2018 is the year that veganism has gone mainstream.
You can’t move for brands trying to cash in on the green pound these days. And whether we’re capitalists or not, there’s no denying that the spread of the plant-based movement is a positive development.
But far fewer people are keen on bringing up children to be vegan.
While adults can choose their diets and ethics, children don’t have a say – and although that’s obviously the same for kids being brought up in omnivorous households too, the idea of bringing up children vegan seems to engender a kind of moral panic in many meat eaters.
Oh God, they’ll die from protein deficiency before they even reach reception, alarmists scream.
As veganism spreads among millennials, however, more and more of us will start to think about if and how to bring up our families vegan.
Lydia Beauvais, a lifelong vegetarian and a vegan for the past four years, is weaning her 18-month-old baby Sol onto an exclusively plant-based diet.
When I ask her how and why she’s doing so, she says that the question should be why aren’t people bringing their kids up on a vegan diet.
‘I mean there are so many health benefits to doing so – plus the only way to save the future of their planet is through veganism. The facts are all there and me and my family are living proof of this,’ she says.
‘We are all veggie or vegan and have had an incredible healthy upbringing, never having any serious health problems.
‘Both my parents are vegans and again are both so healthy, looking great for their age. In fact, my dad (who is in his late 60s) went for a routine check-up and the doctors said he’s as healthy as a 30-year-old. so I guess I never even thought about bringing up my child any differently.’
Another reason, she says, is that kids don’t actually want to eat animals.
‘If you explained to them what they are eating, they’d be horrified.’
That’s undeniable; if you told a kid that the lump of chicken on their plate was actually the flesh from one of the Chicken Run birds, they’d probably start crying. And if they weren’t disturbed by that fact, you’d probably start to be concerned about their emotional development.
Because she’s starting from the very start, Lydia says weaning babies on a vegan diet is ‘seriously so easy’.
‘I’ve been brought up on vegan meals so I don’t really know any different.
‘I would say maybe eating out can sometimes be tricky but as time goes on with more and more vegan options available it is getting easier and easier. Especially living in Brighton, I’m very lucky in that sense.’
So what kinds of foods does she give Sol?
‘Everything! From pancakes to chickpea curry. Sol loves his food, he eats anything and everything. I think there’s that stereotype that vegans just eat lettuce, when in reality you can adapt any meal out there into a vegan meal, which is always 100x yummier and healthier (plus you’re not hurting an innocent animal).’
Despite her plant-based background, Lydia says that she still got a few comments from family friends who said that she needed to drink cows milk or else her baby would come out unhealthy and undersized.
‘That completely wasn’t the case – he was incredibly healthy, weighing 9lb, and he continues to be as healthy and chubby as ever.’
So, what advice would she give to new vegan parents thinking about meaning their babies onto a plant-based diet?
‘Do not listen to the media or other people’s opinions, do your own research and decide for yourself what you think is the best route to go down for you and your child, and if it is veganism join vegan Facebook groups to get in touch with other vegan parents. It makes it easier having that support network around you that feel the same as you do, plus you can also swap recipes.’
How to bring up a vegan child, according to a nutritionist
Are there any potential dangers to bring small children up vegan?
Adults who live on a vegan diet, need to make sure they are doing it properly to ensure they don’t risk deficiencies and lose out on key nutrients. The same rules apply to young children.
Vitamin B12 for example, can only be obtained from animal sources and is essential in the function of every cell in the body and brain. If children do not have B12 in their diet, they may suffer from fatigue, muscle weakness or shortness of breath.
Other nutrients often forgotten in a vegan diet include vitamin D, omega-3 and iron. It is the parent’s responsibility to make sure their child’s diet has all of these nutrients included, because nutritional deficiencies can negatively affect one’s health. Children who follow a vegan diet may also risk inadequate energy intake, lack of protein and faltering growth and development.
(It’s worth noting that you can get B12 in adequate quantities from Marmite and nutritional yeast readily available from places like Holland & Barret. There are plenty of vitamin D supplements, while foods like spinach and soy are high in iron. Spirulina is one of the only vegetal sources of complete Omega-3s. So it is possible to get these necessary vitamins and minerals but it does require a little planning. And let’s be clear – omnivorous kids can be malnourished. Just because you eat meat and dairy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting fruit and veg or wholegrain carbs.)
What are the nutritional benefits of raising a vegan child?
Each individual is entitled to raise their child how they believe is best.
Bringing a child up vegan is not advisable for the majority, however some may argue that studies have associated a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes with a vegan diet which, may help benefit children going into adulthood.
Nevertheless, vegan diets may ultimately be very restrictive for children and the risk of nutritional deficiencies may outweigh any potential benefits. There is nothing that a vegan diet can do that a well-balanced diet including all food groups can’t do too.
(Veganism is an ethical and not a dietary choice but we are talking here about the nutritional aspect – which Rhiannon is an expert in…just before anyone kicks off.)
What do parents need to be aware of doing ifthey’re thinking of doing it?
It is crucial to know that the first year of a child’s life is extremely important in regards to their development.
If a child is undernourished through lack of nutrition, growth restriction may occur, weakened immune system and potential risks to development of their physical and mental health. These may be very serious outcomes that can affect a child’s wellbeing, so it is absolutely imperative that the parent is well educated in child nutrition.
Alternatively, I would advise them to work alongside a qualified professional to help ensure the child has an adequate amount of fats, protein, vitamins and minerals in his or hers diet. I would always encourage the parent to be as proactive as possible in making sure they know what key nutrients are essential to a child’s diet and how they might be supplemented when cutting out food groups.