Start a vegan diet after your baby turns six months old and slowly introduce fruits and vegetables in their diet in the form of puree. As they grow older, you can make it semi-solid food and introduce wheat and nuts in their diet and observe for allergies. It’s essential to give your baby time to adjust to a vegan diet and make colorful and flavourful vegan meals for them. Vegan food can meet your baby’s nutritional needs just like with any other diet. My advice is to keep an open mind and allow a flexible vegan diet. It’s better to discuss the vegan lifestyle with your pediatrician.
When you tell your family and people about your baby’s vegan meal plan, you’ll be met with raised eyebrows, disagreements, and some curious people who want to know how you’re making it work.
Gone are the days when being a vegan was seen as not keeping up with your nutritional needs. According to a 2016 position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a planned vegan diet is healthy for babies and all ages.
If you’re a vegan parent, you would know the pros and cons of this diet just like any other diet.
So, when it comes to your kid, you’ll have to follow up carefully when starting them with this plant-based diet. Apart from the challenges faced with the vegan diet itself, you’ll also have to handle the disapproval from family, friends, and caregivers taking care of your baby.
Here’s everything you need to know about a vegan meal plan for your baby.
What does a “vegan diet for baby” mean?
Most vegan parents choose a vegan diet for their baby as they’re aware of the pros and cons of this diet. They’re more familiar with how to take charge of their baby’s meals right from the beginning.
But if you’re not a vegan parent but want to raise your baby as a vegan, you need to know everything right from scratch.
Raising your baby with a vegan meal plan means raising them on plant-based foods. When going vegan, you can’t give your baby any animal foods, including dairy products like eggs, milk (except breastmilk), and other such stuff. You can’t provide them with any animal products.
Going vegan is a whole lifestyle where you abstain from using animals in any way possible. Be it eating them or any of their milk products, using them for testing makeup, or using their skin to make handbags.
People choose to go vegan because of various reasons, including environmental or ethical concerns.
It’s not an ethical concern when it comes to feeding them breastmilk as it’s not another animal you’re exploiting for your benefit, but it’s your baby using your milk to gain nutrition.
You can absolutely include breastmilk in their vegan diet.
Vegan food items for your baby
When it comes to planning the vegan meal plan for your baby, it can be a bit hard to know where to start. Many parents also have concerns about the kind of food items to include in the meal plan so that your baby gets all their nutrition needs.
6 months of age
Since breastfeeding is compatible with a vegan diet plan, you need not worry about their milk needs.
For the first six months of your infant’s life, your breastmilk is everything they need. After consulting your doctor about the right time to start feeding other foods to your baby, you can begin before six months as well.
For the first month, you can let them play around with a variety of foods and textures. But it’s important to know and include food rich in protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
6-7 months of age
In the beginning, your baby might have a bit of a hard time learning about different foods as you also experiment with feeding them other foods. Their stomach might be a bit troubled learning to adjust to other foods too.
Food items you can include in your baby’s diet are:
- Green beans
- Peanut butter
- Red pepper
- Sweet potato
- White beans
Since your baby starts from semi-solids, it’s better to make a puree of all of any food item. You can make it fresh or make it in batches, store them as cubes, and feed your baby whenever you want.
You can even mix cubes of different foods and make delicious vegan meal combinations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
9-12 months of age
Now, your baby is growing out of their liquid diet, and you can start relaxing with the puree a bit and start making it a bit chunky and not so liquid-like before.
With this being said, you can experiment with more food items such as:
- Almond butter
- Black beans
- Brown rice pasta
- Celery (can blend with zucchini)
- Coconut yogurt
- Kidney beans
- Marinara sauce
- Mushrooms (can mix with onion)
- Onions (can blend with mushroom)
- Summer squash
- Whole wheat floor
- White potato
Additional to these food items, you can also experiment with adding herbs and spices as your baby grows older. These are also good for health and add fantastic flavor to any solid food you’re trying to make for your baby.
Many children have nut allergies, so it’s important not to suddenly add nut food items to their meal but introduce it to them gradually.
