Vegetarian mother reveals she's been called 'cruel' for her son's meat-free diet

Jan 25, 2016 at 4:22 p.m. ET
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Nobody would accuse a vegetarian or vegan of self-harm. But when it comes to their kids' diets, it seems everyone has an opinion. 

More: Is vegan parenting child abuse?

Londoner Kelly Rose Bradford, 42, has fed her son William, now 12, a strict vegetarian diet since birth and has faced constant criticism for not letting him eat meat.

"I have been told William's diet is everything from 'restrictive' to inappropriate and even cruel," wrote Bradford on MailOnline. "This isn't something new. Nothing has changed in terms of the criticism since his babyhood. Everything from claims I am hindering his brain development by depriving him of oily fish, to remarks about how when he hits his teens he will rebel by hanging out in McDonald's and Nandos.

"Then there's the eye-rolling and sighs of 'what CAN you eat then' when we refuse gelatine-infused puddings or sweets, or when we decline potatoes roasted in animal fat, or meat-juice gravy when having Sunday lunch in relatives' homes."

Another mother, 29-year-old Fiona Peacock, is raising her four-year-old daughter, Ebony, as a vegan, having fed her only plant-based foods since she was weaned off breast milk. Peacock told that, as she and her husband are both vegan, they "didn’t consider raising our daughter any other way."

Unlike Bradford, Peacock hasn't experienced any major criticism over her choice to raise Ebony as a vegan, saying her family interacts with families who are supportive of veganism and understand the health benefits of the diet. The mum-of-one from Stockport makes sure Ebony doesn't feel left out because of she's vegan, taking vegan cake to birthday parties to make sure she can eat some when the other kids are.

"Our friends may not follow veganism themselves, but they can see that Ebony is thriving and happy, and that’s really all that matters," she said. "We haven’t had any issues with childcare providers feeding her anything non-vegan, because the staff at her nursery have been fantastic."

More: Is it safe for my baby to be vegetarian?

According to NHS Choices, vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy choices for children, provided their diets are varied enough to provide them with all the nutrients they need. It’s particularly important to give them two or three portions of vegetable proteins every day, to ensure they get enough protein and iron.

Another possible risk is that a vegetarian or vegan diet is too high in fibre, which may lead to a child feeling full before they’ve taken in enough calories. A doctor can advise on extra supplements.

Good sources of protein for vegetarian/vegan kids are fortified breakfast cereal, dark green vegetables, bread, beans and lentils, and dried fruit, such as apricots, figs and prunes. To help the absorb iron, fruit and vegetables rich in Vitamin C should be included at every mealtime.

Sandra Hood, a specialist dietitian for the NHS, told "Several studies have examined the nutrient intakes of vegan children and have found that vegan children have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables and lower intakes of saturated fat and salt. This may be important in reducing the risk of developing chronic disease such as obesity and heart disease. ?A vegan diet is about inclusion rather than exclusion and may introduce children to a wider variety of foods than the conventional omnivorous diet."

But what happens when vegetarian and vegan kids grow up and make their own food choices?

"I fully accept that one day, William's choice might be a bacon sandwich over an avocado and hummus wrap," writes Bradford. "Ultimately, all the while he is under my roof, and I am preparing his meals, he will eat what is put in front of him."

More: 10 Ways to trick your kids into eating vegetables