Going vegan can be daunting enough, right? Imagine going vegan and a being parent trying to raise a vegan child, sounds impossible? It defiantly doesn't have to be. Vegan parent and blogger Emma Oldham shares her thoughts, experience, and tips all around parenting as a vegan.
I love my plant-based lifestyle. Our fridge and fruit bowls contain all of the colours of the rainbow. It’s motivated us to grow and harvest our own fruit and veg. And, more than ever, we appreciate the sweetness, bitterness, spiciness, crunchiness and crispness of what different plants have to offer. Not to mention that i’m a plant addict and seem to always end up with one (or two) in my hand at checkout.
When I’m at home I’m in control. I have my nutritional yeast loaded with B12 to sneak into my cheesy pasta dishes, I have my oat milk to whisk into my coffee and dairy-free butter to churn into home baked cakes or layer over bread. Once you find your family favourites everything falls into place and you don’t have to second-think a plant-based diet.
If only getting out and about was as easy. Although honestly, it’s getting easier than EVER before. ALL fast food chains now offer a vegan option (including McDonalds, KFC & Greggs). Starbucks and Costa Coffee also have your back when it comes to offering a host of plant-based milks. Even our local coffee shops in our little town of Newark, all have vegan offerings. It’s brill. My favourite, Carriages Cafe, has recently launched ‘Meat-free Mondays’ where you get a delicious vegan pastry with a vibrant salad, topped with vegetable crisps and crunchy vegan coleslaw (pictured). All for £5 including a drink! I really do feel as a family, we have more choice out than ever before. We're loving seeing more plants on the menu including buffalo cauliflower wings, BBQ jackfruit and vegan Mac and Cheese! Even our local garden centre, farm park and nature reserve now serves vegan ice-creams!
What often catches us out (but not always) is visiting friends and family. Of course, my family and friends are dear to me and I’m a very lucky for all of the wonderful vegan foods they’ve made for us, and for even running out to get Oat milk. But with some, the word ‘vegan’ completely confuses them. They immediately assume that they ‘don’t have anything remotely vegan in the house’. When I ask if they have potatoes, pasta, banana, bread or beans in the house, I can literally see their strained foreheads relax somewhat as they realise that ‘vegan’ food, is literally good old fruit, veg and pulses.
The second biggest struggle for me is lack of options when my children are invited to children’s parties (again, not always) and to soft play or education centres. Usually these places are loaded with dairy and gelatin, leaving my daughter with just a handful of crisps or cucumber and carrot sticks.
I don’t like my decisions making people feel uncomfortable, and I hate putting people out, so whenever I can, I always offer to prepare and bring our own.
So, here are our successful family tips on keeping plants exciting and ensuring that they are accessible during our adventures and invites:
Keep it colourful. Nothing says ‘i’m delicious’ more than a rainbow loaded fruit pot. I love the contrast of different fruits. The dark hues of blueberries against a flash of yellow mango, or the black and green of kiwi nestled among red, confident strawberries.
Shape it up. I bought pack of mini cookie cutters from eBay which has been a life-saver. From stars to sunshine, I turn vegan cheese-spread, or peanut butter sandwiches into a creative play opportunities, which means more food in the tummy than left on the plate.
Add a message. Mini letter cutters are great too! Cutting out the words ‘Smile’ or ‘Love’ or your child’s nickname is a lovely way to make a child still feel valued if their isn't’ much vegan-friendly food available.
Show it off. All my friends and family drool over our homemade vegan cupcakes. They still don’t believe they’re made without the aid of eggs or butter. A real enjoyment of mine, I get great pleasure from decorating our cupcakes and experimenting with different flavours including cola chocolate, Oreo & peanut butter and lemon and lime. For parties, I like to bring a tray to contribute, letting my daughter feel involved and seeing her return with an empty cake tin.
Sneak in imposters. For soft play centres, or visitor / educational centres I like to pack brands which look and taste like their dairy-loaded sisters, but are completely cruelty-free. Schokolinsen Vegan 'Smarties’ are a prime example. These discoveries are usually referred to as ‘accidentally vegan’ with our latest favourite find McVities Digestive Twists. I often have vegan chocolate buttons, or vegan sweets to hand in preparation for party bags or set menus with no vegan dessert option.
Good-old-go-to's. Luckily, children are predictable. Once you find something they like, it’ll be eaten. Typical vegan lunchbox favourites for us include Party Rings, Oreos, Eat Real vegetable straws, Soreen apple fruit load, Lotus biscuits, bread sticks and hummus, crackers and vegan cheese spread, raisins, vegan marshmallows, soya yogurts, dried apple slices, Aldi fruit bars and homemade flapjack.
Check out the Happy Cow Website. Searching the Happy Cow website can save you a lot of time finding a vegan-friendly place to eat in advance of your visit.
Find your family favourites. Once you’ve trailed a few places you’ll see get a feel for which restaurants cater for your family needs. When you do, turn it into a family tradition. For us, it's Frankie & Benny's. From plant-based hot dogs to pasta and garlic bread (pictured) and vegan milkshakes we feel this restaurant has more to offer than any other. Even the children’s menu has vegan options from the starters, main and desert!
Get support from other vegan families/parents. Facebook has been a real blessing and crucial part of my vegan journey. There are lots of fantastic closed groups, including a ‘Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting’ group of over 30,000 families. Daily, you can soak up new ideas and share jokes and celebrations. ‘Vegan Eats for Smaller Feet’ is also a good one to join.
Network with your local vegan community. Luckily, Newark has a vegan Facebook which has successfully held some family events including a vegan picnic. These are refreshing ways to share ideas, not be challenged over what you’re eating and letting your children feel and see that veganism can be part of a normal life. If your local town or city doesn’t have a group, why not set one up?
Enjoy The Vegan Campout Festival. Treat yourselves to a family camping ticket and let The Vegan Campout do the hard work for you. With absolutely every type of food you can think of veganised - the world is your oyster when it comes to feeding your children! The live music, free family breakfast mornings and children’s zone will keep you all entertained for the weekend, celebrating compassion and cruelty-free living. If you see me, do come and say hello!