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Weaning Advice for Vegans & Dairy-Free Vegetarians

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Bringing your child up as a vegan or vegetarian.

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      20.01.2012 19:06
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      So, let's face it, when you have a child you become public property. In fact, it starts in pregnancy. Everyone has an opinion!


      'Oh they didn't have car seats in my day and my kids did just fine.'


      'Stand on your head and shout 1,2,3 three times a day for the next nine months and that baby will come sliding riiiight out.'


      And so on. Then there are the comments about your size, the million times a day 'is the baby here yet?' questions and the odd compulsion for strangers to grab and rub your pregnant belly. Um. Okay. Do you mind. That's my stomach you're touching and if you move your hand an inch lower it might not be my stomach you're touching any more...


      Then the baby comes. More comments. More advice. More questions.


      'Are you breast or bottle feeding?'


      Breast.


      'Oh you'll need to get them onto a bottle when they're 4/5/6 months/a year so they don't become clingy/so people don't think you're weird.'


      Um...


      'And is your son/daughter going to be a vegan like you are?'


      Yes.


      'Oh I knew someone whose child was vegan AND THEY DIED.'


      Okay, seriously, I haven't had that conversation...but pretty damn close a few times.


      A baby is a comment magnet, everyone is an expert and I've found nearly everyone has a different opinion. When our son's hair was wild and free (and not that wild and free, I shall add) lots of comments were made. From 'when are you going to cut his hair?' to comparing him to Justin Beiber. Seriously. And anyway, it was more a Boris Johnson 'do (poor kid!). You would never point out someone's gross lady moustache (not that I'm a moustache hater, but you follow my logic, right?) or someone's dodgy wig - so why get so personal on a baby?


      Is it because they can't talk back? Well...our son has started to form three word sentences, so you better straighten that wig and get the wax out on that moustache - he's got some lost time to make up for ;).


      But seriously. Seriously. I've heard so many weird and wonderful things like 'aww that's a shame!' to 'that's SO cruel, you're depriving him and wrapping him in cotton wool by doing that!' and the cherry on top: 'YOU'RE JUST DOING WHAT YOU WANT!'


      Aren't all parents 'just doing what they want' when it comes to their kids? No matter how perfect your parents were, you see their flaws. You see gaps in things you missed out on. You want to fill your child's childhood gaps, you do your best and in the end you're going to make mistakes. It's how we learn. And it's why Grandparents get it oh so right with their Grandchildren. Second time lucky and all that ;).


      So to address the former comments, the 'that's a shame' comment. How so? What will my child 'miss out' on? An advent calendar at Christmas? I bought it. An Easter egg? I bought it. Mc Donald's? No thanks!


      And for all the stories I hear about fussy eaters I am grateful we don't have that problem. He doesn't miss out on all necessary vitamins and minerals that will strengthen his growth and development. And I am all too aware of what he needs in order to thrive because I would never go into parenthood not knowing that - whether I was vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous.


      So, what do average* children need?


      Let's take a child between the ages of 1-2 years, seeing as my son is at that stage and to make things easy in explaining.


      Sleep: around 10-12 hours per day (my son probably gets more than this as most parents might cut the nap in this age group) and he goes to bed around 7pm most nights. Before bed he has a 15-30 minute 'wind down' period which starts with a bath and ends in scripture study (basic) and prayer. We had a lovely book called 'Bedtime Peekaboo' we used to read to him when he was a baby (I would suggest starting this as early as possible) but these days he prefers to 'read' books to himself.


      Love: this is hard to quantify. But in it's most basic form children need to feel loved, accepted and safe. Of course you can only give what you can give and hope it is enough but safety is something easily quantifiable.


      Safety is knowing that you'll be there should they fall and hurt themselves. Safety is knowing there are boundaries to their behaviour and things they can explore; my son used to love attempting to climb our fire place and radiators and would look at us as he was climbing them, looking for a response or a reaction, to which I would gently tell him to come away. If he wouldn't respond the first time either one of us would physically remove him. If it was an immediate danger I wouldn't hesitate to remove him. I believe this comes under love, because it is love that makes you respond to your child's behaviour - if you didn't feel love, you wouldn't care and you wouldn't react.


      On top of this he gets about a bazillion hugs and kisses a day - most of which he squirms free from.


      Food: it's our energy source, our enjoyment out of life, our nourishment, our joy to cook. Food is so important. But it's even more important that we understand how much we do and don't need of the stuff and what different vitamins and minerals food provides.

      'vegan' babies is a bit of a strange thing because all babies eat a relatively vegan diet, working up to cheeses and meats. The only difference between my son and other omnivorous babies was that he's never had cow's milk or any other dairy from an animal. Most of his weaning meals were fruit and veg, which is a standard staple for most babies across the UK.

      Mostly all of the baby foods in jars are vegan - I always made sure to check as a lot of them might contain cow's milk/cheese or even meat in the later stages. To make things easier we would simply make our own foods; blended fruit worked as a great dessert and cooked pasta with various sauces and tofu worked pretty well. Cous cous was also a favourite once my son could manage it. We started simple, always offered a 'main' meal, followed by blended up fruit for a dessert. I didn't start offering water until about 10months as he'd stopped breastfeeding at lunch and didn't offer bread until 10 months due to choking hazards (probably first time mother paranoia!) but gave bread sticks, organic cookies and Rusks as little snacks in between meals.

