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8 Tips for Raising a Vegan Toddler

If you’re like me, maybe you’re raising your child in a drastically different way that the way you were raised. I grew up with a father who worked in the meat industry, and we had meat at every family dinner… I don’t think I remember a meal growing up that didn’t have some kind of dairy either.  Not to say that I didn’t turn out okay, but I’m choosing to raise my family a bit (okay, a lot) differently, at least when it comes to our diet. I thought I would share what I’ve learned along the way, now that I have an almost two-year-old. So here it goes, my top 8 tips for raising a vegan toddler.

  1. Educate yourself.  This is number one because it’s also step one.  Educating yourself, not only on the reason you want to go vegan (whether it be your health, animal welfare, the environment), but also educating yourself on how to have a healthy, balanced diet for you and your toddler.  This step likely involves consulting with a professional like a naturopathic or medical doctor if you new to the world of nutrition and plant based diets in general. Obviously, this continues as time goes on, we’re all always learning and taking in new information, but before you make any major dietary changes, educating yourself should always be step 1.
  2. Choose the best “mylk” for you.  Maybe you’re still breastfeeding, or maybe you’re thinking about weaning, hey, maybe you never breastfed at all, more power to you!  But you should know that after your baby is ready to move on from either your milk, or formula, not all mylks are created equal. As far as protein goes, pea mylk and soy mylk are you best bet.  That being said, pea milk isn’t fortified with vitamins (yet) in Canada and soy is an allergen for some people, so choose what is best for you. In our house, we like to do pea milk as well as another fortified mylk like almond, cashew, or more recently, oat (which also has some protein). This goes back to my first point of educating yourself so that you are able to choose the best option for your family. I wrote a post about what mylks we give my toddler and why, over on my blog, if you’d like more info.
  3. Find your staples.  We have meals that we make at least weekly now (hellloooooo vegan Caesar salad… if you follow me on Instagram, you know that I make this probably too often).  We also have meals/snacks that we know my son will devour every time. He’s not really picky, but he does have his favourites. He’d eat a whole tub of hummus in one sitting if you’d let him.  Finding things that you love, and that you can make easily, makes any sort of dietary transition a lot easier.
  4. He eats what we eat.  This is probably a tip for raising a toddler in general.  We’re all tired, we’re all time poor (if you’re not both of those things… can you please write me a list of tips), so why waste time making multiple different meals?  Though my son doesn’t always eat at the same time as us, if what we’re eating isn’t too spicy, or too difficult for him to chew (he isn’t great with salad yet), he eats what we eat, or we at least let him try it.  My life would be a lot more difficult if I wasn’t able to give my toddler leftovers from our dinner the night before for lunch the next day, let me tell you.
  5. Variety.  It’s the spice of life, so they say.  But really, a vegan diet has room for so much variety; an abundance of flavours, textures and colours.  Though it’s good to have your staples (a wise woman once said… see #3), it’s also so important to try new things, especially with a toddler.  A number of our family members have said that my son has tried a greater variety of foods in his short little life than they have in their whole lives.  I totally attribute my son not being a picky eater to giving him lots of variety from when he first started eating solids… but who knows, maybe now that I’ve put it in writing these words will come back to haunt me as he hurls hummus at my face…
  6. Bring a vegan option with you.  Be it a friend’s house, an outing, a playdate.  Anytime we’re invited somewhere for dinner, I always offer to bring a vegan option, or a vegan side dish for everyone else that we can eat as our main.  It takes the pressure off the host to meet your dietary needs, though I find most people are very accommodating, especially if they know you well. Also, all moms probably do this already anyways, but I just carry a lot of vegan friendly snacks, and if we’re out for a while I pack a little lunch for my son, so that if we’re at a playdate or out somewhere that might not have vegan options, he wouldn’t feel deprived.  However, he’s always hungry, I really need to carry snacks no matter what.
  7. Focus on what you CAN eat, not what’s missing.  I certainly don’t feel deprived on a vegan diet, in fact, I feel like I eat much more variety than I ever did as an omnivore (see #5).  However, I find this point particularly helpful with family as well. One of our largest hurdles in raising a vegan toddler was from family, who love to cook for him, or babysit him, but felt like they weren’t able to make him their usual recipes or buy him treats because he’s plant based.  I found it helpful to focus on what he CAN eat, instead of what he can’t. For instance, our Italian Nonna’s love to make him pizza and pasta, they now just exclude the cheese and we let our parent’s know what kind of treats are vegan, like coconut ice cream bars, Oreos etc so that they are able to spoil him with a treat every once in a while.  We have had people mistakenly give him something that he’s not supposed to have, like ranch dressing, or a bite of their toast that has butter on it, but I try not to sweat it, especially if it was an innocent mistake.
  8. Do what’s best for your family.  Really, this applies to all parents.  It’s amazing to share ideas and best practices with other mamas, and have discussions about things that we’ve found work well for us but at the end of the day, we’re all just doing our best and what works for our family.  What works for you, isn’t necessarily going to work for someone else and vice versa. So you do you, mama! Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing and as long as you’re doing what’s best for you, that’s all anyone can ask!

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