If you’re bringing up your child as a vegetarian from birth, you may get a few disapproving looks from your carnivorous friends and family, but actually there are a few simple ways to ensure that he’s getting the right level of nutrients as well as a varied and interesting diet.
The nutritional requirements of a baby are high – he needs more protein, calcium and other nutrients than at any other time in his life. But, if you follow a few simple guidelines, a vegetarian diet can easily provide all the nutrients needed for a growing baby.
Your child will need to get used to eating the major sources of nutrients for a vegetarian – cereals, beans, nuts, seeds, dairy and soya products, fruit and vegetables.
If you’re using shop bought food, make sure that the packaging displays the Vegetarian Society’s V symbol to be absolutely sure that it’s vegetarian.
First stage of weaning
Until the age of six months, your baby should exclusively be fed on breast milk or formula. Then comes the first stage of weaning. Foods to try are:
- Pureed vegetables, such as potatoes, carrot or spinach
- Pureed fruit such as apple, banana or pear
- Baby rice, corn meal, sago or millet can be given as thin porridge
- Do not give wheat, oats, cow’s milk, nuts or eggs yet
- Your baby may reject food with strong flavours, but try again a few months on and he may like them.
Second stage of weaning
At the age of seven to eight months, milk still provides the bulk of nutrients to your baby, but you should gradually increase the number of times solid food is given from once to twice or three times a day.
New foods to try are:
- Mashed lentils
- A wider variety of fruit and vegetable purees
- It is still too early to introduce wheat, oats, cow’s milk, nuts or eggs
Third stage of weaning
Between the age of 8-12 months, your baby will gradually be able to cope with lumpier food. Although you shouldn’t feed your baby food that includes salt or added sugar, try:
- Mashed beans and peas
- Peeled apple
- Raw carrot
- Crusts of bread
Important nutrients for your little vegetarian:
Calories for energy – Babies between the ages of six and twelve months need 700 to 1000 calories per day. As they don’t have the capacity to eat large quantities of food, babies need concentrated sources of energy and small, frequent meals.
Concentrated energy comes from lentils with vegetable oil, avocado, cheese or smooth nut butter. Sugar is not a good source of energy for babies.
Protein – Babies need more protein than adults, because they grow so fast. Breast or formula milk provides enough protein for the first six or eight months. After that combine cereal with beans or lentils, cereal with nuts or seeds, or milk on its own to provide the right mix of protein and amino acids.
Iron – Milk is a very poor source of iron, and your baby’s natural supply of iron will be depleted by around six months. After six months you should include:
- Prune juice
- Pureed apricots
- Refined lentil
- Well-mashed beans
- Green vegetables
Calcium – Initially, milk contains all the calcium your baby needs. Later on you can try cow’s milk, soya milk, cheese, green vegetables, wholemeal bread, beans, lentils, ground almonds, sesame paste and tofu.
Vitamin B12 – Very young babies get enough B12 from milk. Later on, vegetarian babies will obtain enough of this vitamin from soya milk, low salt yeast extract (Marmite is too salty) or veggie burgers.
Vitamin D – Although breast or formula milk contains all the Vitamin D your baby needs, later on a vegetarian baby will need to source this vital nutrient in fortified fat spreads, fortified breakfast cereals, and sunshine. Vitamin D is found exclusively in animal foods, so if your baby is not eating the food groups just mentioned, he may need a Vitamin D supplement, although this is normally only necessary for vegan babies.