Vegetarian Nutrition for Babies & Toddlers : Resources for Parents
Experts agree that babies, toddlers and children can thrive on vegetarian diets. This is a collection of trusted resources from dietitians, doctors and public health authorities to help parents planning vegetarian diets for their babies and toddlers.
Are you considering raising your baby on a vegetarian diet? You’re in the right place. I am raising a happy, thriving little veggie tot myself. Here are some great resources for parents who wish to raise vegetarian babies, toddlers and children.
Are vegetarian diets OK for babies?
The jury says yes! According to dietitians, vegetarian diets are healthy and appropriate for babies, toddlers and children.
- In the UK: Check out the position of the UK National Health Service and the British Dietetic Association
- In the USA: The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Dietetic Association concur.
They all give the simple caveat that a vegetarian diet needs to be well planned to ensure sufficient calorie intake, iron, protein and Omega-3 intake.
How can my vegetarian baby get enough calories?
So many high calorie foods are vegetarian!
- Mom Junction compiled a list of 10 high calorie foods for babies which all happen to be vegetarian. Avocado, cheese, yogurt, and nut butters are all popular choices.
- They also mention adding butter and healthy oils to foods. Odette loved this broccoli + olive oil puree from Baby Foode.
How can my vegetarian baby get enough iron?
- As explained in this article from Parents.com, it makes sense to prioritize iron in baby’s first foods because their stores begin to run low around the 6 month mark.
- The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics lists fortified cereals, beans and legumes, whole grains, dried fruits, and green leafy vegetables as excellent sources of iron for babies. It’s important to add some vitamin C to the dish to increase absorption (bell peppers, tomatoes, and citrus fruits are all suggested).
How can my vegetarian baby get enough protein?
- The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics lists dairy products, eggs, nut butters, beans and legumes, grains, and meat substitutes as excellent sources of protein.
- Super Healthy Kids has compiled a great list of vegetarian protein sources, with links to some delicious recipes.
- Quinoa is worth a special mention as it’s a complete protein source (rare for plant based protein sources) – this article from Time Magazine explains more. This article on Mom Junction gives lots more info and some recipes too. Quinoa is also in a lot of pre made baby food so when you’re buying convenience foods it’s worth seeking those out! (If you’re in the UK, I love the Babease range)
- How can my vegetarian baby get enough Vitamin B-12?
- The Vegetarian Society explains that if your child is eating dairy products and eggs, they will be getting sufficient B-12, but vegan babies should seek out fortified foods (cereals, soy milk, nutritional yeast).
- The Vegan RD also recommends chewable supplements for vegan toddlers.
What about Omega-3?
There is much less consensus on this topic. Some resources recommend supplementation and some do not. I’ll share some resources that cover both sides.
Oily fish is known to be the best source of omega 3. Plant based sources are thought to deliver it very inefficiently. But some believe that plant based sources are still sufficient in large enough quantities:
- Babycenter India has an article explaining how to give your baby sufficient omega-3 from plant sources, and only recommends supplementation in certain cases.
- The UK National Health Service also refers to plant based sources and does not mention supplementation.
And others believe that any baby or child eating a diet that doesn’t include fish should be given algae based supplements:
- This opinion is expressed by American pediatrician Dr. Sears
- It is also emphasised by British dietician Sarah Schenker on a Mumsnet Q&A.
And sitting on the fence:
- The Vegan Society acknowledges the rationale for supplementation but notes that sufficient research has yet to be done.
A note for breastfeeding mothers:
- Breast milk is a source of omega 3 so the question of supplementing your baby doesn’t apply while they are breastfed. Dietician Keli Hawthorne tells Babycenter that the breastfeeding mother taking supplements could be helpful in ensuring that her milk has sufficient quantities.
- Kellymom explains that there is little evidence for this being necessary.
What about vegan babies?
The Vegan Society has an excellent leaflet about feeding children under 5 a nutritionally complete vegan diet. You could also check out the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Eating for Kids. (I haven’t read it, but it gets excellent reviews and I’ve enjoyed other nutrition related books in this series.)
Have you found any great resources for vegetarian parents?
If you want to recommend an article for inclusion, please leave a comment with a link and I will consider adding it in!