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Learning Vegan, For The Love Of My Teenager

Plus, a fabulous vegan recipe you won't want to miss!!

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woman cutting a pomegranate
Guillaume Lechat/Gallery Stock
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Right about the time I perfected my chicken-and-waffles recipe, my teenager announced she was going vegan.

She didn’t make this decision for animal-rights reasons, although she did appreciate that side benefit. Her main motivation for giving vegan a try was to help her get a grip on her eating.

For some time, my active, apparently healthy daughter had been battling disordered eating (specifically, binge eating) and felt that to make progress, she needed to give herself fewer food options. A student to the core, she researched various diets and approaches to eating and determined that veganism had the longest proven track record of being good for both her body and the planet. Plus — a big plus — it allowed her to still eat bread.

I enjoy a good burger. Cheese is one of my love languages. And as an avid home baker, eggs are foundational equipment. But my teenager wasn’t asking her dad and me to go vegan with her, only to support her while she did it. So, I jumped on board.

My teenager manages almost every single element of her life so well, I joke she should run for president and I could be the First Mom. Cooking for her and doing her laundry are the two main things I can still do for her. She can do these for herself, of course, but I’m happy to do them while she accomplishes the dozens of things only she can. Learning vegan, it turned out, was another thing I could do.

I got good at reading product labels and became an fan of the words “contains egg” or “contains milk” in all caps underneath the longer ingredient list. I developed an eagle eye for the V “certified vegan” symbol on products ranging from ready-to-eat popcorn to some brands of chocolate chips.

With silent apologies to other moms potentially shopping for other vegan teenagers, I bought out my grocery store’s supply of original Boca Chik’n patties (I like the challenge of trying to say the name of this product without the “e” of “chicken”) once my daughter discovered she could cut them into strips and approximate the McDonald’s chicken tender snack wraps she loved as a much younger child.

On account of homemade pizza being a nonnegotiable in our family dynamic, I tracked down a substitute for mozzarella cheese that didn’t stick to the roof of my daughter’s mouth and started making a monthly 45-minute drive one way to the only store that carries it, stocking up on packages I keep in the freezer. I switched out almost all my dairy butter for vegan butter in a tub and vegan butter sticks, which happily perform quite ably in just about everything. I learned how to make a flax egg and put it to killer use in life-changing cinnamon muffin doughnut holes. I got so I could rattle off a list of vegan sources of protein at the drop of a hat. I put unsweetened almond milk on my grocery list of staples. I spent hours making chickpea patties my daughter ended up wanting nothing to do with after about three bites.

For our annual pie-a-palooza at Thanksgiving, I devised a gratitude-inducing vegan chocolate cream pie recipe that was — not to brag — so good that my daughter very nearly forgave me all my maternal sins.

None of this makes me extraordinary. None of it makes me a good mom. None of it even comes close to matching what countless other mothers learn about on behalf of their children when faced with far more serious challenges than veganism. I learned how to make a flax egg; these moms learn how to manage diabetes or depression or dyslexia.

But I did it for the same reason those moms do what they do … the same reason most of us do pretty much everything we do as moms: We love our kids.

I wanted my teenager to know she was not alone in her valiant effort to reorder her eating. She was taking so many hard, proactive steps to fix what was broken. She was seeking out and going to counseling and then doing her homework; asking me to buy a gigantic self-help workbook her counselor suggested, and then actually using it; taking the medication that helped reformulate some of her brain chemistry; and getting control over not only what she put in her mouth but also what she put in her mind. While she was achieving all this weighty work, the least I could do was a few comparatively easy tasks — like reworking some recipes and doing some extra shopping.

I did it because I was and always will be her first fan. I did it because there are plenty of battles she’s going to have to fight on her own throughout her life, and so if this didn’t have to be one of them I was going to take up my position alongside her. And I did it because sometimes “I love you” sounds exactly like “I love you,” but at other times it sounds a lot like “I made you cinnamon muffin doughnut holes.” (And now, please see recipe.)

Vegan Cinnamon Muffin Doughnut Holes
Courtesy Elizabeth Spencer

Vegan Cinnamon Muffin Doughnut Holes


1½ tablespoons ground flaxseed meal plus 4½ tablespoons water, mixed and allowed to sit for 15 minutes (if you do not need these to be vegan, you can use 1 whole egg plus 1 egg white)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup white and 1 cup whole wheat; I use 1 cup white and 1 cup white whole wheat)

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

Dash of salt and pinch of nutmeg (optional)

¼ cup vegetable oil or melted coconut oil

½ cup plain or vanilla nondairy yogurt (I use coconut milk yogurt)

½ cup unsweetened nondairy milk (I use almond milk)

Mixture to roll baked doughnut holes in:

1 cup sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon cinnamon in a large container with a lid or a gallon zip bag

½ cup vegan stick butter, melted (I use a pie plate)


Heat oven to 375°F. Coat a doughnut hole pan or a mini muffin tin VERY WELL with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg (if using) in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of this flour mixture, and add the flaxseed mixture, oil, yogurt and milk. Stir just to combine.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pan(s) by spooning batter into each doughnut-hole or mini-muffin “well.” Bake for 7-10 minutes or until the doughnut holes or mini muffins spring back when pressed gently in the center. Set pans on wire racks and let cool for a few minutes, then remove the doughnut holes or mini muffins to the rack to cool for a few minutes more.

Roll each warm doughnut hole or mini muffin in melted butter and then roll or shake in cinnamon sugar to coat well (you can do this in batches of several at a time). 

These are best eaten the day they’re made. (This is generally not a problem!)

Makes 24 doughnut holes or mini muffins.

—Recipe by Elizabeth Spencer