Food, Healthy Eating

How to Nurture your Vegan Baby

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At a mom’s group gathering recently I heard a mom say that her toddler was reaching for some cauliflower from her plate.  “Oh no, sweetie,” she said, “you don’t want that.  That’s cauliflower!”

Another mom chimed in that her child’s favorite food is cheese.  “She could just eat those cheese cubes all day.  I can’t stop her!”

A third mom told the group about how she puts sugar-sweetened juice mixed with water in her child’s sippy cup, “because I feel bad for her if she has to drink just water!”

Far be it from me, a stay-at-home mother of a 1-year-old, to contribute to the “Mommy Wars.”  However, vegan parents know that cauliflower is good for you, cheese isn’t the best source of calcium, and water is great to drink all by itself!  Even though vegan parents know that their dietary choices can give them vibrant health, new parents might wonder if “going vegan” is the best choice for their child.

How to Nurture Your Vegan Baby

Most omnivore children don’t get the minimum 3-5 servings per day of fruit recommended by the USDA nutritional guidelines (“Food Politics,” Nestle). Vegan children reap the benefits of a diet packed with nutrition.

Few things in my life have built up as much confidence in me as my own experience with childbirth.  So, after a pregnancy spent Googling symptoms of early labor and every other possible bad thing that could happen, I swore off the Internet as a resource of health.  Much of the Internet is based in negativity and doubt, and they really should change the name of “WebMD” to “Fear.com.”  If you’re here at Peaceful Dumpling, wondering if it is even safe to feed your child a vegan diet let me tell you: it absolutely is.  And just to make you feel good about your decision to raise a vegan baby, here are some reliable sources that support your decision!

“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that…total vegetarian or vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.  [Vegan diets] are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”

Renowned physician Dr. Michael Klaper says, “Using vegan nutrition to nourish the pregnant woman and growing child, as well as creating a satisfying and convenient dietary cuisine, is a major key to a long healthy life for both parent and child.”

Gill Langley, PhD, who authored the handy guide to specific nutrient needs called “Vegan Nutrition,” writes: “Infants and children reared on a varied vegan diet obtain adequate protein and energy, and are healthy and grow normally.  Thousands of children have been reared in good health on a vegan diet.”

Dr. John McDougall writes: “If concern for your child’s health is a priority, then now is the time to change their diets [to a vegan diet] because rapidly growing bodies are the ones most likely to suffer from the adverse consequences of too much fat, protein, cholesterol and environmental chemicals.  The ideal diet for young growing children, including adolescents, is based on starches with the addition of fruits and vegetables.”

The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine also confirms that “Vegan diets—rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes—are healthful for all stages of life, including pregnancy, infancy, and childhood.”

The foods that produce health and good feelings in adults are the same foods that nurture young children.  When infants are ready to begin solid foods (in conjunction with Nature’s most perfect food for babies: breast milk), follow my 3 guidelines for nurturing your vegan baby at mealtime.

1.  Baby eats what mommy & daddy eat.  Align your diet with what you want your child to eat.  That means if you’re eating a faux-meat or decadent dessert or anything that you don’t want your child to eat, don’t eat it.  Too many parents struggle with getting their child to eat their veggies, but all parents know that a child naturally wants what the parent has.  If mom has green beans for lunch, those green beans become the most attractive thing in the world to a toddler!  Likewise for bad food habits: parents should expect that whatever is on their plate is what their child will ultimately crave.  Meal time becomes so simple when you follow this guideline; just scoop some of your whole, vegan food onto baby’s plate.  There is no need to purchase a special food system, blender, etc. to nurture your child.

Winter Warming Soba Noodle Soup

Simple vegan meals like soba noodles and veggies in miso broth are perfect for you and your child. Dish out a few of the soft veggies and noodles as finger-foods for your little one.

2.  Eat wherever you are—not just in the high chair.  In order for a vegan diet to be satisfy the nutrient needs of a growing child, it must meet the calorie needs of the child.  You can tell if calories needs are being met in a very easy and stress-free way: if your child is growing normally at pediatric checkups, then calorie needs are being met.  But since vegan foods are less calorie-dense than junk foods and animal-based food, kids might want to eat more often.  Offer food to your child frequently throughout the day.  Kids naturally don’t want to be restrained, but don’t let high-chair fussiness stop your vegan baby from eating.  Incorporate healthy food into play time and let your child explore and come back to you for another bite of food.  Food can be a great distraction from temper-tantrums as well.  When our daughter fights getting in the car seat, a piece of fruit and nut bar can be just the thing to distract her while I quickly get her in the car.  We also share meals in the front seat of the car while parked after grocery shopping or a trip to the library.  Happy vegan babies eat everywhere, not just where tradition says they should.

3.  Eat a variety of whole, plant-based foods.  Eat a varied diet of whole plant foods including beans, grains, vegetables, and fruit to easily satisfy all of the body’s nutritional needs.  (Children weaned from breast milk must take a regular supplement of vitamin B12, at least 5mcg daily, just like adult vegans).  Now might be a great time to transition away from processed (but technically vegan) foods that contain few nutrients per calorie like potato chips, protein bars, fake meat & cheese products, and oil.  Being vegan nurtures your baby, and if you’re not careful, it could end up nurturing you!

Also by Chelsea: First Foods for Your Vegan Baby

Coconut Curried Chickpeas with Choi Sum

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Photo: Chelsea Ihnacik

Chelsea Ihnacik
Chelsea Ihnacik is a full time mom and author of the blog "Whole New World: A New Mom's Adventure with a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet." Chelsea is a passionate advocate of eating plants for health. She leads plant-based nutrition workshops for adults and children near Washington, D.C. Her favorite veggie is kale!
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