7 Essential Nutrients for Vegan and Vegetarian Weaning

Most parents will wean their babies to the same diet which they follow. If you are a vegetarian or vegan you will probably want your baby to eat the same way. A vegetarian diet is just as healthy as a meat eating diet if you make sure baby gets all the right nutrients.

There is debate over how healthy a vegan diet is for babies. Some doctors argue that a vegan diet is too high in fibre and low in fat which isn’t great for growing children and their immature digestive systems. If you feel strongly about your baby following a vegan diet, it’s best to talk with a dietitian to discuss how to utilise foods so your little one gets all the nutrients and minerals they need.

Nutritionists recommend you follow the food pyramid when creating a balanced diet for your child. Removing animal products from the equation can make things a little trickier, but not impossible.

7 Essentials for Vegan and Vegetarian Weaning

1. Calories

It’s important to ensure your child is receiving enough calories a day for growth and health. An active child 2-3 year old should be eating at least 1000 calories per day, increasing to 1400 calories a day if very active. If your child is eating a well-balanced diet and showing signs of growth and energy then they are probably getting enough calories. If your child is not displaying these signs, try keeping a food diary to ensure they are reaching their daily calorie minimum.

2. Calcium

Calcium is a mineral required in your child’s diet for strong bone growth. Dairy food is one of the richest sources of calcium. If you eliminate dairy foods from your child’s diet you need to replace it with other foods rich in calcium. Soymilk is a good calcium rich replacement to cow’s milk. Other foods rich in calcium include:

  • Broccoli
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Fortified breakfast cereal
  • Kale
  • Figs
  • Tofu

3. Iron

A diet rich in iron is essential to preventing anaemia, which will make your child feel tired, breathless and weak. The problem with iron received from a vegetable sources is the body only absorbs around 5%, compared to 15-30% from animal products. If you are worried you child’s diet is too low in iron you may want to add fish or eggs to their diet. An alternative is to give our child an iron supplement if they can tolerate them.

4. Protein

Your little one requires protein to grow and repair every cell in their body. Vegetarian and vegan diets can be very rich in protein by including grains, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruits. Meat replacements such as quorn and tofu are also a good source of protein to add to meals.

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Vegan and Vegetarian Weaning

5. Vitamin B12

This vitamin is essential for helping your baby convert food into energy. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce such as dairy, meat and eggs. If none of these foods are included in your baby’s diet ensure they eat fortified foods such as cereal, soy milk meat substitutes, and nutritional yeast. You can also give your child a vitamin tablet to ensure they get the required daily dose of vitamin B12.

6. Vitamin D

This vitamin works together with calcium to ensure your child has healthy teeth and bones. Humans make vitamin D when exposed to the sun, so during warmer months children are rarely in short supply. In the UK our sunshine isn’t so reliable so don’t rely on it. Vitamin D rich foods include milk, egg yolks and fish, so it’s best to try and add these to the diet even just in colder months.

7. Zinc

A great mineral for helping your child to grow, heal and absorb all the nutrients from their food. The best non meat source of zinc is in yoghurt if your child still eats dairy. If your child eats fish, seafood is a great source of zinc. For vegans the best sources of zinc come from whole grains, brown rice, legumes, and spinach and soybeans.

If you are unsure of how to approach a vegetarian or vegan diet for your baby, consult with a registered dietitian. They are the best professionals to provide you with information for creating a well-balanced diet to support your childs growth and development.

Useful resources

NHS Live Well
Vegetarian Society
Vegan Society
BDA fact sheet

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