This way, you can observe if they show signs and symptoms of allergies at the beginning itself and mold their vegan diet plan accordingly.
How to ensure your baby’s complete nutrition?
1. Fat needs
When it comes to needing fats for the body, multiple sources of plant-based fats will be a suitable replacement and healthy at the same time.
It includes vegetable oil, nut, seed butter, hemp hearts, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and avocado.
DHA is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that’s important for the brain development of a child. You can find DHA in mammals’ milk, and since you can’t feed your baby cow’s milk or any other animal’s milk feeding them, your breast milk becomes all the more important.
2. Protein needs
Most parents worry about meeting their child’s protein needs which can be done by including adequate amounts of plant-based protein such as beans, peas, lentils, tofu, nut, or seed butter.
3. Oil needs
It’s a debatable topic whether or not to include oil in your toddler’s food when feeding them solid. But healthy fats are a must for a growing child, and there’s no harm in having them as much as possible when preparing food for them.
Not every baby will accept whole food fats such as avocado and might have sensitivities or intolerance to particular food items. So including healthy oils is essential to help them grow.
Deficiencies in vegan diet and how to cope with them
Most people don’t prefer to choose a vegan diet for their baby because they don’t know how to fulfill some apparent deficiencies in this diet.
Some of the nutrients of concern include vitamin B12, iodine, iron, and calcium.
But there are always specific vegan food items that can compensate for such deficiencies. It can provide your little one with all their nutritional needs with no hindrance in their development.
It’s a particular micronutrient that many vegans and vegetarians are also found to be deficient in. Mostly found in animal products such as meat, dairy, seafood, and eggs, vitamin B12 is in plant-based foods too.
Vegan sources of vitamin B12:
- Nutritional yeast
- Marmite + Yeast Spreads
- Fortified Soy + Almond milk
- Plant-based meats
- Fortified cereals
- Nori seaweed
- Cremini mushrooms
Vitamin B12 is so essential because it helps our body in various chemicals and metabolic processes. Maintaining adequate levels of this particular vitamin will help prevent anemia and various neurological issues.
Include vitamin B12 such as nutritional yeast three times in your baby’s meal plan more as they start weaning off the breastmilk.
Iodine is one of the essential nutrients that vegan babies won’t get most of and fall under its possible deficiency. Iodine controls metabolism and supports bone and brain growth, making it an essential mineral for babies.
While most people get their iodine needs met from meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and iodized salt, a child below 12 months of age shouldn’t consume added salt.
If you’re able to feed your baby breastmilk during this time, you can meet their iodine needs. But if they start the weaning process after 6 months of age, you’ll have to depend on other food items to meet their iodine needs.
You can depend on fresh fruits and leafy vegetables, seaweed, and kelp for their iodine needs. You’ll have to balance it in their diet in a way that they get the daily required amount. Otherwise, you can depend on multivitamins for kids.
Iron is another mineral in which vegan babies tend to be deficient but only after turning 6 months.
During the first 6 months, their body has enough iron stored, but around the 7 months, they need an external iron source, which is essential for their development and growth rate.
Infants (6-12 months) need 11 milligrams of iron in a day and toddlers (1-3 years) need 7 milligrams of iron each day.
Iron from plant-based sources known as non-heme iron has less of an active effect on the body. Eating a fiber-rich diet also reduces the effect even more. It’s essential to know how to combine this iron with certain other things to increase its effectiveness.
Combining plant-based iron sources like quinoa, green leafy vegetables, lentils, peas, beans, ground seeds, seed butter, and tofu with vitamin C can increase this effect. You should prefer cooking in an iron pan and choosing iron-fortified baby cereal.
Calcium is one of the top concerns when anyone thinks about a vegan meal plan for their baby.
Everyone knows that cow’s milk is a significant source of calcium provider to our body, with about 300 mg of calcium from a cup of it. The problem comes with that no one single source provides that amount of calcium.
So you’ll have to depend on different food items that get your daily calcium needs meet.
