Bringing up vegans

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My 11-month old LOVES her veggies.  She loves fruit, too, but she goes gaga over her veggies.  And she has never met a veggie she didn’t like.  My first two children were raised on the Standard American Diet, so I can see very clearly the differences between the two diets.

My 6-year old grew up eating at McDonald’s.  Almost every day.  Yes, seriously.  And she has caught every virus, germ, bacteria, and bug known to man.  She was always coughing!  She is the main reason I asked my doctor about nutritional alternatives in the first place.  I was just so tired of having to give her antibiotics, trekking to doctors, keeping her home from play dates, etc.  If anyone got sick in our household, she was the one.

My 4-year old grew up eating healthier, but still ate a lot of meat and dairy until he was 2.  Turns out he had a dairy allergy from birth -- I drank about a quart of milk a day and he was very colicky.  I wasn’t willing to change my diet, so his colic continued until he weaned.  He still gets sick, but bugs never stick around very long with him.  I think I got to him just in time, to be honest.

My 11-month old has been a vegan since the womb.  And she has never been sick.  I’m not kidding.  She has never had an ear infection, never had a fever, only had a runny nose before her tooth popped out, and has never even had diaper rash.
The immune system is developed early in life, so both the mother’s diet and the baby’s diet play huge roles.  Plus, introducing your small children to new foods can help them make better eating choices later on in life.  My kids adore avocados and fresh herbs eaten raw, hummus, tabouleh, quinoa, and squash.  Mac and cheese or chicken nuggets are not in their vocabulary.

I always thought I was healthy before becoming a vegan.  I got sick, sure, but doesn’t everybody?  I have since realized that it’s possible NOT to get sick!  If I do get a sniffle, it lasts about a day and doesn’t even get in my way.  And my older kids hardly ever get sick -- they may get a runny nose twice a year, but they don’t even miss a beat.  And the chronic coughs are a thing of the past.

So how do you make the change for your children?  First, get rid of the junk food you may have on hand.  Then replace it with fruit and veggies and whole grain crackers and nuts -- whole foods are preferable, but I do keep some “fun” foods on hand for when their friends come to visit, such as whole grain crackers in fun shapes, fruit-sweetened cookies, and fruit and nut bars.  They can only resist until they get hungry enough to eat whatever you give them!  Then, you might have to say “no” to eating at your child’s favorite fast food place and you might have to be the bad guy for a while, but it will pay off over time.

My kids no longer ask for money when the ice cream truck rolls around, and they no longer beg for candy at the checkout lines.  Just as adults can form better habits and eventually prefer them, kids can also learn to make better choices.  Don’t assume that just because you dislike okra your child will also.  And don’t play the guilt game -- they are not missing out on life if they don’t eat candy on Easter, and they will not end up in therapy if you only give them oatmeal for breakfast.  Sure, they may rebel when they get older, but by teaching them healthy eating habits now, you are setting them up for better health later, and your lessons will not be easily forgotten.

And having children who don’t have to miss school due to sickness, who don’t require prescription drugs in elementary school, and who may very well avoid costly and debilitating illnesses later on in life is well worth the extra effort.  It’s never too late to start!