The future is vegan. Literally. More and more parents are raising their children vegan. Oftentimes, the parents themselves are only newly vegan. How then raise the little ones? Is a plant-based diet really healthy for kids? Fret not, moms and dads, because there is a new book out now that will help you veganize your family and see your children thrive: The Smart Parent's Guide to Raising Vegan Kids. We sat down with author Eric C. Lindstrom.
vanilla bean: Eric, you used to be, as you say yourself, “an adamant omnivore” who went vegan reluctantly. You explored this in your book, aptly titled The Skeptical Vegan. For those of us who haven't read that book yet, what made you go vegan?
Eric C. Lindstrom: The original inspiration for going vegan was brought to our household by my wife who at the time was vegetarian and celiac, so she was already living on a limited diet and she was also suffering from “lactose-denial syndrome”. For her, it was a matter of basically giving up eggs. For me, on the other hand, it was going from a 100 percent omnivore diet (with strong leanings toward carnivore) to a 100 percent vegan. She came home with the idea of doing it for 30 days following a trip to visit her parents in Arizona. To this day, I'm not sure why I decided to do it with her. I think it was a matter of me sort of taking stock of my own health at that point. I was at a certain age where I needed to make some more thoughtful decisions about what I was eating and so it made sense for me to try it out with her.
The first 30 days were a struggle, as they would be for any new vegan, but I survived. On the 31st day, I had this thought that she would go back to eating cheese because, as you know, people become addicted to cheese. Then I would be able to go back to my old meat-eating ways. But instead, I decided to turn it into a bet. And so our health challenge became the bet that I refused to lose. Seven years later, I'm still 100 percent vegan. I've done the journey from vegan for health reasons to ethical vegan.
vanilla bean: And now you're raising your children vegan. In your experience, what are some of the typical prejudices parents face who raise their children vegan and what is the best way to respond to them?
Eric C. Lindstrom: I think probably the biggest challenge or the question that's mostly broached to us as parents raising our kids vegan is whether or not it's actually healthy for them. It's such a myth that there's anything in meat, dairy, and eggs that is ultimately good for the human body. When you stop to think about parents who are questioning our belief system and whether or not we're feeding our children a healthy diet – it's our kids who are eating all the vegetables. It's our kids who are eating all the really good foods and it's literally our kids who are passing on snacks – treats like cupcakes and greasy meat-laden pizzas – and opting for the crudités, the vegetable trays, and they're loving it! Both of our kids are incredibly healthy. One is five and one is three and a half. They are thriving on a vegan diet. Health concerns aside, raising vegan kids also means raising compassionate kids who truly love animals.
vanilla bean: How supportive, in your experience, are kindergartens, schools, and pediatricians these days when it comes to raising vegan children?
Eric C. Lindstrom: Two contributors to the book for a health perspective are Dr. Neal Barnard from PCRM and Dr. Tom Campbell, the co-author of the China Study. Both of them talk about how pediatricians are given very little nutrition education. They have been taught for years that once your child is weaned and no longer breastfeeding to transition them to whole milk, for example. And that's just not right. We shouldn't be feeding our children – or ourselves – milk from another species.
Our pediatricians here in Ithaca, New York have been incredibly supportive. They still go down the same list of questions – if your kid is getting enough of this or that; they're still concerned about nutrition but they're definitely not judging us. We're very fortunate to have pediatricians who are supportive and who are educated enough to know that this is not a bad choice in any way, shape or form.
Meanwhile, our two children are in daycare and we did have to work with the daycare corporate office to have vegan snacks, vegan treats, and vegan milk as options for our kids – which also helps the kids who are lactose-intolerant. So you do have to make some extra efforts, but I think nothing is insurmountable. A lot of it has to do with support and community: knowing other vegans and hoping that your school system and your pediatricians are educated enough to know that you're not doing something bad for your kids.
vanilla bean: Do your kids themselves find it difficult being vegan in a non-vegan world, say in daycare or at their friend's house?
Eric C. Lindstrom: No. I interviewed a lot of parents with vegan kids to make sure it wasn't just an isolated incident with my children, but a lot of them said that in the past 5 to 10 years their kids went from the weirdo who was vegan to the cool kid that's vegan. Our son's friends think it's really cool that he's vegan and they are the ones who say, “oh, you can't eat that, this isn't for you, here's your vegan version.” So it becomes a very supportive environment. They're lucky that their friends find it cool and we're hoping that continues. Our kids themselves don't necessarily find it challenging because we're always making them very filling, delicious meals that they love and they just happen to be vegan.
vanilla bean: Children get targeted and bombarded with advertising for non-vegan foods all the time. How do your kids respond to that and what is your advice to parents?
Eric C. Lindstrom: Luckily, in today's day and age, at least in our household, we're not watching commercial television, so there are very few advertisements, especially compared to how I was raised with constant bombardments. I know that when they see advertisements for things that are not vegan – primarily meat-centric visuals – they will actually point out that those are dead animals. They're very aware of what veganism means from that perspective. They're very aware that these are non-vegan foods that are being promoted and they'll comment themselves, “We don't eat that, we're vegan.”
vanilla bean: What is your top tip for parents who have themselves just gone vegan how to transition their little ones?
Eric C. Lindstrom: My two top tips are: One, as quickly and effortlessly as possible, get dairy out of the house because it is the single worst thing that you could be putting into your or your child's body. As you know, T. Colin Campbell's research on casein and cancer demonstrated that it's just not meant to be consumed. The issue there, of course, is not whether or not you're giving your child a gallon of milk to drink – it's whether or not you're giving them yogurt, cheese, ice cream. If you can remove dairy from your house for yourself as well as your kids, that would be the first thing I would tell any parent to do.
The second thing would be to lead by example. Make it obvious to them that you enjoy eating broccoli and that you enjoy rice and beans, which sounds like a cliché vegan food but it is something we eat here a lot. Tom Campbell told me a tip: have a bowl of fruit out at all times and the kids will grab the fruit. They'll see it, they'll be drawn to it.
vanilla bean: One final question: what is currently your kids' favorite meal?
Eric C. Lindstrom: We have two kids with two decidedly different taste buds. Cooper is adopted and he's half Puerto Rican. That maybe dictates a little bit of what he eats, but he's starting to get more like dad. We both love pasta, burgers, that sort of thing. Meanwhile, Paisley's half Korean and she loves rice and beans. It's rice and pasta for most of what we eat, along with side dishes of vegetables.
The Smart Parent's Guide to Raising Vegan Kids is now available in bookstores and online.
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