Eat your veggies: Meet the parents raising vegan families

Bronwyn Currie serves an all vegan meal for her family William 13, Declan 14, Michael, 19 and Charlotte, 17.
Bronwyn Currie serves an all vegan meal for her family William 13, Declan 14, Michael, 19 and Charlotte, 17. Photo: Darrian Traynor

Robyn Chuter's two children are repulsed by the smell and sight of meat.

"Utterly repulsed. They find it thoroughly repugnant," says the practising naturopath.

From birth, her now 18-year-old daughter and 14-year-old-son were brought up on plant-based diets.

"They were vegetarian until my son was four and my daughter six months and then vegan from there on," she says.

Latest figures from Roy Morgan research showed that 2.25 million Australian adults are eating vegetarian diets and in 2018, Google Trends data showed that Australia was the number one country searching for terms related to veganism. 

Chuter says children can learn to love vegetables if it's all they know. 

"If the first kind of drink they get aside from breast milk is a green smoothie, they're going to drink it. They're palates are very open at that stage."

Australian Dietary Guidelines say total vegetarian or vegan diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate but the key recommendation is "appropriate planning".

"There is no problem with vegan diets if you know exactly what you are doing," says Professor Luigi Fontana, who is an expert in medicine and nutrition at the University of Sydney.

Advertisement

He says there is misinformation on the internet and vegan products are not necessarily superior when it comes to nutritional value so advised parents to seek guidance from a specialist to ensure their children get the nutritional balance they need.

Zinc and calcium can be found in a variety of plant-based alternatives, such as legumes, tofu, beans and fortified nut milk, but essential Vitamin B12 can only be found in meat, fish and dairy products.

A B12 deficiency can have serious consequences: fatigue, memory loss, nerve damage, spinal cord degeneration and heart disease to name a few possible complications.

Chuter has a university education in health science and has run a naturopathic practice in southern Sydney since 1995 so is well aware of the risks. She recommends a blueberry flavoured oral spray to stabilise B12 levels.

"You don't mess around with B12," she says. "Take a supplement. It's cheap, safe and easy to take."

Bronwyn Currie is a mother of five who also runs a meat-free household in the bayside suburbs of Melbourne.

The 53-year-old was a longtime vegetarian until she became pregnant and was told by a doctor a meat-free diet would put her baby at risk.

Her family of seven grew up on a diet of meat and three veg, until one day her eldest daughter "announced she was vegan".

"My first thought was about about your iron? Your B12? But she'd done all the research and said 'I know what I'm doing'."

Currie supported her daughter by offering the family deconstructed dinners, so each of her children ranging in age 13 to 20 could take what they liked.

"One night I realised no one was touching the meat. So then we were all vegan and we have been for the last two years."

Currie took her children to the doctor for blood test when the family made the decision to go vegan for environmental and animal rights reasons. She also made sure the kids were having B12 supplements at least once a week.

"In follow up blood tests, no one has had any deficiency."

In fact, she says the kids have reported feeling more energised, fresh faced and less clogged.

Currie enjoys experimenting with different cuisines from Indian curries to meat-free Mexican and says it's amazing the amount of vegan products that are now available in supermarkets.

The major challenge for both Currie and Chuter has been backlash from others.

Bronwyn's youngest was teased at school for his decision to go meat-free.

"Kids are dumb and mean and wiggle their sausages in his face."

Chuter says "concerned relatives" will try slip the children meat when they're not looking, but that mentality is slowly changing.

"When I first opened my practice, there was open hostility. You were treated as a weirdo, a negligent parent, a fruit cake," she says. "It's so much better now."
 

Top tips for getting your kids to eat vegetables:

  • Lead by example: eat as a family and don't expect your kids to eat broccoli if you don't eat yours.
  • Get them growing: give your child an edible plant seedling to get them excited by the growth process.
  • Dips: make fun-colour dips using veggies like beetroot so they can get excited about carrot sticks.
  • Games: involve them in the cooking process, a salad spinner can be a great toy.
  • Green smoothies: sneak some extra kale or spinach into a fruit smoothie.