How to Transition Your Child to Veganism
When it comes to feeding our kids a healthy diet, the struggle is real! Believe me, we know that life is already crazy enough and feeling pressure or guilt about the things we feed our children is the last thing we need.
What I also know is that teaching healthy eating habits is (1) one of the best gifts we can ever give them (2) OUR responsibility and (3) not nearly as impossible or inconvenient as it seems!
As some of you may know, I started Mila on a vegan diet but over the years I gave in to the ideology that children need dairy and eggs to be healthy. So I can empathize with parents struggling to transition their children to a plant-based diet because I've done it myself. I’ve learned some simple things that really help this process and I hope they will help you too!
Here are 8 tips to help you through this amazing, challenging, and important process:
Help them to identify as a vegan: It is critical that children understand that this transition isn't about making their lives miserable or depriving them of what they want. Instead, it is about growth and becoming more mindful, compassionate human beings. We want our children to associate being a "vegan" with being someone who shows their love, gratitude, and respect for their miraculous bodies by only feeding it foods that protect it from disease. Being "vegan" means being someone who is willing to make small sacrifices to save innocent animals from lives of captivity, abuse, torture, and murder. Being "vegan" means making choices that will protect the planet. Children love animals, children love nature, children love LOVE. If they understand what these choices mean, it makes a huge difference! Check out these videos on YouTube that break everything down for your child and to aid you in educating your child.
Give them examples to emulate and admire: Finding other children who can serve as role models for your children is so helpful! Let them watch YouTube videos of other vegan children - let your child see them preparing food, eating plant-based foods, turning down "yucky" processed and animal-based foods. Ask them which foods they would like to try and get them in the kitchen with you preparing them. And of course the very best example for them is YOU! Eat the way you want them to eat and they will follow.
Eliminate the temptations: There is no reason to keep anything in the house that doesn't fit in the lifestyle you are seeking. Throw it out. It is just as wasteful to consume foods that won't serve our bodies as it is to just throw them away. If unhealthy foods aren't available, then they can kick and scream all they want but it will be impossible to give in (and I promise the "kicking and screaming" will decrease with time).
Keep them full: Another important note is that your child will likely need to eat more food and eat more often on a plant-based diet because fruit digests so quickly, so be sure to keep them full. If they are hungry, they will be more irritable and more difficult to reason with and certainly not in the mood to try new foods or let go of old ones. We have found that having a special drawer in the fridge that Mila can reach always stocked full with healthy, easy to grab snacks keeps her healthy and full, develops her ownership and independence in her diet choices, and keeps us sane! Being sure to include healthy fats like avocado, coconut meat, and nuts will also help children to get the nutrients they need as well as keep them full longer!
Feed them their favorites: These days, there are SO many vegan alternatives to animal-based favorites. Note that being "vegan" doesn't automatically mean something is healthy - it is still so important to focus on whole foods not processed, packaged ones. However, these options are perfect for the transition phase. If your child loves quesadillas, make them quesadillas! Grab some whole grain tortillas and Daiya or So Delicious "cheese" and voila! And it doesn't even have to be packaged options. If your child loves macaroni and cheese, whip up some homemade cashew "cheese" and make mac and cheese!
Make it an on-going conversation: Talk with your child through this process, don't just talk at them. Ask them their thoughts, challenges, and concerns. What is making them frustrated? What are the things they miss? Help them to see all the things you CAN still eat and do. Through this process, we would still go out for ice cream because the experience is just as special to children as the ice cream itself. While there we would focus on the flavors Mila could choose from that didn't have milk meant for baby cows in it. If your child loved Friday Pizza Nights then keep doing Friday Pizza Nights and focus on the things that are still the same (just with slight vegan variations). And most importantly, never shame your child or make them feel guilty for eating a non-vegan food. If they choose to have string cheese with their class at school, let them make that choice. You can follow it up at another time with a loving conversation about what is in string cheese and why that isn't healthy for our bodies or kind to animals, but never in an accusatory way. Always leading with love.
Celebrate their successes: Of course this isn't some brilliant thing I came up with haha, just basic psychology. If we want our children to continue choosing plant-based foods, we need to give them positive reinforcements (praise and positive attention) when they make those hard decisions and choose love and compassion!
Understand that it is a process: There will be steps forward followed by steps back. Think about any major change you've made in your own life as an adult - it is always a process. Personally, I went vegan once before but I wasn't educated enough to have a strong enough conviction to stick to it when it got hard. This time around, I've made an effort to continuously educate myself not just on the health benefits but on animal rights, environmental benefits, and world hunger impacts as well. This has made it a completely different experience. It might take a long time for your child to develop these understandings in a way that intrinsically motivates them to live a vegan lifestyle - let that be. Understand that progress is always the goal, not perfection.
So there you have it! My 8 simple tips to help you transition your child to a vegan diet. Always remember that it can take up to 15 times of trying a new food to "like" it so if your child resists for a while (especially if they haven't been accustom to eating fruits and veggies) be patient and keep going! Their tastebuds WILL adjust and their preferences WILL change! And the process will be so worth the results. Sending you tons of aloha!