Vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, every first-time mom has googled, “baby’s first foods.” I’m no exception. Five months ago, when my then 6-month-old daughter started showing the signs of being ready for solid food, I started my research. She was able to sit up by herself and she was interested in our food at dinner, so I knew she could start eating some solids in addition to breastfeeding. Our family had been 100% whole food plant-based for 6 months. We were feeling and looking better than ever. But what should she eat? Is it even safe for babies to be vegan?
Happily, the answer is YES! The 2009 statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) on a vegan diet states that “vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”
Pediatricians usually advise rice or other grain cereal for baby’s first food since it is soft. Really any soft food will do; grain cereal is traditional, not mandatory. Our family eats whole plant foods and the boxed and sweetened baby cereals at the store did not thrill me. We decided on an organic mashed avocado for baby’s first food. She loved it!
Within a few weeks our daughter was eating whatever was on our plate. Our vegan diet gives her a big advantage nutritionally. Since we don’t eat meat or dairy, those calories are replaced with food that is far richer in vitamins and minerals. Before her first birthday, our vegan baby has had chia seed pudding, flax and hemp seed on oatmeal and in pancakes, a variety of grains like teff, amaranth, bulgur and barley oats, 5 types of winter squash, 3 types of sweet potato, mung bean threads, a variety of beans, and the list goes on. By contrast, consider that a UK Department of Health survey of omnivore children showed that these children consume more milk and dairy than any other food. Since vegan children replace them with plant foods, it makes sense that “nutrients such as iron, carotene, thiamin, folate and vitamins C and E are more plentiful in vegan children’s diets than in those of omnivore children.”
For still breast-fed babies under the age of 2, here are some great first solid foods for your vegan baby:
Organic avocado or banana, mashed or cut up small for finger food
100% Organic whole wheat pasta (such as DeLallo Organic)
Baked sweet potato or other root vegetable such as carrots or parsnips
Organic quick oats with a sprinkle of ground flax seed
Photo: Chelsea Ihnacik