Yesterday, I was in a moderate guilt-rage-panic because I was abruptly informed that the allergen policy at my son’s daycare was a bit stricter than I had thought for the previous year, and apparently I had been misinformed, thinking that peanuts were the only item not allowed.
I was met in the afternoon by a teacher with a #mediumbitch (a term coined by my friend Jenny, which is not quite total-bitch but teetering on the edge and may be calmed with some coffee) comment about almond milk being a prohibited item. It took me back a little bit, because like I said I had been under the impression that we were following all the rules and it was cool, but let’s be real I was also peeved because the way I was approached wasn’t the nicest (gah, I’m sorry, I really didn’t know!). I may be a modern hippie but I’m also a goody two shoes, okay?
I will now put a disclaimer here that I have absolutely NO problem with the school having an (all)nut-free policy and by no means do I ever want to put other children at risk by exposing them to allergens that could be potentially life-threatening. Nut allergies are no joke. I just wish I had been clearly and correctly informed about the policy when I had asked about it a year prior, so that I could have planned accordingly (and not looked like such a shady parent trying to pull an almond fast one this whole time). But this is now a moot point (“a moo point.. it’s like a cow’s opinion… it just, doesn’t matter”).
Anyhoo, rant over.
This experience suggested to me that a survival guide for vegan kids in daycare may be a beneficial tool for other veg- or future veg-parents out there. Soooo here it is.
When you’re daycare-shopping, ask ALL THE QUESTIONS YOU WANT about the food, nutrition, and allergen policies. You should leave the conversation with a good understanding of what is and is not allowed in the school, and how this may affect your child’s typical meals and snacks (if at all).
You may not be allowed to bring in food from home if the daycare participates in the Child and Adult Food Care Program. Find out of this is the case, how this affects the facility’s food policies and menu offerings, and whether this is going to work for you.
We had a whole list of questions to ask potential daycares before our son was even born, about everything from drop off times to security procedures to baby curriculum. We weren’t thinking much about his vegan diet at the time because, well, he was still in the womb and all I was thinking about was how to push a watermelon out of my lady parts (I don’t even know, I was on a lot of medication) and whether learning to breastfeed would be the horrendous battle I had read about for some new moms (it was). BUT, should we ever do the daycare thing again, asking about how they could accommodate a vegan child (from milk to purees to solids) would most definitely be on the top of the list.
- Do you have any vegan children in your center currently, or have you in the past?
- How have you been able to accommodate vegan families?
- What are the biggest challenges you have in accommodating a vegan family?
- Do you have a plant-based menu?
- Do you allow food to be brought in by parents?
- We use (insert your answer here) in place of meat, dairy, and eggs at home. What are your allergen policies?
Then, ask yourself if you’re comfortable with the information you received and whether it meets your needs. If not, perhaps this isn’t the right daycare for your family (and that’s okay!).
Be very clear in communicating your child’s dietary needs and assess how this is received.
And yes I said needs, because even though my child doesn’t have an allergy, intolerance (except the one for animal abuse, environmental destruction and the Standard American Diet), or religious dietary restriction, you bet your bananas I’m going to defend veganism as a requirement for my child as much as the parent of a gluten-free or lactose intolerant kid would, just for different reasons.
Explain to the daycare Director that your child is (or is going to be) raised vegan. Relay how important this is to your family and evaluate how this is received. Are they hesitant, or do they have a plan in place to be able to support your dietary decisions? If they don’t already have a plan in place, are they interested in working together to formulate one with you? Don’t force the issue- just observe the response.
We visited a daycare that told us they could work with us to accommodate a vegan diet, but would not allow us to bring any food in from home. This sounds nice, is certainly going above and beyond in comparison to most facilities today, and it may work for you if you are happy with the vegan options being offered.
At that particular facility, the veganized menu was very heavy on processed snack foods and soy-based frozen meat alternates that showed up on the menu three times per week. For us, this was inadequate. Call me a nutrition snob (wouldn’t be the first time). This is not to say the vegan options at facilities progressive enough to even be offering them are all going to be like this; nor is it to say that this option is not right for your child depending on what is most important to you.
I guess my bottom line here is to define what your family’s specific needs and expectations are before you talk to any daycare, and determine what is going to be adequate for you and what is not. There’s no right or wrong answer and your priorities may very well be different than mine. We can still be friends.
