Find out how Stella experienced raising her children on a vegan lifestyle over 22 years ago
I am extremely grateful to Stella for sharing how she experienced being a vegan mum who raised her children as vegan, during a time when restaurants and supermarkets weren't as vegan friendly as they are now.
Vegan parenting in the media
With vegan parenting taking a high profile in the press recently, frequently with negative connotations, and the potential to face imprisonment in Italy, I felt compelled to finally respond to Heena’s request for an article based on my own experiences.
In any diet or lifestyle there is the potential to get it wrong or make mistakes, but with veganism there is no more threat to a child’s nutritional health and well-being than there is to a child following a ‘conventional’ diet.
Of course it is important to look into ensuring that your child receives adequate nutrition through all stages of their growth and development, and these needs can be met easily as a vegan.
How Michael Klaper helped me in the early days
Twenty three years ago when my husband and I decided it was time to start a family there was very little literature available, but I found a book in my local health store: ‘Pregnancy, Children and the Vegan Diet’ by Michael Klaper, published in 1987. It already seemed dated, and being American there were mentions of foods that I hadn’t heard of, but it became my trusted guide in the early days.
My first born
My daughter was born in March 1995. Her weight was healthy and she was keen to feed. However after two weeks of struggling to satisfy her hunger I decided to try using a formula. Farley’s soya formula to the rescue! It was vegan, had all the essential nutrients needed, was easy to use and resulted in me having a happy baby.
I had twins in my second pregnancy
Two years on and my twin sons arrived! The formula was an absolute blessing whilst I was feeding twins and looking after a 2 year-old.
When it came to weaning onto solid foods I mixed the formula with pureed fruits and vegetables. I either made up into liquid first, or took it straight out of the tin in powder form, and added it to the puree. It made the food rich and creamy, as well as, adding extra vitamins and minerals to it.
Vitamins and Minerals
Over the years there have been stories in the press about certain oils e.g. omega 3 and omega 6, and minerals being absolutely essential for development and growth, alongside the scaremongering that vegetarian and vegan children and adults were in danger, as they were missing out on these essentials! This was later followed by a warning about the dangers of having too much!
Generally, it’s important to remain level-headed and try to discern what is truthful and what was simply scare-mongering. This is especially relevant in parenting. There are many plant based foods that are rich in, or have added vitamins and minerals, so with a good varied diet, every nutritional requirement can be met.
There are many supplements that are easily available. I gave my children a daily vegan multi-vitamin when they were younger, however I have never been fanatical about it.
I would give the children a B12 pill (Solgar) several times a week, but not as often now, because the milk and cereal that they consume is fortified.
My daughter takes an iron supplement for one week each month; however, like me she has never been anaemic so this is just a precaution.
What I fed my 3 vegan children
When they were younger, I cooked an early evening meal for the children so that I could bathe them and get them ready for bed before their father came home. I know. Very traditional!
The meals were usually very simple but included all the key nutrients of protein, fat, carbohydrates, calcium and fibre.
Snacks consisted of fresh or dried fruits. I always had bananas and packs of raisins to hand. Other snacks included homemade flapjacks, rice cakes or toast with peanut butter. I did a lot of baking when they were younger so there was a good supply of cookies, cakes, pies etc. There was little choice in supermarkets and shops back then, so making my own was essential.
Being vegan at school
My children had packed lunches because there were no vegan options available at their school. I don’t think Alpro sold small yoghurts then, so they had a sandwich, fruit, crisps (until the school banned them), a biscuit and a carton of juice.
I was conscious of wanting their lunches to look the same as the other kids’ to avoid them experiencing any negative feelings about veganism. However, they also knew that swapping food with the others wasn’t appropriate because there might be something from animals in it. I have been honest and open about the meaning of being vegan with the children, from a young age. If they were ready to ask the question, I felt they were ready for a truthful answer. I haven’t felt the need to share grisly graphic details, but they had access to literature, books, magazines and the internet if they wanted to explore it further.
My kids got invited to numerous parties when they were young. I was grateful that their friend's parents were understanding and accepted our choices. In doing so, they made sure they catered for my children. Some went as far as to ensure mine were fully catered for, doing their own searching and tracking down of items in the health food stores or supermarket. For those who struggled, I was always ready and willing to help out.
I also offered to bring along vegan sausage rolls, iced buns, ice-cream and sweets, so that there was something there that everyone could eat.
A tip for making sure birthday parties go smoothly
If your child is vegan and been invited to a birthday party, it’s worth asking the parents what they're planning to serve. You can then create something that matches it as closely as possible, so that your child’s meal isn’t obviously different.
Party bags were a big deal, so I’d offer to supply vegan alternatives to the edible bits that might be included, and once more I was touched by the number of people who were thoughtful enough to make sure my children got some lovely vegan treats.
Only on a few rare occasions have my children were excluded from being invited to a birthday party because they were being vegan. It's difficult for me to understand why someone to invite all their class mates to a party, apart from the ones who are vegan. If I don't understand it, how can I suggest reasons for their behaviour and console my children?
Going to friends’ for tea
When they got to an age where they could go to their friend's for tea, it was based on their decision on who they wanted to spend time with. Some parents embraced the idea of providing vegan options, others approached me asking for suggestions, and there were those who were at a complete loss. I was happy that those who weren't sure, asked, as I didn't mind helping at all. I would also offer to provide popular food items that they might serve, and I'd let them know about specific items that were easily accessible.
For school trips, I made sure that I provided them with a hearty pack lunch. If there was an opportunity to spend money on sweets or ice-cream they knew what they could and couldn’t have. Back then, their choice would have been the push-up style fruit ices and lollies.
Residential school trips have been a slight disaster. I used to let the school know about their dietary requirements. On two occasions, I was told that they would be catered for, only to find out that my boys spent an entire four or five days eating plain bread and apples. Luckily, I packed flapjacks, nuts and chocolate in their cases, so they had them too, but the school should have done better! Even though they had money to spend, they were unable to break away from the group in order to seek out vegan food, and came back very hungry!
Connecting with other vegans
When the twins were around 10 months old I met a wonderful vegan woman who had just had her first child, and was raising him vegan. Over the years we have remained good friends and supported one another with our experiences, sharing new finds, meals and recipes, laughs, and some of the pitfalls we’ve encountered. We’ve let each other know about the current best place to buy vegan friendly school shoes etc, which was incredibly helpful as this was before the days of the internet.
What are my 'children' doing now?
My daughter is almost 22 and has graduated from the University of Sheffield, and the twins are coming up to 20. The boys have been successful in gaining places in the universities of their choice, and have recently moved into their respective accommodation. They're making quite an impression on their peers with their culinary skills!
I can honestly say they have all thrived on a vegan diet. I have no regrets.
'Accidentally' eating vegan food
There have had a few ‘accidents’ or experiments, which they’ve been honest and open about. Frank admitted to trying cheese at school once. They happened to be celebrating all things French, and someone had brought in a rather smelly blue, which made him feel very sick and full of regret.
How do my children feel about being raised vegan?
Whenever I or others, have asked them, they have said that they’re glad that they were vegan from birth. I guess the fact they are all committed to continuing to be vegan is testament to that.