Weaning Vegetarian Babies
Taking the first steps in bringing
your child up as a vegetarian isn't difficult. Remember that the
nutritional requirements of a small baby are high, needing more protein,
calcium and most other nutrients than at any other time of life. It is now
widely recognized, even by the British Medical Association, that a
vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients needed for growing infants.
Bringing up your child as a vegetarian, you will want to get them used
to the vegetarian food groups: cereals, beans, nuts and seeds, dairy and
soya produce, fruit and vegetables. Your baby may reject stronger-tasting
foods, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage at six months but may
like them several months later.
It is quite safe to bring up your baby as a vegan, with no animal foods
at all, as long as you make sure that plenty of nutrient-rich foods are
included. Vegan babies need good sources of calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin
D and protein.
Weaning is a gradual process that begins when you start to replace milk
with solid foods. Infants should not be given solid foods before the age
of four months except on the advise of a health professional. A mixed diet
should be offered by the age of six months, at which stage babies need a
source of iron in their diet as breast or formula milk can no longer
provide enough. Especially if there is a family history of allergies, when
you begin weaning your baby, introduce one food at a time and leave a few
days between each new food. This way, you will be able to tell if your
baby is allergic or sensitive to any particular food.
Stages of Weaning
Before 6 months
Before the age of
four months babies can’t properly digest any foods other than breast or
formula milk, which remains by far the most important source of nutrition
at least up to the age of six months. Babies who are not being exclusively
breastfed should however be introduced to solids before the age of six
months, and breastfed babies can be, particularly if they seem hungry
after their breast feed.
Start by introducing
one teaspoon of pureed fruit or baby rice mixed with breast or formula
milk after a milk feed or in the middle if this works best for your baby.
Take care that the food is adequately cooled. The nutrition of the food is
not so important at this stage as milk still supplies all the baby's
needs. Just one solid feed a day should be enough for most
to try initially are:
• Puréed vegetables,
such as potatoes, carrot or courgette
• Puréed fruit, such
as banana, cooked apple or pear
• Baby rice, corn
meal, sago or millet can all be given as a thin porridge.
As the weeks go on
milk remains the most important food in your baby's diet, but you can
gradually increase the number of times solid food is given from once to
twice a day. Try mashed lentils with some added vegetable oil and a wider
variety of fruit and vegetables such as avocado and green vegetables.
not give wheat, oats, milk, nuts, eggs or citrus fruit before the
age of six months.
Most babies will by
now eat solids although milk is a large part in their diets. Solid foods
now provide an important source of iron. Most babies will be having solids
three times a day. From six months you can start to introduce wheat and
oat-based cereal such as bread and porridge. You can purée or sieve family
foods to give variety, as long as they do not contain added salt.
Try introducing tofu, smooth nut butter, and mashed beans. Dairy foods
(cow's milk, yoghurt and cheese) should not be introduced before six
months because of the risk of intolerance. Free-range eggs can be given
after six months, as long as they are hard-boiled. Some experts recommend
avoiding all dairy products and eggs until 12 months.
Your baby will gradually be able to cope with lumpier foods. Foods from
the family table can be given as long as they do not contain salt. Well
cooked and mashed peas and beans can be introduced at around 8 to 12
months. They are difficult to digest and so can cause problems if
introduced earlier. Avoid sweet biscuits and rusks. Try introducing pieces
of peeled apple, raw carrot or crusts of bread. When your baby is able to
chew pieces of fruit, sandwiches and toast can become normal everyday
foods. By the age of 12 months your baby should be enjoying three meals a
Many companies produce baby foods suitable for vegetarians but it's
quick and easy to prepare your own food for your baby. If you use shop
bought food, always check the ingredients label and look out for The
Vegetarian Society's seedling symbol to be absolutely sure that it is
This is an important nutrient during weaning, as milk is a very poor
source of iron. Babies are born with their own store of iron but this will
be depleted by six months. Although iron is less easily absorbed from
non-animal sources, there are plenty of good vegetable sources.
