As a first-time vegan mum navigating the perils of parenthood and all the unsolicited advice that comes with it, I know first-hand how raising your baby on a plant-based diet can raise a few eyebrows. It’s enough to make even the most experienced vegans a little anxious.
If you’ll excuse the criminally awful pun, this is in a large part because raising children in this way, despite evidence that animal-free diets are perfectly healthy for babies and children, is going against the grain.
Whilst it’s easy to focus on the judgement that still comes with raising little vegans, we need to remind ourselves why bringing up our babies and children on a meat and dairy-free diet is awesome – for the animals, for the planet and, most importantly, for them.
Here are 5 reasons to be proud that you’re raising the next vegan generation.
1. You’re nurturing their compassion
Children are naturally compassionate; any interaction they have with animals is one of pure joy. The concept of these same animals ending their lives on our dinner plate is one that contradicts everything we instill in children – kindness, love and empathy – so encouraging and nurturing compassion for other beings makes every sense.
Your plant-powered child will be able to look at the world from a different view, and not just when it comes to animals. To be vegan is to do as little harm to the planet as possible, whether that’s our impact on the animals we live with, our environment or other people around us.
And what a wonderful thing that is.
2. You’re protecting their generation, and generations to come
Adopting a plant-based diet is key to protecting the future of the planet. In fact, researchers at Oxford University found that following a vegan diet is ‘probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth’.
This is no surprise when you consider how much land, water and energy it takes to produce meat products compared with plant-based alternatives. The average ¼ pound beef burger uses a staggering 93% more land, 99% more water and emits 90% more greenhouse gases than a Beyond Burger.
Suffice to say, if we’re going to tackle the environmental crisis and protect our planet and its resources for generations to come, plant-based diets are the future.
Growing up plant-based, your child will be at the forefront of the green revolution.
3. Your baby will love veggies, hopefully…
We all know the power of a rainbow diet, so it comes as no surprise that eating more fruits and vegetables can help to extend your life. And if there’s one hurdle parents come up against again and again, it’s encouraging children to eat, and love, their veggies.
Whilst it’s unlikely that your little one will devour every vegetable you present to them (unless you’re some kind of parenting superhuman), introducing lots of plant-based foods at an early age should encourage a love of these vitamin and mineral-packed foods and set them up for a long and healthy life.
Not that we can predict what our little ones will enjoy, of course. My 8-month-old daughter hates even the sight of a sweet potato, but will happily munch away on a plate of Brussels sprouts. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
4. You’re giving them a healthy start
It’s so easy to forget that a wholefoods plant-based diet, aside from being super ethical, is healthy. Vegan babies and children will get everything they need – and more – from their plant-powered diet, provided it’s well-planned and varied.
The myriad of fruits, veggies, pulses, legumes and occasional treats that your little one will enjoy on their weaning journey and beyond will provide the important nutrients that they need: calcium from foods like leafy greens and tofu, iron from pulses and dried fruits and omega 3 fatty acids from flaxseed and walnuts to name just a few.
Plus, vegan diets are naturally lower in saturated fats, the overconsumption of which has been linked to raised cholesterol and heart disease.
The NHS recommends vegan babies and children eat a ‘wide variety of foods to provide the energy and vitamins they need for growth’. If you’re looking for some guidance on how to give your children the best vegan start in life, the Vegan Society provides a great overview of plant-based diets for babies and children.
It’s also a good idea to speak to your doctor or health visitor to discuss healthy plant-based diets for babies and children.
5. You’re raising them with a diet full of variety, treats included!
Whilst your little one’s diet will be jam-packed with amazing wholefoods, as they grow and see their peers munching away on occasional treats, they don’t have to miss out. Gone are the days when veggie or vegan kids were offered carrot sticks at parties in lieu of a slice of birthday cake or finding a vegan option at fast-food chains was harder than entertaining a toddler for 11 months in lockdown (impossible).
The popularity of vegan foods has skyrocketed in the past few years and, with it, so have the options available to us. Veganuary 2021 saw the introduction of a whole host of new plant-based options at supermarkets and restaurants, including super health-boosting food like the new acai and almond butter smoothie bowl at Pret and not-quite-so-healthy options like the new Domino’s chick-aint pizza.
Of course, treats should make a scarce appearance in your vegan child’s diet, but it’s nice to know that there’s nothing they’ll miss out on.
The fact that we now live in a world where vegan Galaxy exists tells you all you need to know.
Raising your child vegan: The bottom line
Choosing to raise your baby or child vegan is an amazing thing to do. Not only will they get all the nutrition they need to thrive from a well-planned and varied vegan diet, but you’ll be simultaneously and effortlessly safeguarding the planet for your child’s future, and for generations to come.
To all the plant-based parents raising little vegans: you are awesome.
Are you a vegan expecting a child?
Here’s how to enjoy a healthy vegan pregnancy.