When we were pregnant, people who knew we were vegan would ask: “Will your child be on a vegan diet?”
We would reply: “Yes, ideally he will be breastfed, which is vegan.”
Undeterred by our sarcasm, they would follow up with: “But what will he eat when he is older?”
Our response was: “He’ll eat what we eat.” That is, an informed, balanced diet.
A balanced vegan diet is, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
In addition to the health benefits, being vegan is part of our moral values, so it was clear to us we would raise our child vegan.
Our son is now 18 months old, and our experience has been great. He has followed his growth charts, and he is an active, happy, thriving kid.
When he was an infant, feeding him was simple because we were able to breastfeed. We supplemented that with vitamin D and iron, as instructed by our pediatrician.
When he started solid food, we gave him a variety of fruits, vegetables, and rice cereal. As a weaned toddler, here is a typical day:
Breakfast: ½ peanut butter sandwich, and a sippy cup with a mixture of unsweetened soy milk, unsweetened coconut milk, and a liquid multivitamin that includes D3, B12 and iron. The soy/coconut mixture provides calories, fat and protein.
Lunch: ½ avocado and four vegan chicken nuggets
Snacks: bananas, apples, rice cakes, LÄRABARs, toddler crackers, and “toddler pouches” containing pureed fruits and vegetables
Dinner: whatever we are having. Some off his favorites include pan-fried tempeh, pizza, and mac & cheese (the recipe is below).
Dessert: It is easy to avoid spontaneous sugary purchases because many desserts default to eggs and dairy. But when we intend to indulge ourselves and our little one, we know where to look: vegan frozen yogurt from Yotopia, dessert dumplings from Dumpling Darling, milkshakes from Trumpet Blossom, or vegan baked goods from New Pi.
Here is one of our favorite recipes, adapted from Lauren Toyota’s Hot for Food.
Perfect Vegan Mac & Cheese
Yield: 4-6 servings
For the pasta:
- 12 oz. macaroni (penne, fusilli or rotini work well, too)
- ¼ tsp. salt
For the cheese sauce:
- ¾ cup raw cashews, soaked in cold water for 4 hours or overnight
- 1½ cups plant milk, unsweetened
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. miso paste
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. white pepper
- 1 cup vegan cheddar-style shreds (ex. VioLife brand)
For the topping:
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta but do not rinse it, so it retains its starchiness.
Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce. In a blender, add all the cheese sauce ingredients. Blend until smooth. Stop once in the middle to scrape down the sides.
In the pasta cooking pan or large mixing bowl, combine the pasta and the cheese sauce until evenly coated. Transfer the mixture to a non-stick 9”x9” baking pan.
Cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil (to prevent burning) and bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the topping. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, oregano and basil.
When 20 minutes elapse, remove the foil and sprinkle the topping over the macaroni and cheese. Bake for another 10 minutes, uncovered.
Serve immediately and enjoy!
This casserole deserves its title as the “perfect vegan mac & cheese.” The choice of spices complements the cheesy flavor of the nutritional yeast. And the creamy sauce and crunchy topping combine to make a delightful texture. With a side of steamed veggies, it is a weekly staple and an irresistible finger food for our toddler.
Overall, our son enjoys his food. He looks forward to his sandwich and milk every morning, eats half an avocado in a minute flat, and requests whatever we are currently eating.
We acknowledge that we are making important decisions about our child’s diet. All parents have to do that, and being vegan helps us stay intentional about it. One day he will be old enough to make his own decisions, and we hope we will have given him a foundation of healthy habits.
Kyle Rector and Brandon Myers live in Iowa City. Professionally, they teach and research computer science. Originally from the West Coast, they have been in Iowa since they married in 2016. Kyle has been vegetarian since she was a teenager; both have been vegan since 2017, and their son, since birth.
For questions or comments regarding the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa, please send an email to [email protected] or visit the website at www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is welcome to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp.