Following on from ‘How it all Began‘ here are my top ten tips for a smooth transition to veganism for all of the family.
1. Ask the children to list their all time favourite meals
Let them create their list and then you can set about veganising them. The options in supermarkets have come on in leaps and bounds over the last twelve months and there is nothing your children need to miss out on I promise! From the healthiest of cook from scratch stews and curries to ready meal lasagnas, pizzas and nuggets for those much needed quick and convenient teas most parents fall back on every now and then. I have had many a school friend over for tea and much to my dismay they always ask for the inevitable nuggets, chips and beans or similar and not one child has ever sussed they are eating a vegan nugget. Nothing is said, no big song and dance is made, they all enjoy their nugs and off they go back to destroying whatever part of the house is currently tidy.
If your kiddos feel they are leading the way when it comes to choices and having their voices heard they are more likely to try the new brands and dishes you put in front of them.
2. Take them shopping
The look on the kids faces when they unearth a precious new vegan find in the supermarket is priceless. I’ve found they are so much more likely to tuck in to the new dishes I create if they have a say in it……let them select the veggies they fancy putting in their stew, let them hunt for vegan friendly cereal bars to pack up for school, let them choose which vegan sausage to try with tea and trust me there’s blooming loads, it’s a sausage fest out there from Sainsbury’s Shroomdogs to Linda Macs Veggie Sausages and everything in between so there was no need to ever miss out on one of our favourite comfort food meals – sausage, mash, peas and gravy (red bisto granules are vegan if you are feeling lazy, you’re welcome).
This tip is not entirely related to shopping but still fits well here. Let them grow their own where you can. Last summer my two grew spuds, cucumbers, chives, coriander and tomatoes. Beau loved chopping up the coriander ready to put into his beloved lentil dhal we make and Skye’s already established love of cucumbers became further solidified when she tasted home grown! They were delicious, incomparable to the supermarket ones and they loved heading out to pick their crop each day. We only have a small garden and we managed to grow all of this in two big tubs, we might even branch out to three this year as we have high hopes for a bean crop of some description.
3. Make sure they understand WHY they are making the switch
It makes life easier if the idea to switch comes from them. My two saw what I was doing and that sparked their interest and eventually their decision to go vegan. I’m not convinced if I had dictated they had to make the swap it would not have been such a smooth transition.
Now i’m not saying you should necessarily sit them down and describe in depth the process of how meat ends up on our tables or indeed the suffering endured by dairy cows when their young are taken from them so we can steal their milk but people of all ages need a certain level of understanding behind the reason they are doing something and this is no different. I went about it in pretty simplistic terms, I told them they would be helping to save animals and the environment and also making their bodies healthier and stronger too. I told them an animal had to die for them to eat a burger or a chicken dinner and that there were other things that tasted just as nice that they could eat instead. It made perfect sense to them, why harm animals when we don’t have to?
Beau and Skye were 8 and 6 when they made the switch to vegan so obviously depending on the age of your children you will be able to gauge how you go about explaining why it’s such a good idea to cut out the meat and dairy.
4. Offer them plenty of choice, don’t let it become boring
I think offering plenty of different meals has helped make being vegan their new normal. They look forward to trying new things whilst still enjoying their favourites. I made a guacaroni salad a few weeks ago and was amazed when Skye wolfed a huge bowl full down and asked to take some for a packed lunch the next day. I had not intended the salad to be for the children as it was made with red onion, loads of avocado, red chillies, tomatoes and generally these are things they have not been keen on in the past but she couldn’t get enough of it and has asked me to make it again.
I have a little weekly meal planner blackboard in the kitchen and fill it out each Sunday so the kids know what’s coming up and they also offer their input and very often decide what’s for tea on certain nights of the week. I check pinterest most weeks as its such a wonderful recipe resource and I build folders as an easy reference point to look through for inspiration of what to cook next. If the recipes rubbish or the kids genuinely detest it I delete the pin so I am left with tried and tested family favourites.
Variety is the spice of life so they say.
Food police might want to skim past this point but i’m a firm believer a naughty treat does no harm and as long as they’ve made a great effort with their dinner, eaten their fruit, salad and veggie portions for the day then if they want to dive head first into an oreo cupcake that’s absolutely fine by me.
There are so many accidentally vegan treats out there, the ones that surprised us the most were Oreos, Party Rings, Mr Kipling Blackberry and Apple Pies, lots of crisps, Skittles, Starburst and Morrisons Jam Donuts. I know, I know…….I half wish I didn’t know this stuff, my head screams Emma put down that second donut but if I chew loudly enough it drowns it out!
I bake a lot from scratch too as vegan baking is so easy and less faffy than traditional baking I find. Things like flapjacks are great for kids, it’s still a sweet treat but also has the goodness of the energy packed oats. Just sub the traditional butter for a dairy free spread like Vitalite and hey presto you have vegan flapjacks. Beau loves his with with cherry jam or some melted dark chocolate.
Another snack they both enjoy is freezer chocolate strawberries. Melt some chocolate (dark or dairy free milk) and drizzle into ice cube trays. Pop a strawberry half in each section and freeze. Just pop out when you want one.
