'Being vegan is more affordable than eating meat, and the kids get vegetables even if they're fussy eaters' - meet Irish vegan families
With more and more adults now living a vegan life, attention is turning to the logistics involved in raising vegan children, writes Denise Smith
Just when you thought Dry January was losing steam, a new health kick has taken centre stage. If you've yet to familiarise yourself with Veganuary, fear not, it's the newest 'new year, new you' lifestyle challenge that is having a serious moment.
While thousands of people have pledged to go vegan for the month of January to kick-start their health regime and reduce animal suffering; for more and more Irish families, veganism is a way of life.
While there are no official figures on veganism in Ireland, in the UK, it is estimated that over 500,000 people have ditched meat, eggs and dairy, with 42pc of vegans aged 15-34.
There is no doubt that the meat-free market is expanding on these shores: Aldi has launched a plant-based line of food; fully-fledged vegan eateries now exist; and you can pop to Tesco and Dunnes for vegan cheese.
You may think that the charge toward veganism has been led by A-listers - such as Beyoncé and J-Lo - but for many people, the lifestyle change has not just ethical and environmental positives, there are health benefits too. There's a belief in some corners of the nutrition community, including that of the American and British Dietetic associations, that a well-planned vegan diet can decrease the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and lower cholesterol.
The one area experts disagree on is whether it is suitable for children. In January 2008, the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition stated that infants on a vegan diet, with limited or no animal foods, have a higher risk of developing nutritional deficiencies.
However, many dieticians argue that with the right planning and knowledge, a child can get everything they need following a vegan diet.
For mum-of-three Ciara Noctor, raising her children vegan was the obvious choice.
The 30-year-old who runs her hugely successful blog, VeganMammy.com, was motivated to go meat-free following her concern for animals and her opposition to intensive farming. One of the motivations for sharing her vegan journey on social media was to inspire other parents who are committed to veganism and show family and friends that her children eat healthily.
"I have always loved animals, so when I was 16, I decided I wanted to be a vegetarian and just a couple of months after, I went vegan."
Embracing veganism for a myriad of ethical and health-related reasons, the Cork-based blogger explains that it was only natural for her children to follow suit.
"I asked their dad first, he used to eat meat but is vegan now. I just said, 'What will we do with the kids?' but we were both in agreement from very early on that we would raise them vegan.
My mother was a little wary at first, she said, 'You can't raise a baby vegan', but I told her that I would be breastfeeding so the children would be getting milk and immediately, she was put at ease. I also had the backing of a dietician, so I was very comfortable with my decision from very early on.
"There are so many benefits for the kids: it teaches them compassion for animals and other humans. From a health point of view, there is a huge positive - even if they are fussy eaters, they are still eating a lot of vegetables compared to your average child and getting the nutrition, they need."
Happy that her children are thriving, the main concern for many parents whose children are following a vegan diet is that they get enough vitamin B12, iron and iodine. Many parents will give their children supplements if needed.
Ciara, who is mum to Rian (4) Oran (2) and Síofra (10 months), adds: "Their diet is really varied and very similar to that of other children. They eat pastas, curries, roasted vegetables, pancakes and porridge. You just have to ensure that they are eating enough protein, healthy fats, high-iron meals and have a source of B12.
"Something a lot of people ask me is if I have to spend all day cooking food from scratch, because of being vegan. I really enjoy cooking, and because I'm home with the kids, I have the opportunity to cook home-made food when I can find time, but I really don't think it's necessary to spend any more time cooking than non-vegans - even when you have kids. We don't eat all home-made food for every meal in our house."
Listing off examples of their go-to meals she says: "We make everything from wholegrain toast with peanut butter or hummus, wholegrain breakfast cereals with plant milks, fruit, smoothies, sandwiches, wraps, baked beans on toast, wholegrain pasta with a jar of tomato sauce and tinned lentils, quick chickpea curries made with a jar of sauce and tinned chickpeas, potato waffles, veggie sausages, veggie burgers, chips.
"And the meals that I do cook from scratch generally take no longer than 20-30 minutes to cook. Vegetables cook quickly and I use tinned beans most of the time, so it can be easy to cook something very quickly.
"For people who are new to being vegan, it might seem like a lot of hard work, but I think you soon get used to it and realise that it's just as easy to make vegan meals.
"It's also really affordable and can be much cheaper than meat-based diets. Beans are really cheap, grains and vegetables are very affordable, depending on what you buy. As long as you're not buying vegan-specialised foods, it is budget-friendly."
For the adoring mum-of-three, veganism is not something she will force on her children.
"We first introduced talking about veganism to Rian by reading V is for Vegan by Ruby Roth. It's a children's book, for very young children, which explains what vegans do and don't do, and the reasons why, in a simple way that won't upset children. It introduced simple ideas for him, like we don't eat our friends, cow's milk is for baby cows, eggs come from a chicken, etc.
"I also try to say to Rian, 'This is why I feel this way, what do you think?', so that he can think about how he feels as an individual. He just recently said to me, 'I love animals and I want to be vegan and that means I want to eat plants.'
"As the kids get older, I want to continue to talk to them about veganism and to learn together, because there's a lot more I can learn too. I also want to teach them what the reality of farming, and slaughtering, animals is like when they are older. I have been on farms myself from small dairy farms to intensive farms, and I've seen videos of animals being slaughtered, so I know what is involved. And like many others who have spent a lot of time around animals, I believe they have emotions and can feel pain.
"I want people to know that we do not teach them to judge those who aren't vegan, and we never want to force our children to feel the same way we do, we simply try to teach them what we believe is right and, ultimately, let them make their own decisions, like all parents do for their children."
For more information, see www.veganmammy.com