Back in the day I worked in an elementary school. Throughout my time there I spent many hours in the cafeteria, observing many lunches sent from home. My personal favorite was a kid that brought a big bag of Lucky Charms, some flamin’ hot chips, and a brick of cheese. Yum. This kid also had some big time attention problems. I’m sure that was just coincidence. From that point on, my wife and I decided that when we had kids, we would do things differently.
Fast forward to today: a kid in kindergarten and a switch to veganism. For the first few months of our kid carrying his lunch to school we tried to balance out health with helping him fit in. We would do our best to make his plant-based lunch look like all of his friend’s lunches. We tried to make normal looking sandwiches, crackers, applesauce, vegan pudding, etc. Despite our best efforts, he still came home one day saying that a girl at school (a doctor’s kid nonetheless) told him his lunch was gross. My wife and I looked at each other with frustration and sadness. My first words of advice were to respond the next time by taking a cracker out of the kid’s diabetes-able and toss it into the air. When her eyes went skyward to follow the flight of the cracker, punch her in her exposed throat. Finally, as she was gasping for air, take that opportunity to shove carob squares and raw broccoli into her gaping mouth saying “you will thank me for this later.” However, before all of this advice came out I vaguely recalled signing something at the beginning of the year about a no-tolerance policy on violence or some other nonsense, so I thought otherwise. This would take some critical thinking skills.
We began by taking our kids over to one of our neighbor’s house that is an avid plant-based Ironman athlete. My kid looked with wonder all over his house at his race pictures, his home gym, and finally at his fridge and pantry, with tons of weird and awesome foods. This was great, aside from the unintended consequence of my kids now thinking our neighbor was ultimately more awesome than their plane ol’ dad.
My wife and I realized that simply trying to get our kids to fit in wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Our kids, no matter how young, had to understand why we did what we did, and why we were different. We began talking with our kids about the differences between eating animals and eating plants. We began to play games at the grocery store like “plant or animal,” or “all the time/some of the time/hardly ever” as we looked at different foods. Our five year old has even go so far as to forego taking the usual toy to show-n-tell, instead taking a coconut to class, starting his presentation with “this is just one of the crazy things that we eat in my family.” My kids became connoisseurs of all things plant based.
It was then that we departed from packing our kids lunches to look like the many chips, brownies, chocolate milk, and other cancer causing crap that their friends were shoveling down their crusty mouths. We started packing lunches together with our kids, filling their lunchboxes with things like raw veggies, almond butter, bananas, trail mix, and super-juice (juiced kale, apples, carrots, and pears). And a funny thing happened; we began getting calls from other parents asking what we were giving our kids at school, because their kids had tasted it and loved it. Some of them didn’t understand that you couldn’t find super-juice on isle six at WalMart, but you can’t win them all.
So this journey has taught us that it isn’t necessarily important to know WHAT to pack your kid at school in order for them to fit in, but instead helping your child understand WHY they don’t fit in (food wise at least). Instead of making our kids just look like one of the many non-hydrogenated drones in the lunchroom, we have decided to make our kids know that it’s ok to be different. Well, maybe different isn’t the word . . . more like exceptional.