A well-planned and balanced vegan diet can be appropriate for all stages of life and can provide the nutrients your baby needs for healthy growth and development.
It is, however, important to consider vitamins and nutrients which would typically be provided by animal products and ensure that all nutritional needs are met, most importantly ensuring your baby’s diet contains enough sources of protein and the nutrients iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
As babies are growing rapidly, it is important that their diet provides a good source of protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids, some of which are essential as the body can’t make them itself. Animal proteins contain the complete mix of essential amino acids whilst most plant proteins provide some in different combinations. Therefore it is important to include a good variety of plant proteins in your baby’s diet to ensure they receive the correct balance of amino acids. Vegan sources of protein include pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, nuts and seeds (see note below on how to feed these safely), grains and cereals, soya and soya products such as tofu.
The exact amount of protein a baby needs is dependent on their weight – more details can be found in the World Health Organisation and NHS guidelines – as a general rule babies under 1 year old should be consuming no more than 10g of protein per day.
Babies being raised vegan will need two or three portions of vegetable proteins and or nut based foods per day to ensure they get enough protein and amino acids.
Note: it is not recommended to give whole nuts until a child reaches 5 due to the risk of choking so feed ground nuts and seeds mixed into recipes or sugar and salt free nut and seed butters
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in babies in the UK and as vegan diets can be lower in iron as it is less easily absorbed from non-animal sources, it is important for infants, therefore, to get iron from dried fruit such as apricots, figs and prunes (recommend soaking dried fruits in water overnight before blending them into cereal or stews), beans and lentils and dark green leafy vegetables as well as fortified breakfast cereals. Consuming a source of vitamin C alongside iron rich sources of plant food will also help increase its absorption.
Vitamin B12 is crucial to babies’ development and as it is only naturally found in foods of animal origin it is important that vegan children eat fortified foods such as soy products and yeast extract or take supplements which contain the vitamin. Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D can also be found in fortified breads or grains.
To ensure your baby gets enough calcium it is key to ensure your choice of dairy free milk substitute is fortified with essential vitamins and calcium (good options here could include soy or oat dairy free drinks). However, calcium from natural sources is the best thing to look out for. Offering lots of leafy green vegetables, plus edamame beans, figs and sesame seeds and tahini are a good source of naturally occurring calcium as well as lots of other minerals and vitamins.
Below are a couple of delicious vegan recipe suggestions that will please vegans and non-vegans alike!
Hummus recipe: containing protein from peas & calcium from tahini
Quinoa & vegetable ratatouille
A note on ‘vegan from birth’ and formula milks: if a mother is not breastfeeding then whilst you can get vegetarian soy based formula’s, they cannot technically be called vegan due to regulations. If the mother is breastfeeding only and following a vegan diet herself, then it is possible for a baby to follow a vegan diet from birth.