Mixed Dietary Preferences—vegan, veg, non-vegan—in families

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

What happens when one parent is vegan and the other one isn’t? Will the children be raised vegan or not? If you are a vegan but your spouse or partner is not, and you have or are planning to have children, then you are in what I call a mixed marriage. Families in this situation have some challenges to overcome and some difficult decisions to make. The good news is that it is entirely possible to raise your children vegan even if your partner is not a vegan. But it’s not easy.

I believe there are two prerequisites for successfully raising vegan children in a mixed marriage. First, your partner must agree that it is healthy for a chid to be a vegan. Second, your partner must agree to be an active participant in raising the children vegan. If you don’t have those two commitments from your non-vegan partner, then it’s unlikely that your children will be raised totally vegan…

Assuming that your partner has agreed to raise the children vegan, here are some guidelines for a successful outcome.

Set ground rules. The families I interviewed who are in mixed marriages say that it’s important that everyone is clear about how food will be treated in the home. Conflict will arise if the rules are unclear or if one person expects a certain behavior from the other and doesn’t get it. Make sure that whatever rules you come up with are agreed upon by both partners and are completely understood. The following rules are examples of rules that other families have adopted.

  • Only vegan meals are served in the home.
  • Only vegan groceries are allowed in the home.
  • The non-vegan spouse may eat meat at a restaurant or away from home only.
  • The non-vegan spouse will not eat meat in from of the children.
  • Certain sections of the refrigerator and freezer may contain meat, but it is limited to those sections only, and is off limits to the children.
  • The non-vegan spouse may eat meat in the home but only if he cooks it himself.

Fruit and vegetable heartMake eating vegan fun for everyone. If you’ve decided that only vegan meals will be served in your home, try to find recipes that will appeal to everyone, including the non-vegan parent. There are lots of dishes that non-vegans will readily eat even if there is no meat and dairy in them. For example, spaghetti with marinara sauce, stir-fried vegetables, lasagna, pizza, or falafel sandwiches. Let your non-vegan partner select some vegan recipes he or she likes and serve them often.

Be respectful. Don’t disparage or berate your spouse in front of your children. If she eats meat at the table and you cluck in disapproval, your children will feel uncomfortable and confused. Similarly, teach your children that not everyone is a vegan, and to be respectful and tolerant of everyone’s lifestyle.

Educate your partner. Be sure your non-vegan partner know what is vegan and what isn’t, including hidden animal ingredients. Inevitably there will be times when your partner is alone with the kids at an event where non-vegan foods are being served. If he doesn’t know what questions to ask, your children may end up accidentally eating something non-vegan. Plan ahead, be prepared, send vegan foods along with your family, and remind your children to ask whether something is vegan before they eat it.

Present a united front. When you’re at an event with family, friends, or co-workers, it’s important that your non-vegan spouse doesn’t abandon you to fend off comments and /or criticisms of adversarial people. Also, if some member of the family is constantly pressuring you to feed your children meat or dairy products, be sure that both you and your spouse—not just the partner who is the vegan—defend the decision to raise vegan children.

Hummus, pita, and veggiesDon’t be too hard on yourself or the kids. If you kids do eat something they shouldn’t, or if they occasionally try something their non-vegan parent is eating, don’t get angry. Often, it’s just a one-time experiment…If the “unthinkable” happens and your kids decide to give up being vegan to eat meat and dairy products, don’t be too hard on yourself. your kids will probably be eating better than most kids their age because of your vegan influence. And who knows, in the future, they may go vegan again.

Respect the rules. If you’ve agreed that your kids can eat what they want outside the home, don’t make nasty comments when they eat meat in a restaurant. Similarly, your partner should not make comments at the dinner table like, “Eww, tofu again? I’d rather have chicken.” Be respectful of the rules you’ve agreed upon. You won’t have totally vegan children, but you will have respect, harmony, a better marriage, and healthier kids than most.

Don’t forget, you can still practice other aspects of veganism, such as compassion towards animals, using non-animal products in the home, recycling, and buying from vegan-owned companies. You will still make a tremendous difference!

Excerpted from Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World: A Complete Guide for Parents* (VegFamily, 2003) by Erin Pavlina.

*This post contains affiliate links. If the product is purchased by linking through this review, VegKitchen receives a modest commission, which helps maintain our site and helps it to continue growing!

