Helping Daycare Centers Care For Your Vegan Child: One Mother’s Story
by Linda Driscoll
When I became pregnant, I knew immediately that I would be raising my child vegan. I scoured the library for all the books I could find on the subject. I read about the special nutritional needs, copied baby food recipes and tips, and brainstormed how in the heck I could get my child to actually eat veggies and like it. I had a clear mental picture of how I could easily parent a vegan child. In my fifth month of pregnancy, my relationship with my child’s father fell apart. He began a new relationship and ended up incarcerated a month later. My pregnancy entered a whole new paradigm. I was going to have to do it all alone.
I worked two jobs and found subsidized housing that I could live in paying 30% of my income as rent. When my child was 3 months old, I ran out of money and I knew it was time to return to work. I found a daycare that would accept the low income subsidy that I qualified for to help pay for childcare. The daycare was very traditional and had no clue what a vegan was. The furthest knowledge they had in the area were the children that were lactose intolerant and had to drink “special” soymilk instead of cow’s milk. I started from square one and sat down with the center director and explained what veganism was and why I had made the decision to raise my son this way. They thought I was a little weird and extreme, but were fairly accepting (at least to my face). I decided that the best course of action was to express as much breast milk as possible while at work and supplement with soy formula.
When my son was old enough to start eating baby food I began to experiment with combinations of steamed veggies, potatoes, and grains that I would make in the food processor. I froze the meals in those tiny “disposable” containers (that I had the daycare wash and return) so that I wouldn’t have to spend the whole morning preparing his food before work. I would make a week’s worth of food at a time and just select what I wanted him to eat the evening before so it would have time to defrost in the fridge. I told the daycare that I didn’t want him to eat anything other than what came from home, not even their fruit, as most of it comes out of cans. Yuck!
In Colorado (and I assume most states), there is a USDA program that reimburses daycare centers for the food they feed the kids, provided that they follow “USDA standards.” These standards include a mainstay of processed meats, sugar-loaded breakfast foods, low quality dairy, refined white flours, and canned fruit sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. I thought that it would take a load off my mind to know exactly what my son would be ingesting every day.
To my knowledge, everything was taken care of and our lifestyle decisions were being fully respected until one day just past Sage’s first birthday. I picked him up from daycare and we headed to the grocery store. I gave him a graham cracker to gnaw on and we were happily perusing the frozen food section when out of nowhere he began to vomit profusely! I had no clue what was going on or why! I was scared and confused and so embarrassed. I removed his shirt and mopped up the vomit on the floor with it so others wouldn’t step in it. When we got home, he vomited a couple more times and then the diarrhea set it. He had a runny diaper every 15 minutes for about 4 hours. He didn’t want to eat but I could get him to drink electrolyte, thank goodness! He had a mild fever and was so very upset. It was obvious that his tummy was hurting bad because he was having gas along with the diarrhea, but I had no clue as to what happened. He hadn’t eaten anything new that day, so I thought. After he had fallen asleep I began the cleanup of the clothes that he had been wearing at the grocery store. I went to the bathroom sink and started to rinse out the shirt that I had used to mop up the vomit. What I found in the sink made my heart rate go through the roof. I saw little chunks of hot dog! I freaked out to say the least. How could they? I was livid. I put the little pink bits into a container and saved them to show the daycare director the next day.
The next morning, Sage still didn’t want to eat and was still having diarrhea. I had had some time overnight to cool off and come up with a respectable approach. I was dedicated to talking to the daycare director in a calm, cool, and collected manner. I tracked him down in the hallway and showed him what had been given to my child. I let him know that he needed to find out exactly how in the world my child was given/ allowed to eat a hot dog. He was extremely apologetic and told me that he would definitely get to the bottom of it all and let me know as soon as possible. I absolutely had to go to work, so I dropped Sage off (after also talking to the infant room teachers about the situation) and waited for the phone call. What had happed was that the babies were left for a couple of hours with volunteers while the teachers had their monthly in-service meeting in another building across the street. The volunteers (sweet little old ladies from the community) weren’t told of Sage’s special diet when his regular teachers left for their meeting. All that his teachers told the volunteers was that Sage had “already eaten and didn’t need any food”. Well, obviously that didn’t cut it!
When I picked Sage up from daycare that afternoon I received a formal apology letter from the director and a lengthy bum-kiss session. I was dedicated to remaining calm and viewing the trauma my son went through as a learning experience for the daycare instead of exploding and becoming a “problem parent.” However, I was still very serious and a little stern with them. What if this had been a child with a life-threatening nut allergy?
Of course Sage didn’t need to go to the hospital, but after all was said and done he wouldn’t eat solid food for three days and ended up getting sick (with a cold or virus) because his immune system was so depressed. It took over a week before my baby was his normal self again.
To resolve the situation and prevent it from ever happening again, I drafted a document that I demanded be posted on the wall and shown to every single person that would provide care for my son. I told them I was going to pull him out of their center if they chose not to comply. This is what I wrote:
Sage (last name) is Vegan. This means that he eats NO animal products or by-products.
This is a choice of personal morality and a lifestyle centered around being cruelty-free to all species on the Earth. Please consider Sage’s abstention from animal products to be the same as a religious choice for our family.
I also choose to not feed Sage refined sugar, refined white flour, food coloring, chemical flavorings, colors, or preservatives, hydrogenated oils, processed foods, or foods from a can (as they lack substantial nutritional value). I believe that the foods in this list contribute to behavioral problems, allergic reactions with a multitude of symptoms, low immunity, obesity, and general overall poor health.
Sage DOES NOT eat:
ANY ANIMAL “MEAT”: broth, lard, or flavoring containing animal or animal by-products.
DAIRY: lactose formula, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, pudding, cream cheese, ice cream, etc.
REFINED SUGAR AND FLOUR: high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, sugar cereal (also contains food color and chemicals), candy, chocolate, cookies, pastry, pancakes, waffles, French toast, syrup, saltines, and regular graham crackers (they contain hydrogenated oils as well) [these were all things that the daycare fed the infants and toddlers regularly. Frightening eh?]
ANYTHING FROM A CAN OTHER THAN PLAIN BEANS WITHOUT SALT: mostly fruit and veggies. The fruit is full of sugary syrup and the veggies lack nutrients compared to fresh veggies.
What Sage CAN eat:
The food I provide every day
Cereals such as Cheerios and Crispex (these were ones that the daycare had on hand to feed the children)
FRESH FRUIT – bananas, oranges, grapes, kiwi, and apples when he is old enough (all without the peel)
The graham crackers and cereals I provide as snacks for “whenever” use
I have read this and understand that Sage’s diet is to be taken seriously and strictly followed. I agree to show this to all people providing care for Sage including all volunteers.
Signed: daycare provider signs Date _________
I asked that the daycare treat our lifestyle as a special medical condition and had the director sign the document in agreement that it would be posted on the wall and shown to all staff members, especially all volunteers.
Sage is now two years old and I have found a home daycare situation that I am much more comfortable with. I still bring his food with him daily, but permit the provider to feed him fresh fruit and raw vegetables when her family is eating them as well. Daily, I include organic plain rice milk, an entrée, a fresh fruit snack, a veggie, and a grain snack to provide him options.
I hope our story helps a few more parents out here not learn the hard way! I highly recommend drafting a letter similar to the one I use and requesting that the daycare provider post it on the wall (near the fridge or food prep area) for all to see. It will serve as a constant reminder and easy access reference when in doubt as to what “vegan” is and what your child can and can not eat.