Between shopping for fall fashions and getting used to an early bed time, back to school is a hectic time. But it’s important to start the school year off on the right foot. Sending your vegan kids to mingle among the omnivores can be stressful, but we have some tips to help make it a more positive experience for everyone involved.
Be The Teacher’s Pet
Although veganism is gaining momentum, many people are still clueless. Others are simply misinformed. For this reason, it’s best not to assume that teachers have an accurate understanding of what a vegan diet entails. Take this opportunity to create a friendly, supportive relationship with your child’s teacher and offer to be a resource throughout the year.
Vegan mom Ariann Weitzmann, member of the Vegan & Vegetarian Families Facebook group, suggests providing a preliminary ‘this stuff is/isn’t’ vegan list. “It’s a good idea to make a special note about things people don’t typically understand, like gummy bears or marshmallows. ”
“Stay as on top of the class schedule as you can,” advises Weitzman, since teachers have their hands full and may forget to inform you. “Remind, remind, remind. Kindly.” You may be pleasantly surprised at how receptive and welcoming teachers are to this kind of information. Bringing homemade cupcakes for them certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.
Your role as a vegan parent influences your child’s year. But did you realize it could have a ripple effect? Maintaining a positive relationship with others in the school community has the potential to spark even greater change. At the same time, it can begin to shape an environment where veganism is seen as normal instead of something other or something weird.
Be involved with PTA groups, get to know other parents, coaches, administrators; anyone involved in the school circle. Some classes have a food allergy email list that shares ingredient information prior to class events. Signing up or creating something like this is a simple, effective way to educate others. After all, you’re working towards a shared goal: to create a wholesome classroom environment for all students, regardless of their diets.
You might also find allies in coaches who wish to bring healthier, plant-based options into the cafeteria. Lots of schools have already implemented Meatless Mondays, and many were prompted by a single voice that garnered support. Could your child’s school be next? Even if you don’t create that big of a splash, you will be starting an important dialogue.
Weitzman volunteers to bake for every class party and encourages you to as well. This ensures your kiddo always has something sweet to nosh on, and shows classmates that vegan snacks are every bit as delicious as their counterparts. Not only will your child feel included, but it helps to normalize veganism in the eyes of their peers.
You remember when we talked about being the teacher’s pet, right? Weitzman suggests providing at the beginning of the year a giant bag of facsimile snacks to be used throughout the year. In the mix she uses veggie booty, ‘cheeze’ crackers, kettle corn, individually wrapped sweets and mini marshmallows. These can be used for unplanned class events like surprise celebrations, holidays, or just when the teacher wants to treat the class for being exceptionally well-behaved. When you arm your teacher with a cruelty-free arsenal like that, your child won’t be left out.
It’s not unusual for parents to worry about their child being bullied or left out. Parents of vegan kids are no exception, and lunch time may bring an added level of trepidation. If your child isn’t eager to talk about their lifestyle, consider packing lunches that look like what their friends are eating. For little ones, cut-up mock meats like chicken nuggets or hot dogs make easy, inconspicuous entrees. Try ‘cheeze’ quesadillas or faux-chicken salad sandwiches. Another great idea is to ‘veganize’ whatever the cafeteria is serving that day.
When dealing with any kind of peer pressure, a dose of confidence can go a long way. Remind your child why your family is vegan: because you believe animals deserve to be treated with compassion. “With this knowledge and your support, your child will navigate the cafeteria, classroom and beyond with confidence,” said the folks at Compassion Over Killing. If you can’t find the words to explain to your child (or their friends) why your family is vegan, look no further than Ruby Roth, author of We Don’t Eat Animals.
Every child should be equipped with the tools and confidence they need to have a positive learning environment. But navigating the world as a vegan family in a non-vegan world has it’s share of obstacles. With proper planning and support from like-minded families, back to school can be a less stressful time. And maybe, a chance to introduce more people – adults and kids alike – to the benefits of a vegan world.