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6 comments on “Mixed Dietary Preferences—vegan, veg, non-vegan—in families

  1. Rd

    Do you have thoughts for families with non vegetarian parents whose kids all eat differently? We have three kids: one lacto ovo vegetarian, one pescatarian who eats no cheese, tofu, or beans, and one committed omnivore.

    Meals are complicated.

  2. Nava

    You do indeed have a complicated dilemma! Especially the two that eat no meat eating so differently! I’ve always had it so easy with all the members of my family eating so similarly (first we were all vegetarian, then vegan).

    At the risk of doing a commercial for myself, I would suggest looking into my book, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook (http://www.vegkitchen.com/navas-books/the-vegetarian-family-cookbook/). Tons of easy, adaptable, flexible ideas. Perhaps you can find a group of basic meals that everyone likes, then everyone can just add what they like to the basic template. Ask your local library to order it for you so you can check it out.

    Sorry I can’t be more specific or more helpful. I’ll admit you’ve got quite a challenge on your hands!

  3. Maya

    I’m a pretty much vegan teen. I say pretty much because, I’m vegan all alone and sometimes I have nothing to eat besides what their eating. My dad’s vegetarian and he wants to be vegan but it’s too hard for him. What should I do?

  4. Nava

    Hi Maya — you do have a tricky situation, but you’re actually luckier that a lot of teens who write to me and say they are surrounded by completely unsympathetic meat eaters. It’s great that your dad is vegetarian and an aspiring vegan. At the risk of doing a commercial for one of my own books, I’d recommend that you try to get a copy of The Vegetarian Family Cookbook — likely you’d be able to get it from your library. There’s lots of easy, family-friendly fare, plus ideas and tips. I wrote the book some years ago when my family (my husband and then- pre-teen kids) were making the transition from veg to vegan, so there are both options throughout. It also gives a lot of ideas for menus, and in general, a lot of hand-holding!

    When I was a teen, I went vegetarian before eating that way was very well known. I was the youngest, and no one else in my family wanted to eat that way. So I was told to cook for myself; I did, and then everyone wanted what I was having! So another piece of advice I’d give is to find a handful of things you think everyone would like to eat and learn to make them. Even if it’s something simple like a vegan pizza, fajitas, soup and sandwich, etc. Good luck and please report back!

  5. Matt

    Hello.
    My girlfriend and I are planning to get married and have children. She’s a vegan. I am not, though I tried being a vegetarian for a year, and enjoy vegan food, in addition to my non-vegan fare. Your example above assumes children in a mixed household are raised in a vegan lifestyle, and lays out strategies whereby the non-vegan parent accommodates/supports that choice. How about the reverse case, wherein the children are raised as non-vegans and the vegan spouse is in the support/accommodate role? While you might not endorse that choice for moral or political reasons, it is undoubtedly the reality for many mixed couples. Any advice would be appreciated. Of course, I realize that communication and guidelines are the key to successfully navigating this terrain, but the fact is that, as between two parents from different religious traditions, sometimes there is no reconciling the “doctrines.” I recognize that this website caters to vegans/vegetarians, and therefore may not be used to thinking from an omnivores perspective, but from my perspective, while there are myriad vegan websites/blogs which discuss coping with life in a non-vegan setting, there are not a similar multiplicity of sources dealing with how to cope with vegan living from the perspective of a non-vegan! Any resource recommendations would also be appreciated.

  6. Nava

    Hi Matt, sorry for the delayed response. It is a bit tricky to navigate this territory, and you’re quite right that from my (vegan) perspective, it’s difficult to think from an omnivore’s perspective.

    I think Erin, the contributor of this article, has done a good job in laying out some tips and ground rules, above all, respect and flexibility. It’s difficult for me to think of anything to add to this, having never been in this situation with my husband and kids. The main reason why I chose a contributed article, rather than having written it myself!

    An important ingredient in this scenario is honesty. Kids have a very acute BS detector. Mom should be honest about why she’s vegan, and Dad, why he’s not. As far as what’s on the dinner table, there should be a variety. Perhaps if meat is part of the meal, it could be a side dish, so that everyone can enjoy the same entree.

    A couple of books that I think are good resources are Becoming Vegetarian and Becoming Vegan. Lots of great info. Raising Vegan Kids is good, too. At the risk of doing a commercial for myself, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook has tons of family-friendly meals and ideas, aimed at pleasing the entire family, with various tastes. Good luck to you and I wish you and your family a lot of joyful meals!

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