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How To Teach Young Kids What Is Vegan
This article is written to help you help your young child know what is and isn’t vegan; what foods to accept from friends and which ones to politely decline! Let’s see our little vegan succeed at being vegan when they’re not around us!
If your child goes anywhere other than home, or has friends; there is a good chance they will meet someone else who is not vegan and at some point or another will be offered non-vegan food.
Whether we like it or not, there is going to come a point in our children’s life when we are not there next to them, guiding them, and helping them make decisions (whether it’s about what they eat or something else).
We’ll get into how to help kids deal with peer pressure and make good decisions when it comes to food choices later in this guide.
And, teaching them what is and isn’t vegan can start when we start teaching them other concepts, such as letters, numbers, colors, and more!
Teaching Preschoolers What is Vegan
This age, around 3 or 4, is about the age that kids can usually start grasping concepts and then relaying that information to someone else.
The perfect age to start teaching them what is vegan or plant based and good for them to eat, and what isn’t.
Some children, like my oldest daughter when she was around this age, are fine with learning what is and isn’t vegan through watching health documentaries and then a couple years later starting to ask questions about it.
However, I understand if you don’t want to introduce health documentaries to your children at this age, or even in elementary school. The parts about animal agriculture can be a bit graphic for a 3 or 4 year old.
Don’t worry, there are many other ways to help our kids understand and remember what food is vegan and what isn’t.
Does your child have a play kitchen that they play with, make pretend food in and then serve to you?
They love to play pretend at this age and I know many preschools and even kindergarten rooms at schools have play kitchens for kids to play with.
These play kitchens are great learning toys for kids for so many different reasons;
- Learn about food
- Learn how to cook
- Learn how to serve food
- Practice skills they see you do everyday in the kitchen
- And more!
My girls still pretend to make me food and coffee with their play food and then bring it to me to ‘eat’.
They’re sure to never bring me the pretend meat! Or, if they do bring it to me, they let me know that it’s a bean burger or that it is vegan and how!
(My oldest is now 7, and she prefers to make me real food and coffee and bring it to me! That right there is a huge benefit of teaching your kids how to cook and make food from the time they are toddlers!)
Just like with the set of pretend food my girls have, your kids probably have pretend food that resembles animal products, as well. They don’t make a vegan version of play food, at least not as far as I know.
I know some vegan parents may not be happy about that because they don’t even want to introduce that type of ‘food’ or cruelty to their children’s life.
But, instead of seeing it as a bad thing, use it as an opportunity to teach your child.
Tell them what vegan food you think it is and what it is made, and then explain that other people eat things that look like that but are made from animals, or made by hurting animals; which is why we prefer the vegan version.
If it’s an egg they bring you, let them know that eggs are what some baby animals are born from. They aren’t meant to be eaten!
Show Pictures Of What Is Vegan and What Isn’t
At this age, pictures can sometimes be easier for kids to comprehend than words; why do you think kids books have more pictures than text?
And by showing them pictures, this could be as easy as going through a magazine with them and pointing out the different foods and ads and explaining to them what is vegan and what isn’t.
Or, searching online for different pictures of food, showing them, and explaining the different parts of that food.
For example, let’s say your child is going to go to a friend’s birthday party soon. You could find a picture of a cake, though they probably already know what a cake looks like- having a picture of one right in front of them will help them remember.
Then explain to them what usually goes into a ‘normal’ cake, like a non-vegan store bought one;
- And of course loads of sugar and food dye
Let them know that when they celebrate their own birthday that you make sure their cake is super special and doesn’t have those ingredients in it. You make sure their cake doesn’t harm animals to get the ingredients.
But, you’ll also need to let them know that not everyone has a special cake like that for their birthday and that they should ask what is in the cake before they accept a piece. They wouldn’t want an animal to be harmed simply so they can have a piece of cake when there’s a better way!
Luckily, at this age, you would most likely go with them to any birthday parties.
But this way of teaching them can be used for other situations. Even snacks at preschool; their preschool probably serves goldfish or cheese and crackers. They need to know to ask if the food contains dairy, and if it does they should say ‘no, thank you’.
