Weaning a vegetarian baby in the early stages should be no different from weaning any other child, as first foods for all babies tend to be baby rice and meat-free purees of fruit and veg. But as your little veggie grows, you’ll need to keep a close eye on his diet to make sure he isn’t lacking in certain vitamins and protein.
From seven to nine months
To provide a balanced and varied diet at this stage, try to give your baby something from each of the following main food groups, at least once a day:
Carbohydrates: potato, rice, cereals, pasta, bread
Protein: well-cooked and pureed or mashed beans and lentils
Fruit and vegetables: all fruit and veg are good, but green, leafy vegetables provide a great source of iron, which may be lacking if your baby isn’t eating meat.
Milk and dairy: cheese, yoghurts and breast or formula milk. It is very important to check with your health visitor before substituting breast or formula with soya, oat or rice milk.
Remember, at this stage he still needs regular milk feeds to supplement his diet of solid foods.
From nine to 12 months
Your baby can now move on to lumpier foods and may well be able to have child-size portions of the meals that the rest of the family is having. For protein, veggie babies require two servings of split pulses (red lentils/split peas/chick peas) or tofu daily. You can also give him hard-boiled eggs, and if you’re happy for him to eat fish, flaked salmon is a nutrition-packed option.
Nuts are another great source of protein. While the latest government guidelines say that whole or chopped nuts and seeds shouldn’t be given to children under five years to avoid choking, they can be used in paste form (such as peanut butter) or finely ground and added to cakes, cereals and meals such as curries and stews. If you have any worries about allergies, for example if there is a family history, speak to your health visitor before introducing nuts.
The Food Standards Agency recommends that Quorn ™ should only be introduced after nine months, and only in small amounts. It’s very high in fibre and can fill your baby up before he has had enough calories. Be sure to check the packaging carefully, as some prepared Quorn ™ foods are high in salt.
To fill your baby up and give him energy, make sure you’re including a serving of carbs at every meal, such as pasta, rice or toast. You can give him brown bread, but stick to white pasta and rice for now: wholemeal versions contain too much fibre for young babies and prevent him from absorbing essential minerals such as calcium and iron.
Calories and vitamins for veggie babies
Between six and 12 months your baby needs between 75 kilocalories per kg of body weight a day, alongside his milk intake. A vegetarian baby with a well balanced diet should be as healthy as any other child, but make sure you keep an eye on the following essential nutrients:
Iron: although more easily absorbed from animal sources, there are great vegetarian options, such as lentils, spinach, pureed apricots and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamins B12 and D: essential for energy, bone health and red blood cell function, these vitamins are readily found in fortified cereals, dairy products and eggs. If you’re avoiding dairy and eggs for your baby, you should speak to your GP or health visitor about supplements.
The Department of Health also recommends that vegetarian babies over six months old should be given oral vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D). Your health visitor can advise you on suitable supplements and doses.