This post was originally written by Cory Warren for PETA Kids and is also being shared here with permission.
Back to school is upon us and it is a time of growth, change and maybe even the feeling of nervous “butterflies” in our stomachs. As we get closer to the beginning of the school year, we are reminded that our vegan diets need to be introduced to our teachers and faculty at schools. This can make things a bit more stressful for parents and kids who have chosen a vegan lifestyle. To help make this sometimes daunting task a bit easier, we have five tips to help your vegan kids thrive in a non-vegan school.
As a busy family of five, our journey to a vegan diet has been one of patience, compassion and love. At times, however, even the most patient person can feel frustrated when they are met with someone who questions the way they eat. Food is very personal and as parents, it’s our job to teach our kids not only how to choose a life of compassion and caring by eating a vegan diet, but also to encourage our kids to lead by example and be open to inclusive conversations about the way they eat, rather than shaming or judging others who might not eat the same as us.
1. Educate Your Kids At Home On Why You Have Chosen To Eat A Vegan Diet
Education starts at home. I have found that a healthy combination of education and what I call “parental marketing,” helps my kids connect to the food they are eating and the health benefits associated with it. The education portion to me is the “why.” Why has your family chosen to live a vegan lifestyle? Talk through this with your kids and really make sure they fully understand why your family has chosen this path. Talk about why animals are here on the planet and how smart they are. Read children’s books that promote positive images around animals. Tell your kids how proud you are of them for making their own decision to live this way and how, as a family, you are an unstoppable force of love and compassion for all living things. When your kids truly understand why they are doing what they are doing, they will be prepared to answer questions and handle tough situations when they encounter them at school.
The parental marketing I mentioned earlier is the fun stuff and usually occurs after we eat a meal. I like to tell my young kids to show me their muscles after they eat certain foods. For instance, if I see my son take a bite of broccoli, I will notice how big his muscles grew and ask him to flex them for me. I also explain how he is getting a wonderful amount of protein in his body with each and every bite, which helps his muscles grow big and strong like his favorite superhero!
With the right combination of education and parental marketing, you will be ready to take on the world!
2. Have Your Kids Make Their Own Vegan-Powered Lunch Every Day
In a rush to get lunches packed and out the door on time? Don’t just have your kids pack their own lunches, but have them pack the majority of their lunch the night before! Set the lunch boxes out on the counter and load them up with your favorite vegan snack foods that don’t require refrigeration. Maybe your kids like fruit juice vegan gummies or maybe they have a favorite juice box flavor. If they personally have a say in what goes into their lunch every day, they are much more likely to eat it when it comes time for lunch at school.
Stock the fridge with fresh, pre-cut fruits and veggies for them to choose from to stock in their lunches. Reusable plastic lunchware is great for fruits and veggies and most of them come with small, separate dip or dressing compartments for your child’s favorite dipping sauce!
3. Communicate Your Vegan Diet Clearly To Your Child’s Teacher
When your diet and lifestyle is a choice rather than an allergy, it can be confusing for teachers, who are constantly used to parents and kids telling them that they cannot have a certain food due to health reasons. When you meet your teacher, ask if you can talk with them sometime about the way you eat. You might even have to remind the teacher what a vegan diet is. In our family, we simply say “our family eats no animal products of any kind, including eggs, dairy and meat.” While that is a pretty basic message, it seems to resonate well with many teachers.
Informing teachers how you eat is just the beginning. The next thing that will happen is that the teacher might feel a bit overwhelmed. The thoughts of “what can I feed your child?” will creep into their mind. You can almost see it happen on their faces! This is an opportunity to make their life easier by simply offering to bring in a vegan option for any and all special parties or events in exchange for her letting you know when such event will happen. Even just one day’s notice is great for a busy vegan parent, who usually has a frozen cupcake or two stowed away in the freezer for times like this! You might even give the teacher a “secret stash” of vegan cookies for those times when an impromptu party happens.
4. Encourage Your Vegan Kids Find Other Vegan Friends and Faculty Members
Once you tell a teacher at your school that your kids are vegan, the word will spread fast. This is a good thing. Chances are high that your child is NOT the only vegan kid in the school. In fact, if you look hard enough, I’ll bet you will be able to find a vegan teacher or faculty member too! Having a fellow vegan kid to relate to and just give a high five every now and then, even if they are in another class, is always a good thing for your kids. We once had a staff member come up to my (then five-year-old) daughter and say “Hey I am gonna try this vegan diet thing.” What a huge win!
5. Think Outside The Box When It Comes To Class Projects
Do your kids have a science project due? How about a book report? Why not do a project or book report on a vegan subject? With your kids having the option to choose what they read or report on, this is an excellent opportunity for them to present their vegan lifestyle in a non-threatening, welcoming way. It might even inspire others to pursue this way of life. Have fun diving into the science behind why a vegan diet works for the planet and how many animal lives are saved each year by eating this way.
Food For Thought
With the right combination of marketing, education, communication, and hands-on experience, your kids will have the tools they need to become proud representatives of the vegan movement! Our kids are beacons of light and positivity. While we know that most kids would choose a vegan lifestyle if they were to learn the details about what their “chicken fingers” were actually made of, some might have a more difficult time making the connection…and that’s ok. We have to do the best job we can to arm our kids with the right amount of knowledge and confidence to go forward and wave their “vegan flag” proudly for all to see.