like to joke and ask “are you sure that’s vegan?” almost trying to catch us out. To be honest, I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. Myself and my family live a vegan lifestyle because we now know this is the single biggest thing we can do to combat climate change and reduce the suffering inflicted on animals.”
My Good Planet: What does a typical day look like in your house, breakfast, lunch + dinner….particularly the kids lunches at school?
”It’s all about the art of disguise and I am a pro at sneaking in all the good stuff. In general both are great eaters but they can have fussy periods like all children.
We still have all the usual meals we used to have just veganized along with a lot of new dishes. Breakfast for the kids now is “hulk” porridge. This is made with coconut milk, wheatgrass or spirulina, chia seeds, maple syrup and cacao. They love it and it’s packed full of goodness. Snacks include nuts and fruit. Éireann would be happy eating a tub of hummus for lunch and sometimes she does! Patrick’s lunch box includes lots of fresh fruit and berries (pomegranate, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries etc), crackers with hummus or a home made sun dried tomato pesto, nuts, soy yogurt, sometimes homemade chickpea “sausage” rolls and homemade oat bars.
We have cut back on the vegan substitute ham and cheese sandwiches and make our own sandwich fillings. Dinner last night was a spaghetti bolognese made with lentils, spinach, sweet potato and topped with nutritional yeast. Guaranteed to be wolfed down by everyone! We might have vegan ice cream as a treat after, easily made with frozen banana, berries or cacao and maple syrup. Weekends are when we splash out because we have more time to bake and cook. We usually have pancakes for breakfast, raspberry scones with coconut cream or chia seed puddings. Scramble tofu or chickpea for lunch with tomatoes, mushroom and crispy kale and maybe cauliflower wings or Mexican quinoa for dinner! It all depends on what we fancy. I love baking and experimenting with recipes.”
My Good Planet: Do you ever worry about them getting all of their vitamins, and how do you deal with this?
”At the start I would have worried about this, because I thought we needed meat for iron, fish for omega 3 etc. However, after doing a bit of research, I learned that we can get all these vitamins and minerals from plants. For example omega 3 is actually from algae in the ocean and it is where fish primarily obtain omega 3. Even purified fish oils have been found to be contaminated with pollutants – a result of humans polluting the oceans. Why not get these vitamins and minerals first hand when we can and when it is not only better for us but the planet also?! Knowing what I know now I don’t worry about our vitamin and mineral intake. We all take a vegan multi vitamin, probiotic, vitamin D and vitamin B12 everyday anyway. ”
My Good Planet: Do you have any tips on resources you use like vegan blogs/books/websites for meal ideas?
”My go to lately when I need some inspiration is a brilliant book called “15 Minute Vegan” by Kathy Beskow. The recipes are delicious, quick and easy. I can always whip up something quick from this book when the kids are starving! The best website for science based research and articles is without a doubt nutritionfacts.org. This website is run by Dr. Michael McGregor, and he breaks down the lastest research on foods. He also has a book called “How Not To Die” which is packed full of plant based recipes based on the latest nutrition science. I would highly recommend this website for anyone who is skeptical of a plant based diet. ”
My Good Planet: Do you find that being vegan is cost effective or not in this country (Ireland)?
”I definitely found that, once we cut out meat from our diets, our food shopping bill came down quite a lot. It depends on what you buy though. Some substitutes can be expensive and at the start we would have used them a lot but now just for a treat every so often.
There are so many amazing vegan restaurants now and these aren’t anymore expensive than any other restaurants. Our weekly food shop is around 70 euro – sometimes more and sometimes less. Obviously it ends up being more if we buy ready made foods so we always try to make everything ourselves but sometimes it is just easier to pick a packet of falafel off the shelf!”
My Good Planet: What is your favourite go-to meal that the kids love and are guaranteed to eat?
”Right now this would have to be a cheezey pasta dish. We all love this! The ‘cheeze’ sauce is made using cashew nuts. I have an easy recipe on my Instagram. We change this up by adding different veggies like peas, tender stem broccoli, kale, spinach… whatever is there! I like to spice mine up with chilli flakes, jalapenos and sriracha! This ‘cheeze’ sauce can be used for nachos and lots of other recipes. Of course the kids love any of the deserts I make which most recently was a raw vegan cheezecake. Empty plates guaranteed! ”
As Siobhan states ”switching to a vegan diet is the best way we can fight climate change. Animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.”
Raising vegan children is a dedicated, committed, responsible lifestyle choice.
One which with preparation and research can be done right. Knowledge is power after all, right?
Siobhan Waters clearly has a passion for cooking and baking and all of her recipes can be found on her Instagram page.