Raising Kids Vegan: How One Family Is Doing It

Can kids be raised vegan and still be healthy, getting all the nutrients they need? This question may be on the minds of many moms who may have heard that a vegan mom was arrested after refusing to take her dehydrated infant to the hospital, fearing her baby might be exposed to animal products in formula. Yet in spite of a few bad apples, many moms insist a vegan diet is safe during pregnancy, while nursing, and for young kids eating solid food.


To hear more about this practice I spoke to Jennifer Horton, a 37-year-old vegan in Richmond, California (and judging by her family photo, those kids certainly don't seem malnourished). Her husband, Barry, is also vegan, and they've just opened a new restaurant called Sanctuary Bistro. Here Jennifer talks about her controversial decision to raise her two children vegan since birth, and the benefits they've reaped as a result.

How did you become vegan?
The process to become vegan was a slow one for me. When I was in high school, I read about factory farming in regards to the beef industry. I gave up beef, but still ate chicken and seafood. In 2001, I was having digestive issues and gave up chicken and gluten. In 2006, I became vegetarian. A year later, I became vegan while working at the Stanford Inn, where I met my husband. We became vegan together as we learned more and more about compassion for animals, the health benefits, and the environmental impact.

How did your kids end up vegan?
I was vegan during pregnancy. My children were nursed and then introduced to foods right off of our plate -- which happened to be vegan -- at 4 months for my son Jayden, and 6 months for my daughter Adeline. 

Could you elaborate on why raising your kids vegan is important to you?
I am raising my kids with compassion. We talk about animals, growing food, and where food comes from in simplistic terms, and as our kids get older, we will get deeper into this if they continue to be interested. We also believe that we are eating a well rounded balanced diet and making an environmental and sustainable choice.

What did you feed your kids at first?
We started with avocados, sweet potatoes, bananas -- food common for all parents. We then started feeding them foods that we were eating, like peas and cooked greens. Jayden did not like salads at first. However, we put them on his plate every day before we start dinner -- we all ate salad first -- then one day he started to eat his salad. Now he is almost 4 and eats a full plate of salad before dinner every day without any prompting!

Did you have any concerns they'd get all the nutrients they'd need?
The only concern we had was for B-12, which is in animal products but not plants. So I gave them B-12 supplements, and also took them while they were nursing.

How have people reacted to your decision?
At a supermarket I inquired about vegan acidophilis [a type of probiotic]. The woman helping me said, "You aren't raising the kids vegan are you? Because they could die!" That caught me off guard and really upset me. Otherwise, the worst that we get is "How do they get their protein?" We live in a protein obsessed society, so I usually respond  by talking about how there are various sources of protein in plants. Our families supported our decision. Our kids were so healthy-looking it was hard to argue. My son was super chunky!

Have your kids expressed any interest in eating meat, eggs or dairy?
No. Jayden talks about eggs and that they are baby chickens. He talks compassionately about animals, and is so open and amazing about being vegan. He will tell everyone. Our families try vegan food when they are with us and they are impressed at what our kids eat for meals. We do not try to "convince" anyone that our way is right. We just try to share loving meals in a compassionate way that taste delicious and that people enjoy. 

What happens if your kids do express an interest in eating meat or eggs or … ice cream?
Right now Jayden talks a lot about how he doesn't eat animals and does not want to. We make our own coconut ice cream. We made vegan s'mores. Because we don't eat a lot of treats a little goes a long way!

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At what age will you let your kids make their own food choices should they decide not to be vegan?
In the house we cook vegan. When they're in middle school and high school they may begin to make choices. We hope to have open dialogue. But like all parents, we hope they make good decisions. I think that this is the balance that all parents go through.

What are the biggest challenges of raising vegan children? Birthday parties. We always bring a special treat for our kids. 


Do you think kids should be raised vegan? Why or why not? 

Image via Jennifer Horton

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