You also need to make sure you have spoken with any other adult who may provide your child with food about them being vegan, and have them treat their diet as if your child is allergic to the food. The other adults must respect your decision to raise your child vegan.
Teach While You Cook
Another great way to teach your little one about which foods are vegan is by teaching them while you prepare meals, or teach them to cook.
Think about it, before you make food you usually have to have a recipe, or at least inspiration of some type.
Maybe you see something on instagram or pinterest that looks good, well, show your child the picture, read off the ingredient list, and let your child know if it’s vegan or not.
Kids are great at learning from real life experiences, that’s why playing is so important to their development!
Talk to them while you make the recipe and they watch, or you make the recipe together.
If you’re baking and need a flax egg, let them know instead of using other animals’ eggs,
‘We can make our own with ground up seeds and water!
Isn’t that neat!?’
‘This recipe calls for milk, can you get me the soy milk from the fridge? We’re going to use this milk because it is made from plants, we don’t want to take the milk that’s meant for baby animals!
That would be silly, wouldn’t it? People are so silly to drink milk like they are baby cows. Do you think they think they are cows and that’s why they drink it?’
Ok, so the wording for that last example may not be what you would say, but you get the point!
Read Books Together
If all else fails, and you’re not sure how to teach your child what is vegan and what isn’t or how to word it for a child so young, don’t worry! Someone else has already figured it out, wrote it down, added fun and colorful pictures to it and are probably selling a copy of it online!
I feel like just a couple months ago when I searched for vegan kids books I could hardly find 3 or 4 available, but now there are tons! And for all different age groups and lessons, too!
I’ve compiled a list of vegan kids books HERE, along with a short description of what they’re about. Be sure to take a look!
Teaching Elementary School Aged Kids What is Vegan
Helping elementary school kids what is vegan will be a bit easier than teaching preschoolers! They’ve been around longer and have had more experience with more types of foods.
The harder part now comes the social interactions and having friends who are non-vegan, and the foodsharing at lunchtime if they go to school and aren’t homeschooled.
Yep, kids still trade food during lunch at school, or at least they did two years ago before I started homeschooling my kids.
So now teaching them to ask more questions about what is in food before accepting it to eat becomes even more important!
Teach Them Where Food Made With Animals Come From
One way to help your children understand the importance of finding out what is in the food they eat before they eat it, is to teach them where it comes from.
‘Milk comes from cows and is meant for calves. Can you believe that some humans steal the milk from the mama cows to sell, and the poor little calves are left with nothing!?’
‘Cow milk is made perfectly to help baby cows grow up to be as big as adult cows. The milk makes them huge, huh? What do you think would happen to a human if they drank cow milk?’
‘Do you know where an egg comes from?’
‘What do you think is inside an egg? Even if there’s no baby animal inside the egg, the stuff in an egg was meant to grow a baby from 1 teeny tiny cell to a baby animal. It’s the perfect nutrients for that animal, not for humans. We need nutrients that are best for us, and that’s plants!’
If they ask you about cheese…
‘What do you think cheese is made from?’
‘Cheese is usually made from curdled cow’s milk, unless it has the V for vegan on the label. And cow’s milk is meant for cows. Doesn’t that sound gross? Humans add bacteria to milk to make it curdle and that’s how cheese is made! EWWW!!!’
If they ask about bacon, pork, or another pig product…
‘Bacon/pork is made from pigs. Isn’t that sad that other people eat pigs?’
Be sure to use your own wording, but make sure to tell them the truth! Enough people will try to lie to them about food in their lifetime, they need to be able to trust someone; and that someone should be their parents!
Kids love games, so why not use them to your advantage!
Playing Go Fish?
Talk to them about why you don’t eat fish, and although it’s fun to play the card game, fishing isn’t nice to the fish because it hurts them.
Don’t forget to let them know of all the different names fish can go by so they know not to accidentally eat any of them when not home, or their eggs!
Some common fish that non-vegans consume are:
Don’t forget to tell them what their eggs are called; caviar. And, while you’re at it, let them know about other sea creatures and let the conversation flow!
