Edric Kennedy-Macfoy, is an ex-firefighter, fitness coach, and vegan. After experiencing the loss of over 10 family members and close friends to cancer in a very short timeframe, Edric sought answers about health and adopted a vegan lifestyle. Now retired from the London Fire Brigade, Edric runs boot camps and fitness programs that help people stay fit and healthy. He feels it is his mission to help those in need and to change lives for the better. In his book The Fit Vegan, Edric covers performance topics but also as a parent shares his advice on teaching children to embrace a plant-based diet.

The following extract is from: The Fit Vegan by Edric Kennedy-Macfoy, reproduced by permission of Hay House.

My advice is to wait for them to ask you about it. Because they will.

My daughter, Myla‑Grace, began with the big one: Daddy, why are you a vegan?

That was about two years ago. Because she has a pet dog at her mum’s, I explained to her that in our society, we’re taught to think of some animals as pets and others as not deserving of our care. I told her that I feel we should show similar care towards pigs and cows as she does to her dog and that it doesn’t make sense to me to treat some animals as ‘special’ while ignoring the needs of others. I told her that I believed that all animals deserved love and that because there were so many plant‑based foods to choose from, I didn’t feel there was any need to eat animals or animal products. Simple as that.

At the same time, I was careful not to make her feel uncomfortable or guilty about her diet. I know her maternal grandparents are sceptical about veganism, and I remember how much I loved bacon and sausages as a kid, so I try to keep a sense of perspective. On occasion, I still let her eat chicken when we eat out. But the more plant‑based foods I introduce her to, the less she asks for meat.

Now Myla is older, I encourage her to get involved in the kitchen, and I’ve found that when she helps out with the cooking, she’s far more likely to be willing to try new foods and tends to enjoy her meals more. We look through recipe books together, and I let her choose what she thinks would be tasty. In the supermarket, I let her pick up the fruit and veg and vegan products, and I’ll buy what she wants, so long as it isn’t too processed. I’ve found that introducing this element of choice and control has made her more willing to go with the vegan diet, and she’s grown to take real pride in her adventurousness.

I’ve taken her to a city farm, and we’ve talked about the animals there: where different meats and dairy products come from. We used to go to the zoo and the circus, but that’s all in the past. We’ve had several conversations about why I think they’re cruel and I feel Myla is beginning to have a greater understanding. We’ve found alternatives, though. We visit sanctuaries at least twice a year where she can interact with animals in a way that the zoo doesn’t permit. We also go on long walks with the dogs where again I talk to her about animal rights and the fact that we’re all equal. I’m careful not to speak about veganism too much, and I’m aware that most of the time, Myla lives in a house where they don’t share my beliefs, and that’s fine.

It’s been really satisfying to watch Myla’s tastes evolve and see her become less picky. She now really likes some vegetables she hated before. She used to find mushrooms revolting, but now because of the way I cook them, she’ll happily eat a mushroom stir fry. I also try to replicate her favourite meat‑based meals when I can. I’ll make vegan sausage and mash, and sometimes vegan chicken nuggets with home‑made chips and salad. She’s grown to enjoy salads more now and will help me pick the veg to go in her salad and chop it up.

I take Myla to Whole Foods when she’s with me, and we look at the displays full of healthy food together – it makes it easier to shop with her than wandering up and down the aisles in most supermarkets where there are distracting towers of processed food everywhere. I’m well aware that for most parents, shopping in Whole Foods isn’t an option, but you can get the same benefit from wandering around a traditional greengrocer or visiting the fruit and veg sellers in your local market. The bright colours, exotic varieties of fruit and colourful characters make for a fun outing, and I’ve found that Myla enjoys being involved in food shopping and preparation.

I think it’s important not to become too rigid about veganism and remain mindful that many children have, for the most part, been conditioned to think no meal is complete without meat.

