Vegan birthday parties: "Is that vegan or cow?"

December 8, 2009

What? Can't a guy like mentioning MacGyver?

What? Can't a guy like mentioning MacGyver?

It’s birthday party week, and instead of posting a mega-response that gathers everything together, we’re spreading the fun over the week so we can really drill into the great advice from our Council of Vegan Parents. Here’s how Julie and her family have been dealing with parties for the discerning 3 and 4 year old:

(Note: in the interest of privacy and because it amuses me greatly, I’ve replaced Julie’s son’s name with MacGyver.)

“For now, we’re at an age where the parents pretty much all stay at the party, which probably makes things easier. Parents who know us and our family well have been really great about making sure they had vegan snacks and treats around. For families we don’t know as well, or who wouldn’t have any reason to know about MacGyver’s dietary restrictions, I’ve been calling or emailing the parents ahead of time to see what they’re serving, then bringing a substitute for MacGyver that looks as much as possible like what the other kids are eating. So far, that’s just meant stopping at the store and grabbing a vegan cupcake in the same flavor as what the other kids will be eating (and yes, I realize we’re lucky to have a grocery store down the street with vegan cupcakes!)

“We have had to confiscate treats from goodie bags as we were leaving, and explaining why the fruit snacks weren’t vegan was pretty confusing for MacGyver. In general, though, he takes ownership of his own veganism. He won’t eat anything without checking first to make sure it’s vegan, and doesn’t want to eat anything that’s not vegan, so our job is just to make sure he’s aware of what is and is not vegan (or, in his words, whether things are “vegan” or “cow”) and to make sure he has something to enjoy when everyone else is eating their non-vegan treats, so that he’s not stuck sitting and watching (we’ve all been there as adults, and I can’t imagine it’s any more fun when you’re 3…)

“I’m sure a lot of this will change as MacGyver gets older; as he gets more and more able to advocate for himself, we’ll have less and less of a role in all of his social interactions, including the vegan aspects. I imagine the day will come when we’ll have to let him make the choice to try non-vegan treats if that’s what he wants to do, but we want to wait on that until he’s old enough to really understand what that means; not having been there, I have no idea what age that will be…

“As far as his own birthday parties go, we really haven’t had any issues. We provided vegan snacks this year for his friends, and everyone was happy. We didn’t go crazy (as much as he liked it, we weren’t going to serve a group of 3 year olds Tom Kha soup), and stuck with kid-friendly food like cut-up fruit and mini-cupcakes. I suppose this could get more interesting if he ever wants to have a party at one of the “party places” that include food in the package. For now, it’s a total non-issue for us, though.”

Thanks Julie! A few things to highlight here:

Match the experience. Julie calls or emails the parents to not only find out what they’re serving but also to get a substitute, if required, that’s as close to what the other kids are having as possible. By the way, MacGyver makes cupcakes out of tin foil and bottle caps. They’re delicious.

Keep your child involved. I love how even though Julie has had to take a few treats away, MacGyver asks if things are “vegan” or “cow.” Early involvement is going to make things more of a team effort and less of a “mom’s so mean” kind of thing, which is bound to make it easier when you…

Be prepared to let go. At some point, your child’s going to be out in the world making choices about what to eat. From the advice we’ve been receiving, it looks like the best chances of your messages lasting are to keep those early memories happy so nobody feels deprived or like they’re “missing out.”

Location Location Location. Julie raises a good point about parties outside of the home, like a Chuck E. Cheese or something. We haven’t received a lot of advice yet on this situation; has anyone figured this out yet?

Name your child MacGyver. Every other parent at the party will be jealous. OK, maybe just me. So invite me to your party.

What about you? Do you think MacGyver is an awesome name? More importantly, what do you think about the whole balance between vegan and non-vegan choices? At what age do you think it becomes more of a choice for your little MacGyver? Let us know in the comments!

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