When babies are newly born they are naturally vegetarian, feeding only on mother’s milk or formula milk. As they graduate to solids, introducing them to a range of foods, one new food at a time, will ensure they receive the nutrients their growing bodies need.
For vegetarian babies you should aim to incorporate foods from these 4 food groups:
Carbohydrates including breads, pastas and potatoes
Fruits and vegetables
Milk and dairy
Protein sources like tofu, eggs, nuts and beans
A vegetarian diet is fibre rich. Babies need plenty of calories and digesting all that fibre can be too much, so incorporatehigh energy foods like avocado or hummus. A combination of white bread, rice pasta and whole grains is appropriate as too much fibre will also hinder mineral absorption.
For vegetarian babies receiving adequate protein, iron, B12 and selenium are important considerations.
Protein is vital for growing bodies. Vegetarian protein sources suitable for babies include tofu, nut butters, hard boiled eggs, yoghurt, soft cheeses, baked beans, hummus, mashed rice and lentils. As always, a variety of foods is better than relying any one nutritional source.
Iron rich foods are dark green vegetables and pulses, like lentils and chickpeas and wholegrain breads. Add a glass of orange juice to meals with these foods as vitamin c aids iron absorption.
Vitamin B12 is needed to make red blood cells and release energy from foods. Sources of B12 include fortifiedbreakfast cereals (always read the list of ingredients), low salt yeast extracts such as vegemite or promite, eggs and diary. It is best to seek the advice of an expert on whether your B12 intake is sufficient; often it is a problem for vegetarians and supplementation is advised.
Selenium supports proper immune system function. Selenium is high in many nuts and while whole nuts can be a choking hazard for small kids, nut butters make tasty and easy to prepare baby food additions.
Parents should endeavour to discuss and educate their children about the reasons for being vegetarian. A relaxed approach such as allowing kids to eat meat at friend’s homes can be helpful, and remember children will follow the example set by both parents and we should lead by example.