Seven tips for parents whose children want to try Veganuary

Published on: 11 January 2021

Lots of people are going plant-based this January, but it's important to do it safely and to make sure we get all the nutrition we need to stay healthy. Hope Jones Will Not Eat Meat author Josh Lacey talks about Veganuary and how we can change the world with the contents of our fridges.

Illustration: Beatriz Castro

Half a million people signed up for Veganuary this year, committing themselves to eating a vegan diet throughout January.

Veganuary attracts more and more followers every year, and the organisation behind it is currently expanding across the world, determined to build a global movement.

Some parents or carers might be nervous if their child wants to be vegan. So here are my top tips for anyone whose children are trying Veganuary.

1. Don't panic!

My first tip is very simple: don’t panic! Veganuary only lasts for a month. On the first of February, you and your family can run down to the butcher and stock up on juicy steaks. Of course you may all be committed vegans by then...

2. Let them follow their tastebuds

My second tip: let your child follow their own tastebuds and conscience. You don’t have to become a vegan too. However, it’s probably sensible to watch what your child is eating. Most vegans supplement their diet with extra vitamins and minerals, and children need to be especially careful to get a rounded and healthy diet.

3. Different ways of eating

My third tip: Veganuary is a great opportunity to think about food, and to have a family conversation about the political, environmental, and philosophical choices that determine what what we eat.

In my new book, Hope Jones Will Not Eat Meat, my central character, Hope, a 10 year old girl, decides to become a vegetarian, then a vegan, because she is worried about the environment and has been told that climate change is caused by cows’ farts.

Although she soon discovers that this isn’t actually true (bovine burps are the actual problem) she is still determined to give up eating meat. The veggie options at school are deeply disappointing, so Hope stands for the school council, intending to make the menus a bit more tasty. Back at home, she tries to persuade the rest of her family to embrace vegetarianism, if not veganism. 

Hope and her family discuss different ways of eating, and I’d recommend that any parents do the same with their own kids. Do you want to be a vegan, a vegetarian, a pescatarian, a carnivore, an omnivore, or a flexitarian? And why?

For further research, ideas, and inspiration, there are many, many fascinating books on this topic. Why not encourage your children to read a few of them? I would particularly recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which has been published in a “young reader’s edition” alongside the original version for adults. I would also recommend What to Eat? by Hattie Ellis and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

4. Think about the why

This leads into my fourth tip, which is: think about the reasons for trying Veganuary. Why does your child want to be a vegan? Animal welfare? Fitness and health? To save the planet?

In my book, Hope cares about the third of these reasons, and she becomes a vegan to do her own small part to combat climate change. However, through the course of the book, she discovers that she can save the world just as effectively while being an omnivore or a vegetarian. She visits a small farm and learns more about the way our food is produced. She tells the farmer than he’s responsible for climate change - and is amazed to hear his counter-arguments, explaining why animals are actually so beneficial to the soil and the planet. Hope comes away with a trio of chickens, who take up residence in her garden, providing her family with eggs.

When writing the book, I was particularly inspired by reading The Reducetarian Solution by Brian Kateman.

Kateman coined the term “reducetarian” and has a very simple philosophy: he encourages people to reduce their consumption of meat. Don’t eat junk food, he says. Don’t eat cheap meat. Don’t eat meat at every meal. Reduce your intake of meat to save the planet.

Rather than eating a cheap burger five times a week, Kateman would say, why not eat veggie curries for four of those meals, and on Friday splash out on a rump steak from a Scottish cow which has roamed the highlands, eating lush grass. It will be better for you and better for the planet.

5. Explore different tastes

My fifth tip: Veganuary is a nice way to think about different ingredients and tastes. In my book, for instance, Hope is invited round to a friend’s house, where she has a magnificent feast of South Indian food: dahl, chapatis, puris, pickles, chutneys, and much more.

6. Ready, steady... cook!

My sixth tip: Veganuary is a perfect opportunity for children to think more about cooking. Hope’s parents and her little brother don’t want to give up eating meat, so they continue eating their usual diet, and Hope has to fend for herself. This is actually a chance for her to spend some time in the kitchen with her dad (who does most of the cooking in the household). Hope does discovers that there are some foods which just aren’t suited to being vegan - croissants, for instance, and chocolate eclairs - but she also makes her own meals, and the book includes a simple recipe for the lentil soup which Hope cooks for her family.

At the end of my book, Hope isn’t a vegan any more. She’s eating eggs, cheese, yoghurt, and milk. She’ll carry on eating meat occasionally, but she’s definitely reduced her intake. She tries to avoid processed food and factory farms. She’ll persuade her parents to shop at a butcher who sources his meat from small farms owned by responsible farmers who care about the environment. At school, where she doesn’t have any influence over the kitchen’s suppliers, she always eats the vegetarian menu; no more turkey twizzlers!

7. Enjoy your food

My seventh and final tip is the simplest: we should all enjoy what we’re eating. If your child isn’t enjoying Veganuary, encourage them to give up. They can always try again another year. And if they love being a vegan, let them continue. Avoid anxiety. Food is a complex, emotive issue, but for children, I think the most important thing is very simple: to enjoy eating.

Whatever you and your family are eating this January, I hope it’s delicious.

Follow Josh Lacey on Twitter.

More adventures with Hope Jones

Hope Jones Saves the World

Author: Josh Lacey Illustrator: Beatriz Castro

Hope has managed to convince her dad to switch to eco-friendly products to save the planet - but getting her sister to ditch her favourite over-packaged make-up is trickier. When Hope begins protesting outside the supermarket, she quickly attracts lots of media attention - but when she's invited to meet the CEO, will she be able to make a difference?

Read more about Hope Jones Saves the World

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