The thing is, how are they to know not to accept a food when they don’t even know what something is?
Finding opportunities to teach them is the best, and easiest, way to let them know in a casual way. No need to sit them down like in a class and lecture them on what is or isn’t vegan!
Read Books Together
Reading books together, or even having them read vegan kids books by themselves, is a great way for them to learn what’s vegan, why they don’t consume animal products, and even how to explain to their friends what being vegan means and how awesome it is!
Books are such a great way to teach or learn, so you will find that I suggest books for all ages!
Watch Documentaries Together
By elementary school, at least the older kids, your kids should be mature enough to watch most health documentaries with you.
It’s perfectly fine to tell them to close their eyes if the documentary starts showing the cruelty to animals that exists in animal agriculture if you want to shelter them from that fact of life for a little longer. That’s up to you, but is also one reason you should watch them with your kids, instead of letting your kids watch them alone.
Most of these health documentaries won’t only teach them what vegan/plant based foods are, but also how important they are to being healthy and avoiding health issues later in life!
Start Teaching Them About the Food Mood Connection & About Health
Did you know that what you eat affects how you feel?
Most kids have no idea!
If your child is still transitioning to a vegan diet, this will be an important concept to help them grasp; it doesn’t need to be that difficult, either.
Simply get them a notebook and have them write down how they feel after each time they eat; immediately after, and then about 20 or so minutes after.
Do they feel full?
Do they have a belly ache?
Any feeling they feel or words to help them describe what is going on inside their body or head, encourage them to write it down.
After doing this for a week or two, they might start to see some patterns arise, or maybe you can help them see if there are any patterns.
This can be a big help in having them see what is good for them to eat and what isn’t. It can also be a great tool to catch any food intolerances or sensitivities.
For example, if they eat a ton of sugar and have tons of energy at first, and then 20 minutes late they have a belly ache and don’t feel so great; point out to them that they wrote that down everytime they had tons of sugar.
‘Hmmm, I see everytime you eat that much sugar you don’t feel good after. Do you want me to help you not eat so much sugar from now on?’
Or if they are still transitioning to a vegan diet and have some type of food that contains milk, and every time they have that food, they write down that they get a runny nose and are coughing more. Let them know you see that pattern, inspect the ingredient list on the product, and see if they can figure out which ingredient may have caused it.
Let them be a food detective!
Teach While They Help You Cook
Teaching kids to cook or make their own food is one of the main skills you will need to teach your child while they are still at home, so that they can take care of themselves and feed themselves when they become adults.
I could go on and on about the benefits of teaching kids to cook, and if you’d like to know more about the benefits of teaching your kids to cook, be sure to read: Should You Start Teaching Kids to Cook?
Getting your kids around food, and learning recipes, and how to substitute vegan ingredients into non-vegan recipes, is a great way to teach kids what is and isn’t vegan.
It also helps them understand that delicious food can be made vegan, whether or not their friends think that way!
Be sure they know that other people may not make these substitutions and may use animal products in their baking and cooking, instead. So, it’s always important to ask what is in a food before accepting it from a friend or trusted adult!
Not Everyone Knows What Vegan Means
Unfortunately, not everyone in our world understands what is and isn’t part of a certain diet, such as a vegan diet.
That is why it is so important to teach our kids, and teach them different names of things that may not be vegan. So that they have a better understanding and can make an educated decision when it comes to accepting or politely declining food that a trusted adult or friend offers them.
Explaining to our children in a casual way, such a during a card game or reading books, opens up the conversation and allows our kids to ask us even more questions.
In turn this helps them learn more about what it means to be vegan, why it’s so important, and helps them explain it to their friends who may not understand why they choose not to eat the cake or ice cream at a birthday party!
If you have older kids and aren’t sure how to teach them what is or isn’t vegan, in a way that they won’t try to ignore you, then you’ll want to read the next article in this guide for raising vegan kids!
Didn’t start from the beginning? Start Here!
Need some inspiration for being or raising vegan? Check out the vegan quotes in Vegan Quotes: For Health, the Planet, & the Animals!