      I always kept a ready supply of a clean spoon, bib and spare wipes in the nappy bag as it meant if we were going anywhere and for some reason got stuck, we could just buy baby food from a jar and feed him on the go. In the future I plan on making my own food from scratch and freezing it so will just carry these out with me - we lacked a freezer the first time round!

      Things you'll need for making your own food: fruit and veg, a cooking pot, a blender, a freezer and lots of little pots to store the food in! My aunt suggested pouring the cooked food into ice cube trays which sounds like a good idea to me!

      So just cook up veg or blend your fruit then freeze it. If you're cooking veg, cook until soft all the way through and then blend. Don't add any water as it will dilute your mixture. Pour into your pots/ice cube tray.

      When I was a child, about 5, I knew about calories because my parents talked about them a lot. What I wasn't aware of was how many of these calories I needed in a day and even if I had understood, I was relying on my parents to feed me and prepare meals for me so it wouldn't have made much difference.


      It falls on my shoulders to understand, at each point of his life and development, what my son needs from his food in order to be healthy, grow, play, learn and develop into a boy and then a man.

      We are very fortunate in the sense that our son isn't a 'fussy eater' so I don't have to worry about him lacking in minerals and vitamins. He also loves taking his supplement (VEG1, the same one I take, but in a smaller dose.) I remember being a child and having teddy bear shaped vitamins that tasted like oranges so I don't blame my son. Every single food that is put in front of him, he will try.

      Some treats my son likes to eat and drink on a daily basis; Orange juice, yoghurts, chocolate bagels, carrots, cherries, mashed potato...the list goes on.

      According to the Vegan Society 45% of adult bone mass is accrued before 8 years old and another 45% between the ages of 8-16 years old (with the other 10% accumulating in the next decade) - so what does this mean? It means that every parent of vegan, vegetarian and omnivorous children need to be sure that their children are getting a decent intake of calcium (and other minerals and vitamins previously discussed to help the absorption of calcium.)

      For Roman it means fortified foods; non-dairy (soya, usually) milk, baked beans, dark leafy veg (brocolli) cous cous, and breakfast cereals. So how much calcium does a wee one need, exactly?

      This varies, but if we're taking an average 1-2 year old they'll need 350mg of calcium (as well as 10-20mg of Vitamin D to help absorb the calcium.)

      Calories? 1,500 or so but unless your child is underweight, you really don't need to count the calories. What matters is that they eat averagely well, that they are provided with enough vitamins and minerals to meet their developing needs, that you're on hand to explain what they are putting into their bodies once they understand and that they can make wise food choices alongside their knowledge of nutrition as they develop from child to teen to adult.

      A healthy relationship to food and a greater understanding of nutrition is essential for children and I look forward to sharing the information I've gathered, and will learn, with Roman - much in the same way my Dad would tell me about how many grams of fat per day a person should have, how many calories we should eat in a day and passing on my love of fruit and veg inherited from my Mum, as well as the many (vegan and adapted to be vegan) recipes she has taught me over the years.

      Another part of his nutrition started when my son was newborn and was breastfed, right up until a few weeks ago, actually. He self weaned going from several (every 30mins to 2 hours at times) to one or two feeds, then down to just one and then no more feeds gradually and naturally, the way nature intends the relationship to end; amicably and happily.

      He would never 'ask' or even have a special sign for his milk, to him it was an eating/drinking/comfort process and nothing more, nor was he particularly interested in other people's breasts - asides from when he was a newborn and would try to get a piece at every door haha.

      For me it kept me on track to eating well and gave me a great need to want to nourish myself as best I could. When he stopped feeding from my body he had reached a point in his life where he was happy to fill his belly with just food and drinks and I was happy to have reached a point in our relationship where we could naturally progress instead of being dictated to on when we should stop.

      It worked beautifully and I would hope to be physically and mentally able to do this if I add to my family in the future.

      I realise food is emotional for a lot of people, it's a large topic and took up the bulk of this post, but it's so important. It's so important that no matter which diet you follow that you eat the best of the best, that you enjoy your food choices for the long term and not just the short term.

      I've received a few criticisms for my food choices and now I receive the odd complaint or criticism (usually ill informed and sometimes well intentioned) for bringing up a vegan child but the point of the argument gets lost on me a lot. I know about nutrition, about food choices and I am very well advised on my choices - as I hope I've illustrated in my first and second posts.

      My intentions are more than just a hunch, they're full of knowledge and plenty of nights I will never get back reading, reading and more reading many books, pamphlets, websites (for and against) and documentaries I have sat through, filling my little brain box up with info on vegan diets :).

      I will be the first to admit I wasn't sure if a vegan diet was 'enough' for a child, but that's ridiculous. Any diet can follow that 'not enough' logic by lacking in a few vitamins here and a few minerals there. And it won't take long for your body's natural supplies to dwindle down - after all we eat because our bodies can't physically create certain vitamins and minerals, so every diet is 'supplemented' by food. And sometimes a lot of people don't strike the right balance and get it wrong.

      When you understand the balances, when you understand how to nourish yourself and you follow through on that - you can't go wrong.

      Stuff your child full of Mars Bars or just fruit and veg and you'll go wrong, because a body needs more nutrition than that and it is easily achieved with a varied diet full of nourishment dense food, no matter if you're vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous.

      For me bringing up your child on a vegan diet is much more than just what they eat - but an overall understanding of their values, their food and respect for others and themselves. And also the time and effort I put into my parenting.

      (Cross-posted to my blog.)

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