Before you have kids, you have all kinds of ideas about what they will be like and what you will be like as a parent.
Then you have them, and you quickly realize that they are not here to fulfill your parenting fantasies—and you have to let go of ideas around perfect parenting for yourself, too.
Choosing to raise your kids vegan adds an extra layer of expectation and concerns. I am here to tell you that many of the expectations seem silly now, and many of the worries never came to pass.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far:
1. Your kids might not be that into farm animals.
When you go vegan, you suddenly feel a kinship with the cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep you used to eat. Now that you don’t eat them and maybe you’ve learned a thing or two about their special abilities, your heart opens up to them in a way that it hadn’t before. You find yourself rushing out to any farm animal sanctuary in desperate need of a pig’s belly to rub. When I was pregnant with my son, I had visions of my child and me bonding over how wonderful farm animals are, chilling with chickens, and communing with cows at sanctuaries. But since my kids grew up always respecting animals and never eating any, farm animals are just among all the other animals they don’t eat, so there’s no special allure. That’s not to say that they would poo-poo a sanctuary visit, but it would be like visiting any animal shelter or sanctuary.
2. Your kids might be more vigilant than you are.
As a new vegan parent, you wonder if your kid will be unwittingly served animal products. It does happen, but if your kids are anything like mine, it won’t get past the kiddie vegan police. Vegan kids take their lifestyle very seriously, even before they fully understand what veganism is. So you might overhead your three-year-old asking Grandma if the sandwich bread she is serving is vegan. Or the apple. Or the water. This can come in handy on holidays like Halloween. Speaking of which …
3. Holidays are so not an issue.
Many of us have such magical memories of the holidays, and we worry that they won’t be as magical for our kids if they can’t eat all the same treats we had. It turns out that holidays are still magical to vegan kids—even the spooky one coming up—especially since so many treats are accidentally vegan. On Halloween, the kiddie vegan police ask their neighbors which of their offerings are vegan. The look on the adults’ faces is priceless, and it ends up being a teaching moment as the adults have to think about ingredients. One easy way to get around any potential disappointment is to bring vegan chocolates you’ve ordered online and plop some into their trick-or-treat bag. Other families enlist the help of the Switch Witch, who comes at night to swaps out non-vegan candies for vegan ones or for little toys and trinkets. Either way, it helps to go trick-or-treating with another vegan kid so they have a sense of solidarity. Some families even organize a vegan trunk or treat, where they decorate the trunks of their cars, and the kids go from trunk to trunk, collecting vegan candies. The same vegan candies or toys and trinkets can stuff holiday stockings or fill Easter eggs. And the vegan food blogger militia has made damn sure that any traditional favorites that people make for holidays can be made vegan.
4. Birthday cupcake envy is a thing but not how you might expect.
A reporter once asked if I worried that my kids would feel bad denying my kids the full experience of eating the food at non-vegan birthday parties. I told him that these days, 95 percent of birthday parties—in NYC, anyway—involve pizza and cake. We bring our own pizza, and we bring our own cupcakes. We’re super lucky because we live down the street from Peacefood Café, so we swing by and pick up our treats on the way to the party. But for in-class celebrations at school, I usually make a batch of cupcakes, tailor them to my child so it’s their favorite flavor/color/sprinkles, and leave them in a freezer at school so they can be taken out when needed. Neither of my children has ever thrown a fit over not having the same birthday cake/food as the other kids. More than once, though, I’ve heard other kids say they wanted one of our cupcakes.
5. Your kids might not like the same foods you like.
Newsflash: kids can be a touch choosy when it comes to foods. When I was pregnant, I fantasized about a child who would grow up loving steamed greens. Then my children came along, and they were very real people with their own likes (processed vegan cheese!) and their own dislikes (steamed greens!). I scrambled to find resources to give me ideas for how to expand their palates and get them to love as many healthy plant foods as possible. I compiled some of the “best of” everyday recipes from vegan parent friends and worked with chef Laura Delhauer to come up with ideas for our family and other families. Thus our book was born. Now greens are gobbled here with gusto in the form of kale chips, Neverland Smoothie, Perfect Green Juice, Green Power Pizza Spread, and Top o’ the Morning Green Power Pancakes (see below for the recipe) just to name a few.
I hope parents find some new family favorites in our book as well as their own pleasant surprises in their own parenting journeys too!
Below is a recipe from the new book, The Vegucated Family Table, by Marisa Miller Wolfson and Laura Delhauer.
Why should we wait for Saint Patrick’s Day to sneak spinach into a breakfast favorite like pancakes? These certainly are “green power pancakes.” Four mini pancakes, made with calcium- and vitamin B12–fortified nondairy milk, deliver more than half your baby’s recommended daily calcium and vitamin B12. Add in 25 percent of iron needs and 30 percent of zinc needs, and these are some super green power pancakes!
TOP OF THE MORNING GREEN POWER PANCAKES
(MAKES 24 SILVER DOLLAR PANCAKES ... 6 SERVINGS)
1 cup nondairy milk
3⁄4 cup packed spinach
1⁄4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2⁄3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour 5 tablespoons iron-fortified baby cereal (Note: You can substitute 1⁄2 cup of rolled oats for the baby cereal, but it won’t have as much iron.)
tablespoon chia seeds
teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon salt (only for older kids and adults, not babies)
Coconut oil spray or melted coconut oil, for greasing
Berry Chia Jam
or sliced strawberries (optional, for topping)
In a blender, combine the milk, spinach, and vanilla and blend on high until the mixture turns green. In a large bowl, combine the pastry flour, baby cereal, chia seeds, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt (if using). Add the milk mixture and mix until combined.
Preheat the oven to 200ºF.
As the batter sets and the chia seeds soak up the liquid, warm a large skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. Once the skillet or griddle is hot (but not screaming hot), spray or drizzle the surface with coconut oil. Scoop single tablespoons of the batter onto the hot surface and cook until the edges of the pancakes are dry, 3 to 4 minutes, then flip and cook until the underside is golden brown, another minute or two. Transfer the pancakes to an oven-safe
serving dish or baking pan and keep them warm in the oven while you cook the remaining batter.
Serve the pancakes warm, topped with chia jam or sliced strawberries, if desired. (The vitamin C in strawberries helps unlock the iron power!)
Marisa Miller Wolfson is the creator of the award-winning documentary Vegucated and co-author of The Vegucated Family Table: Irresistible Vegan Recipes & Proven Tips for Feeding Plant-Powered Babies, Toddlers & Kids. She lives in New York City with her husband, two kids, and two rescued goldfish.
Photo: Jessica Mahady