I was recently confronted by someone in one of the online vegan groups I’m a part of about how I am not completely enforcing a vegan diet on my kids. And before you jump to any conclusions, know that my husband and I are 100% vegan and intend to be for the rest of our lives. We don’t buy or use any animal products or byproducts, including food, clothing, soaps and shampoos, household cleaning products, and everything else we use on a daily basis.
Ever since we decided to go vegan last year, our lives have been ever changing and evolving for the better. We’ve been making better food choices, getting outside more, and just leading a healthier, happier lifestyle. Nothing could ever make us go back to supporting animal suffering. So why am I even writing this? I’ll tell ya why!
For those of you who don’t know, we completely transitioned in December 2016, just before Christmastime. My older daughter had just turned 3 and my younger was just shy of 6 months. Luckily, we transitioned when Riv was just starting solid food so she has never had meat and has only had dairy on a few occasions outside the home. Now, both of my girls have always been terrific eaters. As soon as they were introduced to solid food, they were in love and never looked back. It has never really been all that difficult finding things that they would eat.
But the most important thing that everyone needs to know is that Had was three when we transitioned. She was already accustomed to eating hot dogs and cheese sticks and chicken and even smoked salmon (which she used to love). Trying to explain to someone her age that she can no longer have all the things she likes is not an easy task. And it’s also not very fair.
Ever since the beginning of our vegan journey, we haven’t had any animal products in the house. We gave away all the frozen meats we had, the milk, the cheese, all of it, and just went cold-tofurkey. This was something that we could easily control; not having the products in the house made it that much simpler for Had to start trying new options like plant based milk and meat alternatives. She took to them like a champ. She immediately was a fan of Gardein’s crispy tenders, and paired with some Just Ranch, she couldn’t even tell the difference from what she was used to eating before. She drinks soy milk every morning with her cereal and absolutely loves the Silk chocolate milk (as we all do)! It honestly has been a pretty smooth transition with her, considering the fact that she used to love meat and dairy.
But here’s where the tricky part comes in: although we don’t have any animal products in the home, we cannot always control what she chooses to eat outside the home. Whether it’s at school or at a friend’s house or the movies with Grandma, I can’t be by her side all the time monitoring and refereeing what she decides to munch on. And a lot of people seem to have a problem with this. But what I try to explain to them is that my children are their own people. They have their own thoughts and can make their own decisions. I have no right to force or control what they do with their own lives. If they want to cut their hair, then fine. If they want to wear overalls every day of the week, then okay. If they want to eat the occasional mozzarella stick or scrambled egg, then that’s how it is.
Although I won’t necessarily agree with it, it’s not my place to physically remove the food from their hands or tell them they can’t have it. Because they can. If they want to, if they choose to, then they can do it. The last thing I want is for them to be at their friend’s birthday party and be sitting in the corner without cake while the rest of the guests are having a great time.
But wait! Then what part are we, as the parents, supposed to play in all this? Although I can’t completely control what my girls do, what I can do is teach them. I can educate them within reason of the reality of the animal industries and show them just where their food comes from. But a thing such as this takes time. It will most likely take years for them to fully understand what really goes on.
So far, we’ve only really been able to explain to Had that meat and dairy products “hurt” the animals in order to make them. And so far, she has lost interest in pretty much all meat! The last thing I can recall her eating was a piece of beef jerky that her cousins had offered to her a couple months back. As for milk, she fully understands the concept that cow’s milk is for baby cows. She loves being the one to explain that to people. Recently, we were reading a book where people were milking cows and Had said, “I don’t think those cows like them taking their milk. That’s for the baby cows!” I was so proud, I almost started crying! Knowing what I know now, it seems so strange that the “norm” in our society is that cow’s milk is one of the products that we should be consuming on a daily basis, and that it’s actually “healthy” for us. Funny!
Cheese, on the other hand, is the hard one. When Had thinks of cheese, I don’t think that she makes the connection that it comes from milk. Although this is something we’ve been working on, she will still occasionally have cheese when it is offered to her at school. And although I could tell the other parents not to allow her to have any at snack time, it’s her choice. I cannot stress this enough.
Michael and I are doing everything we can to educate her for her age and that’s all we can do. I’m not about to show my daughters footage of a slaughterhouse. I’m not trying to traumatize them into being vegan. That is something they will discover one day for themselves. There is no real way for me to truly explain to them what really happens that they would understand at such a young age. As I said before, we can only educate them to the best of our ability and hope that in time they will see.
So no, I’m not going to force veganism onto my kids. I’m not going dictate and control what they choose to do with their own lives because I want them to grow to be strong, independent people who can make their own decisions. I will continue to set a good example for them and answer any questions that they have in a manner that they can understand. What we are trying to do at home is present a healthy diet that’s full of flavor, nutrition, and fun, without any animal products. Hopefully this will set the stage for them for when they’re older and are making more in-depth decisions about who they want to be.
And that’s good enough for me.
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