Raising a vegetarian or vegan child from birth doesn’t have to be difficult.
With a little bit of research and preparedness, you can confidently feed your child a varied plant-based diet. I did a ton of research, and even spoke to medical professionals (family doctor and allergist) before I began our plant-based journey. To be honest, our choice as a family to go from vegetarian to vegan was largely driven by discovering our daughter’s milk allergy. However, I’ll chat about my daughter’s battle with eczema and dairy in a future post. But it is what got us moving fully into a vegan lifestyle, solidarity rules in our family!
But I wish there had been a starter ‘catch all’ post back when my kids were babies that answered all my basic questions. So, that’s what I’m hoping this will be for you, a starter post to make you feel confident with feeding your baby or toddler a vegan or vegetarian diet.
New to eating plant-based and are looking to transition your whole family? Check out my post about transitioning your family into plant-based eating.
So what about protein?
Ah yes. Protein. Every persons favourite subject once they learn you don’t consume meat. Insert eye roll. But the truth is, choosing the best protein sources for your baby or toddler is important, and was a source of anxiety for me at the beginning. But it doesn’t have to be for you! The best estimates say that a child needs 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For example, my 3-year-old son weighs about 35 lbs, therefore he should be consuming about 19 grams of protein each day. Achieving 19 grams of protein on a plant-based diet is quite easy, in fact, my children meet these requirements by lunch most days.
A hearty breakfast of 1/4 cup of oat bran and 1 tbsp of peanut butter with a side cup of fortified almond milk is 15 grams of protein. I kid you not when I say that for the exception of vacations and holidays, my children have had a bowl of oat bran for breakfast every morning since they were 9 months old. A lunch that includes black beans or tofu easily makes up the rest of the protein needs. I think the key is to get your children used to foods like high protein grains and beans as early as possible. Having a hard time getting your kids to eat beans? Try this brownie recipe, I swear it will have everyone you know praising blacks beans.
Buy fortified everything.
It is easy to ensure that your children are getting all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need when you buy fortified foods. These alone fill in the nutritional gaps when it comes to vitamin D, vitamin A and iron to name a few. We achieve a lot of our B12 through fortified foods and drinks, as well as though the regular consumption of nutritional yeast.
UPDATE (02/24/2017): You can read more about supplements in my follow-up post – Raising A Healthy Plant-Based Child: Supplements.
Fruits and veggies for the uninitiated.
The uninitiated being your baby of course! Deciding what to feed your child first when they’re not eating a typical western diet can be overwhelming. Here’s a list of great first fruits and vegetables:
- sweet potato – served pureed, mashed or cubed. Lots of different seasonings can be added, my kids love cinnamon!
- turnip – pureed, mashed or cubed. My kids like turnip with salt, pepper and thyme.
- broccoli – our favourite recipe can be food here.
- corn – steamed or on the cob
- peas – sweet peas are full of delicious flavour and great for little fingers.
- mushrooms – mushrooms are great because they have a naturally mild flavour and can be dressed with different seasonings when both raw and cooked.
- berries – in the summer we eat some form of berry every day. Frozen berries in a mesh-feeder make for an excellent teether for little babies too.
- apples – I pureed apples with cinnamon when my children were babies, and cut up apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon is still a favourite everyday snack.
- bananas – we eat so many bananas in our house, its crazy. Literally a couple bunches of bananas a week go through our home. Help little fingers eat bananas by leaving a little bit of the peel on the bottom.
- tropical fruits – the more varied fruits you expose your babies too, the more likely it will be a regular staple of their diet as they get older. I can honestly say the only fruit my kids don’t eat is lychee at this point lol.
Exposure but no pressure.
Again, I’ll be honest, my daughter is a MUCH more adventurous eater than her twin brother. It’s easy to get her to eat a variety of vegan foods, textures and flavours. My son, on the other hand, is a little more typical toddler in his eating habits. He has foods that he loves, but is pretty resistant to most new foods. But, I have learned that repeated exposure does overtime encourage him to at least taste or try new things. For example, my daughter loves pickles so I add them to their meals all the time. Eventually, (and I mean maybe after months of exposure and watching his sister eat pickles) he sniffed and licked a pickle. Now, he did not like it but the point was he tried and he did so on his own time. He has since sniffed and tried pickles a few more times but no luck lol. That being said, there are other foods like peas, where after months of exposure I can count of him to eat a one or two spoonfuls unprompted.
Spice things up.
There are few things more depressing than bland vegan or vegetarian food (first world problems am I right?). But seriously, going through the vegan toddler food hashtag on Instagram can bum me out. Bland boiled carrots, plain steamed broccoli, naked beans and tofu, its quite sad. My rule of thumb is that if I wouldn’t eat it, I’m not serving it to my children. Let’s be real, if you think the food looks boring better believe your kids are going to think so too. I’m not saying that you have to go all ‘bento box’ but add some spices, garlic, oregano, paprika, anything to start developing your child’s palate. This provides you an easy way to mix up your children’s favourite foods. For example, my son loves mushrooms. I’ve regularly changed how I season them since he was a baby, this gives me some freedom within his picky eating habits.
All food is equal.
I grew up with terrible eating habits and I still struggle with my relationship with food. Because of this, I’m doing everything I can to make sure my children grow up with a healthier attitude towards food. Since they were babies I presented all food as equal. This means, I put the ‘dessert’ (if there is any) on the plate at the beginning of the meal. I’m sure many people are raising their eyebrows right now but hear me out. Treating all food as equal and letting your children choose for themselves how and when they eat their food teaches them to trust their stomach and palate. Over the past three years, I’ve learned that if I trust my children to guide how they consume their food, they will consume their meals in a varied approach. This means most of the time, they will eat small bites from all the food groups until they are full. The idea is that they will listen to their bodies and not rush to fill their stomach just to overeat on dessert later. Or worse, not eat anything and there be a fight over dessert.
Just starting to feed your baby a plant-based diet? What concerns or worries do you have? Let’s talk about it in the comments 🙂