The announcement that your teen (or tween) is going vegan can come as a bombshell. You may worry that a vegan lifestyle will lead to poor nutrition, skyrocketing grocery bills, the end of cozy family mealtimes, or just plain extra work for your home’s resident chief cook and bottle washer. These fears are normal. But a little understanding and a lot of love will go a long way to put your mind at rest. Here are 9 ways to open the lines of communication about veganism.
1. Understand what veganism is: a way of life. Its most obvious component is a strictly plant-based diet, which some people adhere to mainly out of concern for their health or the environment. However, the majority of vegans are committed to eliminating all exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals. Since the Vegan Society was established 70 years ago in England, vegans have eschewed the use of products such as leather, fur, silk, and wool, as well as animal foods.
2. Respect your son or daughter’s choice. Adolescence is a time for young people to develop their own unique vision of the world, which may include ideas and philosophies that contradict their parents’ (gasp!). Choosing to be a vegan is often the result of long and deep thought about how to live an ethical life.
3. Find how much your child knows – and ask them to teach you. Your doubts about whether they will be able to get the nutrients they need may be groundless. If your youngster has done some serious reading on the subject of veganism, they are likely to have a good knowledge of the best foods to eat for healthy growth.
4. Learn together. Reading and discussing books on veganism and vegan recipes with your child can be an excellent way to learn and get closer. Two suggested titles to start with are Eating Animals and The Kind Diet.
5. Check that they are getting sufficient protein, Vitamin B12, and Omega-3 acids. Protein is present in many common vegan foods, especially legumes and whole grains. B12 is harder to obtain from a vegan diet, so if levels of this essential nutrient are low, a supplement such as nutritional yeast may be advisable. Ditto for Omega-3 acids. A consultation with a dietitian who is knowledgeable about veganism is highly recommended.
6. Take a deep breath. You do not have to re-organize your whole kitchen. Although veganism means avoiding a lot of the foods you yourself may eat regularly, many basic ingredients such as spices, vegetable oils, and flour are the same. You won’t have to invest in a new set of pots and pans either, or have another fridge or stove hooked up.
7. Lighten the cooking workload. If you are chiefly responsible for preparing family meals, you’re not likely to welcome any extra work. However, rather than cooking double for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can find a compromise. As the Meatless Monday concept catches on, more and more families are experimenting with meat-free cuisine as a green alternative at least once a week. Think split pea soup, falafel, and bean burritos, to name just a few vegan dishes the whole family will enjoy. Pressed for time? It’s fine to take shortcuts with vegan convenience food brands such as Gardein, Tofurky, and Morningstar.
8. Invite your child to play guest chef. Encourage your vegan youngster to take over food prep once in a while. You’ll be getting a break, while he or she gains important adult survival skills.
9. Have fun. A big part of eating together is enjoying each other’s company and fostering closeness. Focus on good feelings and pleasant conversation rather than what is on everyone’s plate. And after supper, relax together occasionally with a favorite family activity … perhaps watching a movie, accompanied by a big bowl of (naturally vegan) popcorn.
By Laura Firszt, Networx.