I meet a lot of other young moms in mommy and me yoga classes, moms’ social groups, and plant-based eating workshops. Many mothers share the worry that their toddlers are not eating enough of this or that, or that they’re not getting enough of a specific nutrient. I hear behavioral challenges like, “my child won’t stay in the high chair,” and “my child doesn’t want to eat at mealtimes.” As a vegan mom myself, I try to take a peaceful approach to feeding our one-year-old, and the results have been great so far.
Our family doesn’t adhere to a schedule of meals with our one-year-old daughter. Her breakfast of cinnamon oatmeal with raisins and a splash of soy might be eaten one bite at a time in between bouts of what I like to call “the sillies” (think: running around the room babbling incoherently, hands waving. We’ve all been there. No? Just me?). She always circles back to me for another bite of food as if she were running the bases at a baseball stadium. I guess this makes me the vegan hot dog stand parked at home plate. Breakfast does not take place in a high chair. I offer food to her frequently, and if she’s hungry she eats.
What’s that phrase we all say when it’s been a rough day, things didn’t go our way, and we want to shrug it off? Oh yeah: Sh*t happens. Well at our house food isn’t planned per se; food happens. There isn’t a schedule, although most nights we eat dinner as a family around the table. My daughter and I are out and about most days, so we frequently eat together in the front seat of our family car in the library or grocery store parking lot. Just like at breakfast, these front seat lunches combine food with a form of play. My little one learns that when we drive we say “beep beep, I’m driving here!” in between bites of leftover lentil sloppy joes. For dinner I try to prepare foods that little fingers can grasp, like cooled and cut up sweet potato bites, steamed carrots and broccoli, or larger beans like chick peas. Our vegan baby develops her self-feeding skills by eating the food that comes right from our plates.
The experience of giving birth to our daughter just one year ago taught me to listen to the messages of my physical body, like “stop eating,” (I feel full) and “start eating,” (I feel hungry). Our bodies have evolved to use these messages to regulate calorie and nutrient intake. Eating a diet rich in whole plant-based foods helps my body send the messages of satiety to me, and I hear them loud and clear. Our child will grow up learning to hear those messages in her own body and to respond in a healthy way. Babies first “speak” to their parents by crying from hunger for mom’s milk. When children are fed a vegan diet of diverse plant foods, not only do they thrive as well as their peers, they may also be able to hear those hunger and fullness messages clearly for years to come. That’s why I keep good food available, I don’t force meal times with my little one, and then…food happens.
Also by Chelsea: First Foods for Your Vegan Baby
Photos: Chelsea Ihnacik/Whole New World