Daycare for vegan kids can feel like an overwhelming new world, but with the right approach, we’re confident that you’ll find the right plant-based childcare setting for your family.
We know what it’s like to be among the dietary minority and, when you add kids into the mix, socializing with general society can become even more of a challenge.
The good news is that today we’re witnessing the plant-based movement become more accepted than it ever has been, which can be helpful when it comes to childcare options as well.
Here are 5 of our best tips for finding and managing daycare for vegan kids.
1. Set clear goals and expectations.
This sounds obvious, but it’s important to know what you want. In addition to things like class size and curriculum, we recognize that you likely have expectations around food and nutrition too.
Be aware that, in terms of childcare settings, this might not always exist to the degree that you’re hoping (although it sure might!). For instance, while 100% vegan daycares do exist in some places, it’s not exactly the norm.
In general, you’re most likely to find facilities that cater to the majority.
However, many childcare centers are becoming more familiar with having plant-based children in their care, and are able to accommodate with menu options.
Many centers actually don’t provide lunch – only snacks – and ask parents to pack lunches instead.
On the other hand, some facilities have a food program provided through government funding and are required to provide meals, which typically include animal products like dairy, eggs, and meat (though some will offer vegetarian alternatives like soy products).
Furthermore, some facilities manage their own food programs and may offer vegetarian, and even vegan, menus for kids upon request.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t find something that meets your exact food-related expectations right away, there may some opportunities for collaboration with the facility.
2. Meet with staff and tour facilities.
It’s easy to just Google “daycare” in your area and pick one that sounds good, especially if you’re in a bind with timing. We know how stressful it is with a baby on the way and all the local waitlists already being a mile long.
Our advice is to make a list of multiple facilities that you’re interested in and make the time to spend touring them. You’ll get a good sense of how you feel about them pretty quickly after walking in the door.
Often, the director is available to sit down with you and answer any questions. They should also show you your child’s classroom and introduce you to their teacher.
If there’s a kitchen on site, you might also be able to speak to whomever is in charge of preparing or providing food for the kids.
Make it known that accommodating a plant-based diet is a requirement for your family, and see how they respond. If they are unable to do so, they will be able to tell you right away.
3. Have a list of questions ready.
Like, a long list. Especially if you’re totally new to the idea of childcare, every question is valid.
You should walk away from a meeting feeling like you asked everything you wanted to. We can pretty much guarantee you won’t be asking anything they haven’t heard before.
And when it comes to the food program, consider asking things like what provided meals and snacks usually look like, if you can see a sample menu, what the policies are for bringing in food from home, and if the facility menu can be altered.
Our colleague, and fellow plant-based dietitian, Lauren Panoff offers some helpful question ideas, in this article.
4. Be gracious and approachable.
Our experience with childcare staff and teachers has been that they really want to know and support your whole family.
Teachers and staff work really hard to provide a safe and nurturing environment for your kids, and for most of them this also means learning from you.
We’ve had several teachers ask us for recipes for things we’ve sent in our kids’ lunches, or ask for resources regarding how to go plant-based. Some teachers might even wonder what vegan options they could offer in place of certain snacks in their classroom.
We love connecting with teachers on this more personal level. It makes us feel seen as parents, and in return, we show our gratitude for their efforts.
5. Get involved.
There are so many opportunities for parent involvement at the childcare level, and sometimes they’re even related to food.
If anything, being present in your child’s classroom is a great time to create friendships with their teacher and even help your child feel more comfortable when their diet doesn’t always match their peers’.
You might even be able to offer plant-based recipes for the classes to try making together for older kids, or bring in vegan treats for your child’s birthday to share with his classmates.
If your child is old enough for field trips, you might even suggest a local animal sanctuary where the kids get to interact with the animals in a whole new way.
Having a vegan child is an incredible opportunity to share the idea and example of plant-based living with other kids and adults, especially if you can get involved personally.
Daycare for vegan kids can feel like an overwhelming new world, but it doesn’t have to be. Finding a daycare setting that you’re comfortable with is important, and with the right approach we’re sure you will find the right plant-based childcare for your babe.
Chime In: Do you have a plant-based child in a daycare setting? What advice would you give to other parents and caregivers?
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Do you have suggestions on when to allow “treats”? I know there can be special days such as pajamas and pizza, or ice cream. Do you tend to be loose an allow them to participate in those treats, or do you pack/bring a substitution? I don’t want our child to feel punished or left out!
I don’t think there is a universal right answer– more what feels best for you. I (Alex) am pretty loose about treats and special days– I don’t want him to feel left out and in the grand scheme of things; I’m OK with occasional treats. I draw the line at anything with meat in it though– I will bring an alternative for those situations. His school had a Valentine’s Day party last week and they served lots of treats and ordered in pizza. I let him enjoy!
Thank you Alex, that was really helpful!
Hi – great info but curious how to handle the situation if your son is showing interest in the meat at his daycare ? My 18 month old clearly wants the meat (obviously because he sees the others eating it ) but is on a vegetarian diet . So conflicted on this one 😕
Hi Flynn– I think the best answer is really what’s best for you and your family. According to my (Alex’s) son’s teachers, he wanted the chicken nuggets they offered at school so I started sending chickenless nuggets on those days. I don’t actually know if he likes them because he’s not that interested in them when I serve them at home– so I think it may be more of a “this is what my friends are eating” situation.
Thank you very much !!
Hope Atchison says
Our daycare is providing vegan alternatives (no choice of bringing in our own food). I’m concerned though with the nutritional value of what they are giving. It’s pretty much prepackaged things, which are typically high in sodium, and although vegan aren’t necessarily plant-based. We like where he’s at, but I’m concerned he’s not getting enough of the nutrition he truly needs. I know he will be fine, I did and wasn’t vegan, but I want him to thrive. We are supplementing according to your guide. Is this enough? Is 1 out of 3 meals enough to help him thrive?
Hi Hope, how amazing that your daycare is offering vegan alternatives! Even though they may not be as nutrient-dense as you may like, they likely still provide some nutritional value and I’m also assuming they are providing fruit/vegetable servings as part of the USDA requirements, depending on if they are involved in that program.