For vegan babies, breastfeeding is essential until two years of age. If you can’t follow through, there are plenty of food items such as soy milk, tofu, almond butter, sesame butter, leafy greens, sweet potato, and white beans.
But soymilk only contains 10 mg of protein per cup compared to 300 mg per cup of cow’s milk and is difficult to digest for babies. Calcium-fortified soymilk and soy products are much more helpful and fulfils all these needs.
Advice before choosing vegan meal plan for baby
It’s a fantastic decision to go for a vegan diet for your baby and introduce them to a cleaner and healthier diet for their body and the planet. But along with such a decision comes some challenges which parents aren’t usually aware of before jumping on board with a vegan diet.
- When you start a vegan diet for your baby, your friends and family might disapprove of this lifestyle for a baby. You need to have a strong mindset if you want to pursue this lifestyle for your baby.
- The biggest concern is if you have a caregiver who might disapprove of a vegan diet for the baby. Since they’ll be a huge help in raising your baby, it’s essential to find a person who doesn’t hinder the decision you’ve made and helps you out in every way needed.
- A lot of babies are allergic to nuts or gluten from their birth. So, when introducing wheat and nuts in your baby’s diet, do it gradually. Pause and reflect on how they react to it. If you see even the slightest reaction, immediately talk to your pediatrician and get your baby’s allergies tested. You might want to give up on a vegan diet under such circumstances.
- If you’ve got a premature baby, then you can’t start a vegan diet. You’ve to provide them with growth-promoting proteins and fats animal products offer so they can catch up on their weight.
- Also, you can’t make a baby eat foods that they don’t want to eat. If you have a picky child who only likes to eat specific food items, you can’t compromise on their health by not providing more options.
Veganism is a very personal choice, and at the end of the day, you’re making this decision for your child where they don’t get to have a say. So, you can’t be a hundred percent strict with your baby as they grow up.
If they end up eating a non-vegan cake at their friend’s birthday party, you can’t ask them not to eat or scold them for eating it. Allowing some flexibility is how you can make this work until they’re old enough to make their own choice about their eating habits and diet.
Do vegan parents breastfeed?
Breastfeeding your baby isn’t considered unethical for vegans and is entirely okay to do.
It’s about using animals in any way considered cruel according to a vegan lifestyle which includes drinking their milk. But if you feed your baby your milk, that’s not harming anyone.
Is it ethical to raise a vegan child?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Paediatrics, “well-planned vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers.”
It’s not unethical to raise a vegan child as long as you’re leading a flexible approach. Ultimately you’ve to leave them with a choice to choose their eating habits when they’re big enough to do that.
Do vegan babies need supplements?
Sometimes parents cannot meet their baby’s nutritional needs, so they rely on supplements to fulfill these needs. Usually, the deficiencies include iron, calcium, vitamin D, B12, or iodine.
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends vitamin D supplementation for all babies who’re exclusively or partially breastfed. Other such supplements are required, which should be given after talking to your pediatrician.
Do vegan babies develop slower?
A plant-based diet can fulfill all your baby’s nutritional needs, just like a vegetarian or non-vegetarian diet. You need to find the right balance and source of these minerals and vitamins.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued a statement supporting a vegan diet stating that an appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diet is healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for preventing and treating certain diseases.
They also mentioned how these diets are appropriate for all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and even for athletes.
Choosing a vegan meal plan for your baby can be difficult if you’re not vegan yourself, and you’ll have to start from the very basics of it all. It can also be hard to understand how and where your baby will get all their nutrients, as a vegan diet comes with a lot of uncertainty.
Multiple food sources in the vegan diet can fulfill all your baby’s nutritional needs from turning six months to growing up. There’re a lot of fun ways to mix different food items and make them flavourful for your baby to love the taste of food.
At the end of the day, you can’t force your little one into a vegan diet if they don’t show interest for a while, as you’ll be disturbing their nutritional needs. If you feel overwhelmed, talking to your pediatrician is a good idea. You can get a professional opinion about a vegan diet for your baby.