A Vegetarian Daycare? How One Mom Made It Happen
Alice Yang of Fort Worth, Texas, didn’t start out to create a vegetarian daycare, she just did what came naturally. After the birth of her daughter, Yang decided not to go back to work. But as a single mother, Yang needed to find a way to support herself and her daughter. A friend suggested that Yang watch children in her home. From word of mouth, Yang built up a clientele and now has a total of nine children, between the ages of seven months to three years of age, in her care. Her two-and-a-half year old daughter is the only vegetarian of the group. Yet, as Yang confides, she didn’t intend her daycare to be for vegetarians or about a vegetarian lifestyle, that’s just part of who she is and what the kids will experience in her home.
“Parents are grateful that their children are eating more veggies,” says Yang. “It’s become a plus, rather than the focus [of her daycare].” Since Yang watches the children from 7:30am to 6pm Monday through Friday, the subject of food has definitely been a talking point for the children’s parents. “A lot of parents are concerned about whether [the children] are getting enough protein,” explains Yang. “For me, questions like that open the door for me to talk to them about vegetarian eating.” To allay parents’ concerns, Yang points out that the ADA has approved vegetarian diets for children. She also prints out a monthly menu for parents to review and goes as far as to have her menu approved through the USDA food program.
Still, most children take some time getting used to the food choices offered at Yang’s daycare. “A lot of times the new child has a poor first week,” says Yang. “I try to make something familiar to the child, maybe something with peanut butter.” Within a few days, however, the new children bow to the positive peer pressure. “All kids want to compete,” says Yang. Even if the competition is about who will be first to try something new like broccoli or bok choy. “I’ve been pretty lucky that the kids I’ve had have been very open-minded.” It doesn’t hurt that Yang’s parents own a restaurant so that Yang knows how to turn out amazing tofu creations.
Many parents have commented that their food choices at home have changed as a result of their children’s experiences in Yang’s care. “The children have been asking for more vegetables at home.” Along with vegetables, Yang has introduced many of these children to their first veggie dog and veggie chicken nuggets. One mother even switched to veggie sausage, at first at her child’s suggestion, but then found that she liked it better too.
When asked what advice Yang has for other vegetarians who are considering running a daycare, she advises doing a lot of research into nutrition. The USDA food program is a good starting point in her opinion. “You shouldn¹t feel pressured to serve meat,” says Yang. “Some kids are lactose intolerant. Some have other food allergies. You should have what you want in your home. It’s your choice.”
In the end, Yang has found her experience as a daycare provider both rewarding and tiring. Yet as a single mother Yang is grateful that she’s been able to provide for her and her daughter as well as positively influencing the lives of other children and their families.