My son was 6 when my husband and I decided to begin a vegan diet, and he responded to our decision with a devout dedication to meat eating. "I'm a carnivore!" he proclaimed! "I'm not like you guys!" In reality, he rarely ate meat, opting for the occasional hotdog or pepperoni pizza slice, but not even considering the breaded chicken nuggets all kids seem to adore.
Cheese, however, was another story. The boy, like his mama before him, was in love with cheese. And let's face it, the vegan cheeses, although sometimes working fabulously within recipes, are not so great for snacking when plain.
I spoke with my son calmly about my beliefs. I told him that I did love cheese, but that it upset me that calves were taken away from their mommies to be turned into future milkers or veal. I told him that I nursed him when he was a baby, and that the thought of someone taking him away from me and hooking me up to machines to steal my milk was very upsetting to me. I said it matter of factly, and while I acknowledged the deliciousness of cheese, I lauded the myriad of snack alternatives.
So, my husband and I were faced with a dilemma. Did we forbid our son from eating animal products, or did we honor his food choices? Children can be very empathetic, and my son was, but I didn't want to force him into a lifestyle completely different from that of most everyone he knew. I wanted to be an example and allow him to make his own decisions. Also, it is not to be ignored that forcing someone, especially a bright and fairly stubborn 6 year old, into a situation, can often backfire.
My husband and I chose to make the food in our home vegan. All of the meals made and served in our home would be the bulk of my son's diet, and we also sent him to school with a packed vegan lunch and snacks. The compromise comes in with playdates and parties. At a friend's house, we let our son know that he may eat whatever is served. It's interesting because we've found that other families are pretty flexible and supportive and usually willing to serve our son vegan food. We have the support of some pretty great people. We want him to have a choice though, and quite often he chooses a meat free option.
The cheese, however, is a different story :-)