Ice cream and boiled eggs are childhood staples. Children are emotionally invested in them—they represent comfort, celebration and love. As parents, we shouldn’t expect our children to miraculously switch off these associations. Forcing them to adopt a fully vegan diet overnight just because we have is likely to feel restrictive and punishing. This will be counterproductive in the long run, so it’s better to take a slow and smart approach.

To help you along, I’ve answered the five most common questions parents ask me when they’re considering switching their family’s diet.

What’s the key to getting kids on board with a vegan lifestyle?

Choice! Think about it. As adults, choosing to go vegan is just that: a choice. For a child with vegan parents, it might feel more like something that’s been forced upon them. And nobody likes that. Also, changing our preferences, whatever our age, is a slow business. The parenting expert Noel Janis Norton says that, for most children, tasting a new food 15–20 times should be enough. However, children who are very sensitive to taste and texture may need more ‘tasting sessions’, and children with extreme temperaments may need to taste a food 50–100 times before they like it. Perseverance and a gradual approach is the key.

A great example is porridge. Myla refused to have plant milk with hers at first and told me it was disgusting. But gradually, I increased the ratio of oat milk to dairy, and now she doesn’t have any cow’s milk at all. She didn’t notice the difference in taste because it changed so slowly.

Are kids more at risk of deficiency from a vegan diet?

The answer to this in most cases is yes, particularly if they’re already picky and aren’t keen on veg. This is a valid concern, and you’ll need to keep a keen eye on the nutritional balance of their meals. Supplementing with a multivitamin that contains calcium, B12 and iron is a good insurance policy, and if you’re concerned that switching your child to a plant‑based diet will leave them with little more than pasta with tomato sauce as a dinner option, I’d recommend introducing veganism gradually.

How should you react if your child flat‑out refuse to eat vegan food?

I think it’s crucial to stick to your guns. Keep reminding them you’re doing it because you believe in kindness to animals and keep exploring new plant‑based foods with your child. Don’t rise to the bait if they say things like: ‘But I like eating animals!’

What about eating out with kids?

The problem I often have when taking my daughter out to vegan restaurants is that it’s usually a hard sell. This is down to the limited options most establishments seem to offer on the kid’s menu. There’s just never anything that excites her. When we’re home though, she creates the menu, well at least she thinks she does. I’ll always give her options, so she makes the ultimate choice, but her options are solely plant‑based. On the following pages are some of her favourite dishes that go down a treat every time.

How can I ensure my child gets enough nutrients?

Make sure you have a basic understanding of nutrition and what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet for your child. Know the recommended daily intake of calcium for healthy teeth and bones, and that good plant‑based sources are unsweetened fortified soya milk, calcium‑set tofu, cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, cabbage and kale), pulses, whole grain bread and dried fruit (including raisins, prunes and apricots). Know what vitamins they require, including vitamin for vision, vitamin C to support the immune system, vitamin D to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, and B12 to regulate red blood cell formation. Make sure you also educate yourself about iron and omega‑3 fatty acids.

The book includes a selection of Vegan Recipes Kids Will Love such as this tasty breakfast treat…

BANANA BERRY CHIA OATS

Serves 1 adult and 1child

Overnight oats have always been a favourite breakfast choice for my daughter and my niece and nephews. It’s simple, convenient and packed with plenty of fruit and fibre. Since transitioning to veganism, not much has changed, although I’ve swapped out the dairy yoghurt with vanilla plant yoghurt and they absolutely love it. Play with the fruit and discover a combination that suits you best.

90g/3oz/1 cup large porridge oats 86g/3oz/½ cup chia seeds

240ml/16fl oz/1 cup plant yoghurt of choice 1 tbsp flax seeds

1 tbsp hemp seeds

1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

1 banana, chopped

2 tbsp blueberries

2 tbsp strawberries

2 tbsp raspberries

Mix the oats, chia and yoghurt together in a bowl. Sprinkle over the flax, hemp and pumpkin seeds. Leave in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, add the fruit and serve immediately.

© 2020 The Fit Vegan by Edric Kennedy-Macfoy (Hay House).

Explorer and media producer, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide resources and opportunities for creative exploration.