Raising Vegan Children, Part I – Let’s Talk Honestly, Shall We?

April 28th, 2013 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health



Firstly and most importantly, I want to make myself very clear: I believe that raising children on a vegan diet can provide absolutely every vitamin, mineral, and nutrient necessary for optimal growth and development. No two ways about it. Please do keep that in mind if you feel like yelling at me a few paragraphs down.

So yes! I believe that a vegan diet is appropriate for every stage of life including infancy and childhood, into young adulthood, and forever after. I believe this because I have seen it. There are lots of awesome examples of people who have been vegan their entire lives, and who have clearly grown into vibrant, impressive individuals: Adair Moran (actress and professional stuntwoman), Ayinde Howell (chef and entrepreneur), Milani Malik (pro basketball player) and her sister Jehina Malik (pro body builder), and of course, Joaquin Phoenix (that’s just a link to the google image search because, well, it’s worth looking at, amiright? yowza!). You know, just to name a few.


Sorry, couldn’t resist. Hubba hubba.


So clearly, it is quite possible to create adult humans made entirely out of plants. (And brilliant, athletic, inspiring adults to boot!) However – and this is a big caveat of a HOWEVER – as parents raising vegan children, I believe that it’s important to be intellectually honest with ourselves. We should recognize that, really, this is all one big experiment. Because the truth is there’s still a whole lot that we don’t know about nutrition, and there are no (count them, zero) long-term scientific studies to guide us. There are no studies on vegans-from birth.

So we’re all sort of flying blind here, in a sense, just doing the very best we can with our current nutritional knowledge. And for the most part that’s totally good enough (see examples above), but since there are things we still don’t know, it’s also possible that some vegan diets could potentially, accidentally, be lacking in something. Because we just don’t know everything yet.


Milani Malik, lifelong vegan.


As parents – ALL parents, regardless of diet – it’s important that we keep close tabs on our children’s food intake and on their overall health. And that’s exactly what I do. In all honesty, I have had moments of great doubt and moments of intense fear and oh my god, when you are responsible for such an incredibly precious person, it’s just so important not to mess it up! (Ah, parenthood . . . ) So I have thought about this a lot (maybe more than some, after dealing with my own illness), and I have decided to use Waits and his own health as my barometer. That’s the agreement I came to with my inner hand-wringer, once I realized that I would be worried sick no matter what I was feeding him – vegan or paleo or traditional or somewhere in between.

I watch him closely. I look for all those little markers of health that I’ve amassed in my mind after endless hours of research in both academic and alternative venues. So far, he has been nothing short of exquisite: healthy; happy; strong and muscular; agile and co-ordinated; and exceptionally intelligent. He is above average height and below average weight, which is something that I do keep an eye on.


Ayinde Howell, lifelong vegan.


If his health ever became a concern, if his development slowed or his fire dulled or I if felt that he wasn’t reaching his full genetic potential in some way, well, I would not hesitate to re-examine his diet – and the dietary choices I make for him. And if for some reason it seemed that he was unable to thrive as a vegan, and if I had exhausted all the other avenues, then yes, I would be open to introducing animal foods.

I am not saying this because I believe a vegan diet is insufficient or inherently lacking. As I said above, I firmly believe just the opposite. What I want to make very clear, though, is that I will never put dogma or my own personal beliefs, no matter how deeply they are held, before my child’s health. Period.

The good news is, I don’t have to make that choice. It’s not one or the other, because they are one in the same! Waits is thriving on his vegan diet, just like so many other vegan children around the world are thriving as a new generation of plant-built people.


Adair Moran, lifelong vegan.


And I’ve seen that new generation, too. I think that part of my confidence comes from living in Portland Oregon, where literally every single one of Waits’s friends was vegan. I’ve seen so many vegan children, had the pleasure of spending time with so many pregnant vegans and lactating vegans and vegan infants and vegan toddlers and vegan sassy pre-teens. No, veganism does not prevent the sass.

So I’ve had a lot of opportunity to compare and contrast all these vegan kiddos to their omnivorous counterparts. Oh yes I did. I’ve analyzed bone structure and I’ve scrutinized height/weight and I’ve examined hair and eyes and skin and smiles and everything else I could think of. I’ve searched for patterns, sought to find some difference between vegan kids and omni kids. Maybe that’s just the scientist coming out in me.

