Although I don’t have kids, I used to be one. And I remember how deeply I loved animals back then. I recall chasing after the baby ducks near the pond (probably terrifying them!), longing with all my heart just to hold one and touch those whisper soft feathers. And then we’d go home and my mother would serve me a chicken breast or leg for dinner. It was never explained to me that it was a bird I was eating, one no different from the duckling I adored. And I never made the connection.
I think most kids have an innate love of animals and would never want to cause them harm. Most adults likely feel this way, too. We don’t want to harm animals, but we believe it’s necessary to eat them in order to be healthy. The good news is, we now know that the consumption of animal products is not necessary, and may actually be less healthful than eating a plant-based diet. According to the American Dietetic Association (the official authority on nutrition in our nation):
…appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes… This article reviews the current data related to key nutrients for vegetarians including protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12. A vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, supplements or fortified foods can provide useful amounts of important nutrients. An evidence-based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals.
Perhaps that’s why Dr. Benjamin Spock, the world’s most influential pediatrician and one of the best-selling authors of all time, recommends that children eat a plant-based diet for optimal health. In the seventh edition of his world-famous book, Baby and Child Care, he writes:
We now know that there are harmful effects of a meaty diet…Children can get plenty of protein and iron from vegetables, beans and other plant foods that avoid the fat and cholesterol that are in animal products…. I no longer recommend dairy products after the age of 2 years. Other calcium sources offer many advantages that dairy products do not have….Many families are using smaller servings of meat, trimming the fat and switching to low-fat dairy products. These are steps in the right direction. I would suggest, however, that you go a step further, drawing your family’s nutrition from plant foods rather than from animal products.
So if we don’t need to eat animal products, and if in fact, it may be healthier not to, why do we keep doing it? I think it comes down to habit and tradition. We do it because it’s what our parents did, and what their parents did. Because it’s what we “know.” But we can choose to create new habits and traditions. Ones that better reflect the values of ourselves and our children. Just as with other negative behaviors that are passed down from generation to generation, we can decide to break the chain.
Further Information on Vegan Parenting:
Vegan Health: Pregnancy, Infants and Children by Jack Norris, RD and Ginny Messina MPH,RD
Vegan Health: Real Vegan Children by Jack Norris, RD and Ginny Messina MPH,RD
Feeding Vegan Kids by Reed Mangels, Ph.D, R.D.
Raising Vegetarian Children by Joanne Stepaniak and Vesanto Melina
Vegan Mom Blogs
Pregnancy, Children and the Vegan Diet by Michael Klaper, M.D.
Basic Meal Ideas from Keeping Kids Healthy: A Pediatrician’s Guide to Your Children’s Health and Safety
Veg Family Magazine
Being A Vegan Kid by Ellen Green