Iron-rich foods suitable for babies after six months include:
prune-juice, puréed apricots, molasses, refined lentils, cereals, well
mashed beans and green vegetables. avoid cereals that are very high in
fibre as these may inhibit iron absorption.
Vitamin C aids absorption of iron from plant foods and so it helps to
give sources of these nutrients together. Vitamin C is found in frozen,
fresh or juiced fruit and vegetables.
Breast or formula milk contains all the calcium your baby needs
initially. Good sources of calcium for the later weaning stages include
cow's and fortified soya milk, cheese, green vegetables, wholemeal bread,
beans, lentils, ground almonds, sesame paste and tofu.
Because babies are growing rapidly they require more protein than
adults compared to their body weight. Breast or formula milk will provide
the major source of protein for the first eight months. Proteins must be
balanced in order to get the right balance of amino acids. Combinations of
foods such as a cereal with beans or lentils, cereal with nuts or seeds or
milk on its own will provide the right balance of protein.
Babies between the age of 6 and 12 months require 700 to 1000 calories
a day, so they need concentrated sources of energy. Babies and young
children do not have the capacity to eat large quantities of food and so
they need small and frequent meals. Their diet should not contain too many
foods that are bulky or watery. Make sure your baby has some concentrated
energy foods like lentils with vegetable oil, avocado, cheese or smooth
nut butter. Sugar is not a good source of energy for babies.
Vitamin B12 is made by micro-organisms and is found mostly in animal
foods. Very young babies will get all the vitamin B12 they need from
formula or breast milk. Later, vegetarian babies should obtain enough of
this vitamin from dairy products and eggs. Vegan babies will need vitamin
B12 from fortified foods such as some soya milks, low salt yeast extract
or veggie burgers.
Vitamin D is found in dairy products, eggs and fortified foods like
margarine and some breakfast cereals, and can be made by the action of
sunlight on the skin. It is found exclusively in animal foods so vegan
babies may need a vitamin D supplement. Breast or formula milk should
provide all the vitamin D needed initially.
A diet too high in fibre will fill up a child before their nutritional
needs have been met and can interfere with absorption of minerals, such as
zinc, iron and calcium, so refined bran must not be added to a young
child's diet. If you think your baby is constipated give extra fluid such
as water or diluted fruit juices.
Babies under two should not be given semi-skimmed milk and children
under five should not be given skimmed milk because skimmed milk lacks the
fat soluble vitamins A and D and young children need the energy from fat.
Soya milks should be specially formulated for babies if they are used
instead of breast milk and should be fortified if used as an alternative
to cow's milk for babies and young children.
These should be avoided in the diet of babies and young children. A
baby's kidneys are not mature enough to cope with too much salt, and
sugary foods and drinks are a prime cause of tooth decay. Sugar gives
calories without any associated vitamins or minerals. In addition, a baby
who is encouraged to develop a sweet tooth may have problems with obesity
in later life.
Whole or chopped nuts and
seeds are not suitable for children under five because of the danger of
choking, but they can be used if finely ground, for example in cooking or
smooth nut spread. However many experts suggest avoiding nut products
altogether in a small child’s diet due to the risk of allergies
developing. If there is a history of allergies in a family it is certainly
best to avoid any nuts, especially peanuts, until at least three years.
The pregnant or breastfeeding mother should also avoid peanuts if there is
a history of allergies in the family.
Quorn and textured
Quorn products are a
useful addition to the diet of young children, but it should not be relied
on as the sole or major source of protein since it is relatively low in
calories and high in fibre, so may satisfy a child's appetite before
enough energy has been taken in.
Even with the help of this Info Sheet and
the growing scientific evidence that a vegetarian diet is a healthy
option, you may experience resistance from health professionals, family or
friends about bringing up your baby as a vegetarian. Contact The Vegetarian
Society for help in solving any problems or answering your questions.