Bringing your baby up as a vegan can be challenging, but with some care and attention, you can make his diet a healthy one
A vegan lifestyle can be healthy for your baby, as long as you keep an eye on his diet and make sure he gets plenty of essential nutrients. At around six months you can introduce solid food into your baby’s diet. At this stage, the food complements the milk feeds rather than replaces them.
Early weaning usually involves giving your baby one to two teaspoonfuls of pureed cooked vegetables or pureed fruit, gradually increasing to six teaspoonfuls. It’s a good idea to introduce veg first so your baby doesn’t get too accustomed to the sweetness of fruit. Other favourites include baby rice mixed with breastmilk, formula or cooled, boiled water. At this stage, your vegan baby’s diet will be no different from any other child’s.
By the age of seven months, your baby’s foods can be a little thicker in consistency. You can also introduce well-cooked cereals, pureed lentils and rice. If anyone in the family has a history of wheat, soya or corn allergies, start with rice or oat cereals. A small amount of mashed banana or breastmilk can be added to the cooked cereal to make it more appetising. Your baby’s solid food is now providing an important source of iron, so make sure he is getting enough.
At this stage, your baby can begin to join in with family mealtimes and share much of what you are eating, but keep an eye on salt and sugar levels. Good foods to try now are tofu, mashed potatoes, well-cooked mashed peas or beans and raw fruit. You can also offer finger foods – toast, unsalted breadsticks, cucumber and carrot sticks are always popular.
The Food Standards Agency does not recommend a vegan diet for babies and very young children because it can be difficult to provide them with enough energy and nutrients. However, by seeking professional help with supplements and planning meals carefully, your vegan baby can thrive. Pay particular attention to:
Iron: For babies over six months, ideal vegan iron-rich foods include pureed apricots, leafy dark green vegetables, lentils and cereals. Avoid cereals that are very high in fibre, as too much fibre can prevent the iron from being absorbed.
Protein: Although breastmilk or formula will provide all the protein your baby needs at first, by eight months he will need topping up. Vegan babies over eight months require two servings of split pulses (red lentils/split peas/chick peas), tofu or soya products daily.
Energy: Babies between six and 12 months need between 700 and 1,000kcals a day. A vegan’s diet can be high on bulk but low in calories, so try to give your baby concentrated energy foods such as lentils with vegetable oil, avocado or smooth nut butter to add calorific value.
Vitamin B12: Your vegan baby can get B12, which helps develop the nervous system, from fortified foods such as cereals, low-salt yeast extract and soya formula. Always seek advice from your health visitor before giving your baby soya formula.
Vitamin D: This vitamin is essential for healthy bones. All babies on a vegan diet would benefit from a supplement, so speak to your GP before you start weaning your baby.It’s also a good idea to ask your health visitor about vitamin drops (containing vitamins A, C and D) which are recommended by the Department of Health for babies over six months.
If you’re weaning your baby onto a vegan diet and don’t want to give him cow’s milk-based formula, aim to continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months. Great care should be taken before opting for non-dairy formulas, and you should always ask your health visitor’s advice before trying alternative milks. The Food Standards Agency recommends that soya milk is only given to children over the age of 12 months, and that rice milk should not be given to children under the age of five.
The Vegan Society recommends the following as an ideal daily diet for your vegan baby:
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