If you’re lucky enough to be allowed to bring food for your child from home, get a copy of the school’s weekly menu rotations and try to mimic some of the items.
Most daycares will have more than just the ‘regular’ menu template available. They should at least have a vegetarian menu on file and should be willing to provide you a copy of it. If you’re allowed to bring in food (woohoo!), but are also happy with some of the items on the menu, you may be able to work together to come up with a plan to do a combination of menu food + food from home to create a custom vegan menu for your child. I would not go in expecting this option at every facility, but hey it’s possible.
Odds are your child will at some point become interested in what the other kids in his or her classroom are eating, and since they don’t know what ‘meat’ or ‘dairy’ are yet, they may be tempted to take food from the other kids because it looks different than what they have. If this concerns you, work with the teachers to come up with a way for you to mimic the regular school menu with vegan foods from home. For instance, frozen vegan waffles look similar to frozen non-vegan waffles. Vegan cheese crackers look like Cheezits. Soy yogurt looks like dairy yogurt.
Get to know your child’s teachers and have a constant open dialogue with them about his or her diet. Ask them what YOU can do to make things easier for them to support your decision to raise a vegan child. Then show them lotsa gratitude.
Daycare teachers are pretty fantastic. They do a ton of work, watch a lot of kids, and manage a lot of tantrums, dirty diapers, gross illnesses, boogers, pooped-on clothing, vomit, grubby hands, and crumbs from lord knows where. And come back every day to do it all over again. THEY. ARE. FANTASTIC.
So, show them some appreciation when they are willing to give the extra attention to make sure that your child gets the vegan diet at school that you have worked so hard to follow at home. That’s pretty great.
We’ve fostered this relationship in a couple of ways:
- Asking them how we can make things easier for them in terms of how we package our son’s food, the items we bring, how it’s prepared, labeled, stored, etc.
- Bringing them vegan, nut-free goodies. Cookies on random Fridays have been a huge hit. I imagine vats of endless coffee, noise cancelling headphones, or a CD collection that isn’t Sesame Street would also not be turned away.
Be prepared and willing to substitute and adapt.
I know that a vegan diet in our house often means almonds and cashews are a constant, but if the facility is peanut and tree-nut free, it’s going to be okay.
Some ideas for nut-free alternatives for nut milks, yogurts, mix-ins/flavorings and spreads:
Coconut – milk, yogurt
Oat – milk, snack bars
Pea protein milk
Hemp – milk, hearts for mixing into things
Flax – milk, ground flax seed for mixing into things
Soy – milk, yogurt, soynut butter
I’m still coming up with a good alternative to almond/cashew butter + jam sandwiches. Stay tuned.
Be flexible and patient, and the rest will follow.
Okay maybe I wear rose colored glasses sometimes.
Look, the world may eventually be forced into veganism to prevent total population and planetary demise, but as much as we’d like everyone to #goveg right now, that’s not the case yet. Veganism is not the norm, and when we choose to raise vegan children (especially amongst scare-tactic headlines about how veganism is dangerous for kids) we are challenging the norm of society. I like to think we’re ahead of the curve. 😉
So, be flexible and patient when it comes to communicating your child’s vegan needs to your daycare center and know that not all facilities may have the resources or ability to meet your expectations on this just yet. It’s disappointing, but that doesn’t mean they’re evil or anti-vegan so don’t be an asshole. That just means that you will have to shop around until you find one that can, or at least one that will meet most of your needs — enough so that you are comfortable.
Daycares want to support the health and safety of their children (pretty sure that’s their #1 goal), so I would bet that most places would be more than willing to find a way to work with you at least in some aspects, as much as they can. They may even be interested in learning about veganism alongside you, especially if they have never had a vegan child in their center. I’ve received a lot of inquiries from staff interested in going plant-based, asking for tips and advice — to which I say HELL YES my kid is a world-changer.
At any rate, you have to decide what is most important for your family and find a daycare that will be able to meet your needs to your satisfaction. Daycare isn’t cheap, and it takes a courageous gut to leave your child in someone else’s care all day, so make your investment worth it to you.
And by the way, because we can’t hear it enough – you’re doing a great job, fellow parent. Your values are important and valid, and your vegan kid is going to change the friggin’ world, too.