Raising A Vegan Family: Solutions to common vegan parenting social challenges
Raising a family comes with great joys and great challenges, and doing things differently from the majority can both add to these joys and challenges. Vegan parenting is rewarding on so many levels, but it can also bring about social challenges that non-vegan families do not have to face or consider on a regular basis. Also, it brings about certain personal beliefs and preferences that other family members and friends may not understand.
When my husband and I decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle, it was a natural decision that our children would be raised the same way. For our family, vegan parenting goes way beyond what is on our plate at mealtime. It is both a healthy lifestyle choice and an ethical choice for us. As a family, we do not eat animals or participate in their exploitation, which means no trips to the zoo or aquarium, no dying chicken eggs for spring time holidays, and definitely no turkey in the oven for Thanksgiving. This works for us, and we feel better for the choices we are making for our family, but being the only vegan on the block or on the family tree can feel limiting at times. Here are some alternatives and solutions that have worked for our family.
I remember going to the zoo as a child and feeling depressed instead of happy. All of the animals looked so miserable to me, and many looked sick. Other family centered places that profit from the exploitation of animals, like aquariums, petting zoos, and circuses, also elicit the same feeling of hopelessness and despair. So, we will not be taking family trips to the zoo, or dairy farms, or aquariums. We will not be taking pony rides at the county fair or going to petting zoos. Making this choice for our family means that we will miss out on outings with friends and family that do not feel the same way that we do. If your children are school aged, this may also mean that they will be missing school trips that do not align with your family’s ethical beliefs. For children, this is not always easy to accept when they see their other friends and relatives participating in activities. What you can do is provide your children with activities and outings that introduce them to animals in their natural environment or in sanctuaries. You can invite family and friends along with you, and suggest alternatives to your child’s school.
As a family, we visit our local farm sanctuaries, go to ponds and lakes in our area to see ducks, fish, frogs, and turtles, smell the roses at our local arboretums, attend local vegan festivals, and take hikes at our local parks to admire the wildlife in their natural habitat. You can also go to local children’s museums that have hands on exhibits that your children can participate in.
Children’s Birthday Parties
Due to food allergies and other dietary restrictions, the days of bringing in cupcakes to your child’s classroom is a tradition that is obsolete in most schools. But, this does not mean your child will not be invited to many birthday parties for both family and friends. The typical birthday party will consist of pizza, birthday cake, hotdogs, cheese flavored chips, and other unhealthy non-vegan foods. If you are fortunate enough to have a large circle of vegan family and friends, you may not run into many issues with children’s birthday parties, but if you are like many vegan families, this issue will present itself more and more as your children grow older. The first thing to do is speak to the parent who is throwing the birthday party and let them know about your child’s dietary restrictions. Next, find out what is on the menu and offer to bring the same, or similar item for your child in the vegan version. Some parents may not appreciate this, or may not be accommodating for your child, and in these cases you may need to make the choice to not send your child to the event. In most cases though, parents will be open to this, especially since you are offering to do all the work to ensure your child is well fed and included in the activities. This may mean bringing a vegan pizza, vegan hotdog or veggie burger, a slice of cake, or even a tray of cookies or cupcakes to share with everyone.
When it comes to events in our own home, we only serve vegan food, but try to consider the different preferences, allergies, and tastes of our guests. This usually means keeping things very simple. Our daughter’s second birthday is approaching, and on the menu is pasta salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, orzo salad with vegan pesto and cherry tomatoes, sandwich wraps with roasted veggies, vegan hotdogs for the children, fruit trays, vegetable trays with hummus, and my daughters favorite lemon cookies and cupcakes. The best part about hosting events in our home, aside from knowing we can eat everything there, is hearing our friends and family rave about the food we serve. We love that we can offer so many healthy options and introduce people, who often wonder what we eat, to the many delicious vegan food options that are out there.
Other Social Events
Social events with family and friends usually revolve around food, be it a holiday, barbeque, birthday party, or even a play date with other children. This can present challenges on what to eat when you are the only vegans attending. More often than not, we find ourselves bringing our own food to these types of gatherings, because it is easier than trying to figure out what, if anything, we can eat when we get there. Also, we do not want our children to feel like the are being deprived of anything that their friends or family members are participating in. It can get exhausting trying to do this on a regular basis, so there are definitely times that we decline invitations to barbeques, or we just host the holidays ourselves for our families. When we do attend events, we follow a fairly simple formula. First and for most, we let people know about our families dietary restrictions. Next, we find out what is on the menu for the party so we can plan accordingly for what we may have to bring for ourselves. I have embraced the fact that I am going to be making many batches of cupcakes and cookies in my life. I have also embraced the fact that I will always be offering to bring a fruit or vegetable tray, a hummus appetizer, vegan frozen pizzas, veggie burgers, smart dogs, and so on, so that my child does not feel left out when going to an event and so the rest of us have a substantial amount of food to eat. Bringing an appetizer, side dish, and/or dessert that everyone at the event can enjoy is a great way to introduce people to vegan food, and it ensures that you will have something to eat that you enjoy.
Whether it is a trip to a local amusement park or you are visiting another country, there is definitely some extra legwork that needs to be done ahead of time to ensure that your family has food available while you are enjoying your time traveling together. The most important thing to do is plan ahead by researching food that will be available at the place you are going, and making sure you have places to eat along the way if that applies to your travel plans. Traveling by car can be made simple by packing food accordingly for the trip. Preparing a cooler with sandwiches, snacks, and drinks for your drive can save a great deal of hassle in trying to find a place to stop and eat that offers vegan friendly options. You can eat in the car, or find a spot to take a break and have a picnic. You can also bring your food into a rest stop and eat in their food court area. If you plan on being in the car for a long period of time, you will want to see what kind of options are available at rest stops and restaurants that are along the route you are traveling. Do not forget about supermarkets as well. If there are limited options available, you can usually find a supermarket along the way that has a salad bar and a produce section full of food your family can enjoy.
When traveling on a plane, you can call ahead to find out if the airline offers vegan options, but you can also pack your own food as well. Many airports also have restaurants and food stands that have vegan options now too. If the hotel you are staying at has a complimentary breakfast or a restaurant, call ahead to see what they offer and let them know about your dietary restrictions. They may be able to accommodate you in some way, or they may have recommendations on other restaurants or natural food stores in the area that are vegan friendly. If you are staying for more than a couple days, you may also want to consider getting a room with a small kitchen in it so you can make your own meals.
Fortunately, the Internet has made vegan parenting easier by making it very simple to find information about how to eat vegan while traveling. There are how-to guides for visiting Disney World, many amusement parks, and for traveling abroad. If you are traveling somewhere where there will be a language barrier, make sure you look up some terms and specific food items that will be helpful when ordering at a restaurant. In order to get the most out of traveling with your family, do your research ahead of time so you are not scrambling for ideas and stressed out while traveling.
There is a lot to consider when raising a family, but vegan parenting can definitely come with challenges that few will understand. When traveling and attending social events, it is important to always be prepared with vegan friendly food options. It is also important for us that we teach our children why we live the way we do and how important it is to respect the life of all beings so they can make the best choices for themselves when they are at events without you. Knowing that our activities and food choices do not bring harm to animals and are benefiting the planet bring a great deal of peace and joy to our family. The benefits we receive from living a vegan life far outweigh any of the social challenges we face.