As a parent, you want the best for your child—physically, emotionally, and socially. As a vegan, you know that a plant-based diet will give them the nutrition they need, but what about the social component? School-aged kids develop friendships and interact with classmates whose food may look different (perhaps even tempting) from the vegan meals you serve at home. The last thing you want to do is to make your kid an easy target for bullies, but this doesn’t mean caving in and sending them to school with dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Maintaining a plant-based diet for your children doesn’t have to stress you out or make them feel alienated. Here are five tips to help keep your child on a vegan diet even when their friends aren’t.
1. Birthday parties
Always have the vegan equivalent of what is being served at a party. Due to common food allergies, most parents will let you know ahead of time what they will be serving. If they don’t, just ask! Your job is to do your best to mimic the menu with an equally exciting vegan option. Thankfully, most children’s parties are fairly predictable; you can almost bet on pizza and cake making an appearance. Either make a simple vegan pizza at home or swing by the store and pick up a frozen pie or a slice from the hot bar. Most Whole Foods locations have a vegan option at the pizza station or scan the freezer aisle at the local supermarket and you’ll find Daiya, Amy’s Kitchen, or Sweet Earth Foods vegan whole pizzas. For dessert, if you aren’t inclined to make an entire cake, opt for cupcakes. They are easier to transport and you can freeze the leftovers. Try this kid-approved funfetti cupcake recipe by the Minimalist Baker.
2. Candy holidays
While holidays take on a new meaning for teens and adults, Halloween, Easter, and Valentine’s Day mean one thing to most children: candy. Unfortunately, many popular candies are not vegan, and you might not be there when your child accepts a piece of candy from a neighbor, friend, or classmate. Prepare your child before the candy hunting or social gathering begins. Buy some vegan-friendly candy and let them know what they can look forward to when they get home. Of course, you can also bring candy to the (plastic) Easter egg hunt or bond with your child by creating vegan valentines together to hand out at school. A few kid-approved vegan candies include The Organic Candy Factory’s Organic Gummy Cubs, Wholesome’s Organic Delishfish, YumEarth’s Organic Gluten-Free Strawberry Licorice and Theo’s Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (check out the VegNews Guide to Vegan Candy for a comprehensive list). If your child does come home with non-vegan candy, barter with them and allow them to swap this candy for your vegan options. Box up the non-vegan candy and donate it so it doesn’t go to waste.
When discussing the date, time, and location with the host parent(s), also let them know that your child does not eat any animal products (vegan can sometimes be confused with vegetarian or even gluten-free). Ask what snacks their children like to eat so you can send something similar for your child to enjoy or send enough food for your child to share. Children are often more effective communicators than adults—they don’t hold back. By sharing one of their favorite plant-based foods, your child could positively expose their friend and his or her family to the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
4. School lunches
Make them fun! Fruit and vegetables of all colors are sure to brighten up your child’s day. Use a cookie cutter to cut peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into shapes such as stars and hearts. Make your child’s lunch something that attracts the attention of their peers in a positive way, and there’s nothing like bright colors and fun shapes to spark a child’s interest. If the classroom is nut-free, a bagel with vegan cream cheese or hummus and a side of veggie sticks is a socially acceptable option by kid standards—no one can tell it’s “different” by the look of it. Mix it up with other cafeteria-approved items such as vegan cold cuts, dairy-free yogurt and pudding, or chilled pasta with vegetables. For more fun ideas, scroll through “vegan lunch ideas for kids” on Pinterest.
5. Classroom parties
It’s important to talk to the teacher at the beginning of the year and let them know your child does not eat animal products. Most teachers will let you send in a nonperishable alternative snack that they can have on hand for when there is a birthday celebration or a holiday party. If possible, include your child in the shopping process and let them pick out two or three options that they are excited about. A few standout treat brands to look for are No Whey!, Rule Breaker Snacks, and Just Desserts vegan varieties. It’s true: vegan parents are required to do a bit more leg work when it comes to meals outside the home, but a little planning and preparedness will make the process far less anxiety-inducing. Remember: you are a super, plant-based parent, and you’re doing what is best for your child!
Jennifer Winters is a self-proclaimed health geek residing in Connecticut with her husband and two children.