My daughter Leilanoor recently turned six months old and with that threshold came the rite of passage of eating solids. I’ve had my own rite of passage during this time – my first crisis of conscience about a parenting decision. What should she be eating? What should she be avoiding?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the well-known reasons people choose to eat a diet free of meat or animal products – health factors, environmental concerns, in defense of animal welfare, on behalf of slaughterhouse workers, or some combination of all of the above – and it might be a no-brainer for you to raise your children accordingly. For me, it’s a situation fraught with dissonance; I’m not a vegan or even a vegetarian, personally. But– and obviously I’m far from being the first parent to have naive hopes that their kid will grow up to be a better, more principled version of themselves – it feels natural for me to wonder, should meat be part of her diet? Will she live a healthier and happier life without it? (Note: I’m not a nutrition expert and this is not intended to be medical or nutritional advice. Please consult your child’s pediatrician before giving your baby an exclusively plant-based diet.)
These questions made me want to learn more about what motivates parents to choose – and pursue – a plant-based diet for their children. I specifically wanted to know why they made this choice with babies and young toddlers in mind. Here are three of the most compelling motives I discovered while talking to parents who are doing just that:
1. Your kid(s) will likely naturally eat (and enjoy) more vegetables if most of their plates are composed of plants.
“I think every parent out there wants to get their kids to eat more vegetables or more plants. And so we try to provide a lot of different ways for us all to get more plants on the plate,” says Alex Caspero, a registered dietitian nutritionist and co-founder of Plant-Based Juniors, a digital community with more than 150,000 followers on Instagram alone.
Heidi Miranda sees this in practice with her daughter Helena. “She eats better than me and my husband, a lot of fruit, a lot of vegetables. She hasn’t really been too picky about a lot of things. We’re pretty impressed that she eats a lot of things at such a young age that we probably didn’t eat until we were in our twenties.” Miranda also reports, like every other parent I talked to, that her daughter has a great relationship with fresh, healthy food. “[Helena] loves guacamole and avocados. She could eat hummus by the handful.”
Liz Wharburton’s children, Kiara and Rowan, are similarly joyful and enthusiastic about eating. “They’re both obsessed with peanut butter. We do tofu scrambles a lot…a lot of Asian, Indian food, Mediterranean, lots of curry. They love their beans and they love soup. Cucumber slices and apples. They really, really love berries.”
2. It’s a lot less expensive to buy plant-based meals than meat-inclusive ones, especially with ongoing “meatflation.”
For Deb Holloway, parent to Duke, adopting a plant-based diet has been the best financial choice for their family. “We don’t have a lot of money. I think it’s important for people to know that not only is this [diet] better for you and the environment, but if you’re trying to cut costs, it’s an inexpensive way to live and eat.” Despite misconceptions about the affordability of produce, they believe it can be accessible and sustainable depending on where you shop for groceries. “You don’t have to go to Whole Foods to be vegan, you can even go to a local farmer’s market…economically, if you’re trying to [make it], it’s a great option.”
3. Veganism is likely the way of the future, regardless of what you do today.
Mallory Veltema, mom to Bodhi and Bali, asserts that her sons would “probably will be vegan at some point in their lives [anyway],” pointing to changes in food culture she’s seen happen around her. “The restaurants I go to have more vegan options than ten years ago; the hospital where I work has a ‘lifestyle medicine’ department now that helps patients adopt as close to a whole-food plant-based as is possible for them. Also, it seems that everyday there are new research studies showing that a whole-food plant-based diet is optimal for preventing and reversing all of the diseases that are putting strain on us as a society right now. It feels easier than ever to be vegan or plant-based with it just being more mainstream.” Indeed, industry reports over the last year indicate that more and more people are pursuing plant-based diets and committing to veganism.
As I consider what the long-term implications of choosing a plant-based diet would be for Leilanoor, I’m reflecting on something all of the parents that I talked to had in common: while they’d all be disappointed if their children one day decided to add meat or animal products into their regular diets, they wouldn’t hold it against them. They all feel strongly that this time, when their kids are so young and are such new eaters, is critical to establishing a food foundation that’s healthy and ethically sound. If in the event their kids choose to eat meat or animal products, they’d make sure the kids knew where the food was coming from, and what the implications of eating it are. Nonetheless, Wharburton is confident that by establishing this foundation, her children will remain committed to the diet.
“If I tell them all the reasons [we’re vegan], then there’s no reason why they wouldn’t choose to be vegan as they grow older.” And if they don’t, she relents, “that’s perfectly fine. At least I’ve done everything that I can to help them on their way, to at least be educated.”