But the best I can come up with is that on average (but not always, by any means), vegan children tend to be a bit leaner than their omnivorous peers. Which obviously makes sense. And maybe – though this is still under review – just maybe vegan kids tend to have a bit more energy. I could be biased though, since I did, in fact, birth a Tasmanian devil.

~~~

Bottom line, vegan diets can be perfectly healthy for growing children, and children can be perfectly healthy growing up vegan – BUT – that doesn’t mean every version of a vegan diet is healthy for every child. So keep a close eye on your kids and use their own health as your measuring stick.

Children are notoriously picky, which can make a well-rounded diet difficult regardless of restrictions. In my next post, I’ll talk about how to cover your bases. Yes – the much-anticipated supplement post!

Edited to add:
Part II: Why I Supplement The Way I Do
Part III: Food-Based “Supplements” For Super-Charged Children

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Hey-o! I am super duper not a doctor, or a nurse, or a health care practitioner of any kind. This post represents my personal thoughts and opinions and is in no way meant to be taken as medical advice. Whew!

  • D. Jankowski

    Really looking forward to your supplement post. My 2 1/2 year old son has been vegan since conception and is also above average height-below average weight. And I definitely see the resemblance between him and a Tasmanian devil. He’s also a very picky eater. Usually whenever i try to introduce him to new foods he refuses to try it and takes it off his plate. What he will eat is good for him, but there isn’t as much variety in his diet as I’d like. I’ve started trying to sneak veggies he won’t eat (like kale) into blended juices. Unfortunately, I do not have a high power blender, and If he notices the little green bits floating in his drink he won’t have anymore. I know you make juice for Waits, so I’m curious what added supplements you routinely use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vedged.out Somer Vedge

    I worried so much what I was feeding my first child, always monitoring her intake and praying I was doing it right, funny how now that we’re vegan, feeding my second child has been SO much less stressful for me. It seems intuitive and easy. Love this post girl!

  • Kim

    I am so glad that you said you will not put your dogma ahead of your child’s health. Thank you for that.

    While I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years (I am 33), I felt very unhealthy on a vegan diet. And I did work with health coaches and natural practitioners. It just didn’t work for me. I think a healthy vegan diet can help some people thrive, but I don’t think it’s for everyone.

  • charlton

    Hello No,
    I totally understand your feelings; when I first started on the path to becoming vegan after learning about animal cruelty, I found it difficult not to become incensed. And there’s good reason for that anger; there’s a very strong imbalance where on one hand, for the human, reasons may be related to fairly trivial things, and on the other, for the animal, the consequences of those reasons means death and pain.

    So I do get it, 100%, and I’ll always admire that clear, no-nonsense understanding of what this debate means for the animals. I still struggle with being 100% vegan and still eat products with dairy by-products occasionally and I don’t feel good about it. The frequency is decreasing, so I’m confident that I’ll get there. In my case, not feeling good about it isn’t discouraging, but I guess not everyone feels the same way. People don’t like being called out because they don’t like confrontation, perceive it as being disrespectful, etc.

    While I welcome being called-out these days, even in a strongly worded way, I didn’t like being called out when I was a meat-eater. I had to read “Eating Animals” by Foer to switch to veganism, and I put this down to the fact that he himself admits throughout the book to his own shortcomings and he shows a lot of empathy towards meat-eaters in every chapter.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think you really want to help animals, and you can, your passion is a testament to that, but try the Foer approach!

  • Pingback: Raising Vegan Children, Part II – Why I Supplement The Way I Do | Bonzai Aphrodite

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=585220690 Loraine MacDonald Speck

    My kids are 11 and 8 and vegan since conception.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    That’s a tough one and a very personal decision. My only advice is to have that conversation WAY before you get pregnant, and make sure that you guys have come to a true compromise/resolution that you can both support and respect.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Hello! =D

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    It’s okay to say it! Skepticism is healthy – it keeps us honest and keeps us moving forward. ;-)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    I don’t know about recipe books for feeding vegan kids, but if you think your partner would read it, Disease-Proof Your Child by Dr Fuhrman is a great guide to the science behind raising plant-powered kids, and why it’s optimal.

    Also, Kris Carr has an ebook in production called Crazy Silly Kids – which I was lucky enough to contribute to! – that’s all about raising plant based kiddos and will include lots of recipes. Definitely keep on the lookout for that one!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Aww, thank you Pedders!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    We rotate full-fat canned coconut milk (for smoothies) with fortified almond milk and oat milk for drinking. I don’t like rice because I feel like it’s basically sugar water, and I don’t do soy milk (at home) because I don’t want to overdo the soy in general (we don’t avoid it completely, just try to keep it moderate).

  • http://www.facebook.com/karenkayemyers Karen Myers

    I second that hug that Michelle is offering. I HATE the breast pump. It is a terrible torture device that leaves me with sore nipples and a low yield for my efforts. I tried upgrading pumps, changing shields, using warm compresses and even meditation before pumping and I still just had 2 sore nipples and 4oz of expressed milk after 30+ minutes. When my son nurses directly, it works like a charm and he is a large healthy boy to prove it, but it isn’t possible for me to be present for every feeding of every day. I too struggled with the “formula is poison” fear and didn’t want to talk to judgey nurse-at-all-cost moms, so I felt I couldn’t get advice. Ultimately, I realized that the best I can do, is the best I can do and nobody’s opinion is going to change that. Now when I am away my son gets Earths Best Organic Soy and when he is a year (in less than two months!!!!!) we will give him a variety of non-dairy fortified milks to see which works best. Remember – it’s all an experiment and in the end, I think we’re all going to end up with terrific kids because we love them enough to participate in this conversation and make educated choices.