Written by Suzy Sorensen, RD, LD, CDE
Are plant-based diets ok for babies? You bet they are! The AND says “Appropriately planned…vegan diets…are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes.” (1)
But, remember that infants are not just little grown-ups! During the first year of life, babies have unique nutrition needs to support accelerated growth and development.
A parent’s milk (breast milk) is the best food for infants and it’s the only food needed from birth until 4-6 months. Balanced vegan diets can meet the needs of older babies.
If baby is not able to breastfeed, commercial iron-fortified formulas should be used. Currently, soy formula is the only reliable, safe vegan option.
At 4-6 months old, babies start to show they are ready to try solid foods! They can keep their heads upright and sit with little support.
The first food is typically baby cereal fortified with iron and zinc diluted with breast milk or formula to a thin consistency. As baby grows, it can be thicker. Often soft fruits and vegetables are added next. These can be pureed or fork mashed at home, and store-bought baby food can be a convenient option.
For safety, add in just one new food every 3-4 days to identify any food sensitivities.
As baby gets better at chewing, pasta and soft-cooked grains, soft bread, sweet potatoes, cereal, and crackers can be added. At 7-8 months, add in cooked and mashed or pureed beans, lentils, tofu, and non-dairy yogurt if desired.
Babies need enough calories and fat to support normal growth. Items like hummus, avocado, tofu, and cooked dried fruits can offer a boost. Calcium can come from calcium set tofu, fortified juice or yogurt, and dark leafy greens like kale and broccoli.
To avoid choking risk, foods like nuts, nut butters, grapes, chunks of veggie dogs, whole beans, and popcorn should not be given to babies.
Infants often need to be fed every hour or 2. After starting on solids, babies will need at least 3 small meals and 2-3 small snacks daily to meet their needs.
Ideally, baby will sit at the table with a parent who can model healthy eating at meal time!
Sample menu for 10 month old vegan baby:
Breakfast: ¼ cup fortified baby cereal with 4 oz breast milk/formula & 2 TBS mashed banana
Snack: ¼ slice soft bread & 4 oz breast milk/formula
Lunch: ¼ cup fork mashed lentils, 2 TBS steamed chopped kale, 2 TBS applesauce, 2 TBS quinoa, 2 TBS mashed avocado, 4 oz breast milk/formula
Snack: 4 oz breast milk/formula
Dinner: ¼ cup cubed tofu, ¼ cup fortified baby cereal, 2 TBS fork mashed sweet potato, 2 TBS peaches, 4 oz breast milk/formula
Snack: 6 oz breast milk/formula
Breastmilk or infant formula should continue during the first 12 months. It is not safe to use plant-milks (like plain soy or almond milk) or homemade formulas as a substitutes. They do not have the right nutrients and do not have enough of many vitamins that a growing baby needs for health.
Supplemental B12 and Vitamin D are recommended for infants along with iron starting at 4 months. Always discuss with baby’s doctor before starting a supplement.
(1) Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Please note: This information, while accurate, does not provide an all-inclusive feeding plan and is not intended to substitute personal medical advice. It is intended to offer guidance only. We recommend working with a registered dietitian to help meet any specific questions you may have.
Suzy Sorensen is a Twin Cities-based Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who is passionate about plant-based eating! She has a Certificate of Training in Vegetarian Nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and opened Move2Veg Nutrition Counseling in 2009 to support those interested in plant-based eating. For more information, visit move2veg.com.