6. Be prepared
It’s much easier to grab things on the go now than it was just a few months ago but still always check there are child friendly options wherever you are planning to go, never just assume. You can always find adult friendly options on menus nowadays but often they are spicy curries and I don’t know about your kids but mine turn into Gordon Ramsey on a bad day if they detect anything slightly above their acceptable level of spiciness. Most of the big chain restaurants have amazing vegan menus now, the latest to join in the fun being Frankie and Benny’s. We tested it out the other week and were very impressed! I love that there are so many places to eat now where everybody has something to suit them on the menu, regardless of your dietary preferences.
One place we’ve struggled slightly is football grounds. Matt and Beau are avid Stockport County fans and as season ticket holders go every week rain or shine and it was part of their ritual to grab a burger at the stadium or pasty from outside. Chips are always an option but after a few weeks I did grow concerned Beau was about to turn into a chip so thought it best to send a packed lunch with him instead to some of the games. This has however gone by the wayside of late and now Im gravely concerned he’s about to turn into a Greggs Vegan Sausage Roll.
7. Make sure to speak to the children’s school
Full disclosure……I was VERY lucky when my two turned vegan. Beau’s teacher was vegan and Skye’s teacher was veggie but I still had the issue of school dinners, childrens parties and the obligatory handing out of birthday haribo to consider.
The knee jerk reaction was to put them on packed lunches, I didn’t want to feel like I was putting anybody out even though both schools assured me I wasn’t. Skyes infant school have been wonderful when out on trips and visits by making sure they had in dairy free cheese to make her a sandwich so she had the same bag as all the other children to collect and also made lovely biscuits for her too. Skye is still on packed lunches despite me repeatedly trying to talk her back onto school dinners (they are free for her at this age, I bet she will decide she wants to try them next year when they are no longer free, just you watch). Beau decided he wanted to switch back to school dinners (no offence taken Beau don’t worry) and his school have been wonderful, he has a great variety of meals offered and lovely cakes, jellies and biscuits made for pudding. He is loving life as the only vegan in school with his specially made carrot cakes. It’s no wonder the nickname Little Lord Fauntleroy is beginning to stick.
Other kids…….I got around the dishing out of haribo on birthdays at school by taking a multipack of skittles in so the teacher has an alternative to give to my guys. I didn’t have to do this with Beau as his teacher is vegan so she had a stash for him anyway bless her. The mums have been great too when they have been invited to parties I just always offer to take a packed lunch for them but nine times out of ten the venue have been able to offer an alternative like beans on toast or a jacket spud. I usually pick them up armed with a cupcake so they aren’t bothered about not having birthday cake in their party bag although to be honest this is normally totally unnecessary, one of the mums once ordered Skye a specially made individual vegan victoria sponge cake in a jar and another had lots of individual cupcakes made for her too. These are just two random stories I can think of but honestly people are so very kind and thoughtful! It’s completely unexpected, Id never assume anybody should change their plans to suit us but I am continually blown away by peoples kindness.
8. Get them cooking
Yes your kitchen will look like Kim and Aggy are about to descend afterwards but let’s face it deep down you love it really and so do the children.
If they cook it they are more likely to eat it apparently, so the boffins tell me anyway. A university in Alberta found that “children who help cook at home are more likely to enjoy fruits and veggies than kids who don’t cook” (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120627103352.htm).
This theory seems to work in my house, they look forward to cooking and baking with me and it’s a sure fire way of getting them to try more unusual things that they may be a bit suspicious of initially. Kale is a perfect example of this, if I boiled up some kale and threw it onto the side of their dinners they would rather starve than eat it but if I let them tear it up, season it and add nooch (vegan crack, go get yourself some trust me) and bake it for a few minutes they end up with kale chips and they cant get enough of them. Awkward little blighters.
9. Immerse yourselves in the lifestyle
I’m not saying go full on activist, that may not be for everyone but by showing your kids direct evidence of how their actions can help the vegan cause it can only help them understand why it’s so important to ditch the meat and dairy. A great start can be visiting or volunteering at animal sanctuaries. Beau raised money for a local animal sanctuary and when he went to give his money in he was surprised to hear that some of the residents there were actually destined for the slaughterhouse before they were rescued. It’s all well and good talking about it but to see those animals in the flesh really brings it home.
I have attended a few Pig Save events at a local slaughterhouse and whilst i’ve decided against taking the children yet I do talk about where I am going and why I am going there so when they are older they can make their own decision about coming along with me.
There is a yearly Animal Rights March in London that I hope to take Beau and Skye to this year, I think it would be great for them to see the scale of just how big this movement is and how many people are just like them, it will be especially great for them to see lots of other like minded children.
There are also great vegan food and music festivals, family fun days and things for the sports enthusiasts too like Parkrun takeovers and other fun runs you could attend.
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10. Don’t give up if they don’t like something first time
Apparently it can take twelve attempts for a child to try something before they like it.
A good example of this in my house is brocoli. Beau was adamant he was allergic to broccoli because once I tried to poison him with it many years ago, he heaved, ridiculous levels of drama ensued, the story went down in history and that was it I never tried again. He came home from school a few weeks ago declaring the chef at school put broccoli in one of his dinners and a bit got in his mouth and it wasn’t as horrendous as he remembered mine being (again, no offence taken Beau) fast forward to last night’s tea of veggie fried rice and he was eating semi large pieces of broccoli with only the mildest of moaning. Give me another few weeks and he will be eating entire stalks for his breakfast, mark my words.
Thanks for reading! Best of luck with your vegan journey, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.