Raising a vegetarian baby

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Many people choose to live a vegetarian lifestyle for health and ethical reasons, yet question whether they should raise their children accordingly. Ultimately it’s a personal choice, however with the right planning, it is perfectly possible to provide an adequate vegetarian diet to an infant or toddler.

Some benefits may include a healthier diet, as more vegetables are consumed, and more awareness paid to food preparation and less reliance on packaged and processed foods.

Parents will need to pay attention to the following dietary requirements to make sure their child’s nutritional needs are met while on a vegetarian or vegan diet.

When starting solids, it is important to include protein and energy rich foods for growth, such as mashed tofu or cottage cheese. Later, add cheese, cow’s milk, full fat soymilk and legumes. According to Better Health Victoria, one way to ensure that vegetarian children meet their energy needs is to give them frequent meals and snacks.  They say that it is particularly important that vegan children have energy and nutrient dense foods regularly (examples include full fat soy drink, tofu, mashed avocado, tahini spread and vegetables cooked with oil).

Calcium
If your child does not consume dairy, then seeds, nuts, beans and leafy greens are essential. Try bread enriched with chia seeds, or tahini spread, which is made out of sesame seeds. Almond milk is a popular alternative to cow’s milk and is high in calcium. Molasses is a sweetener which is also high in calcium.

Protein
Protein is necessary for growth and repair of muscles, bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, hair, eyes and other tissues. It’s not hard to meet protein needs without meat –other high protein foods include tempeh, seitan (wheat gluten) and soybeans. More common vegetarian proteins include lentils, tofu, veggie burgers, kidney beans and chickpeas.

Iron
Lack of iron can lead to leaning and behavioural problems.  Many plant foods are high in iron; however, this iron is not absorbed as well as the iron in meat. Good food sources of iron include green leafy vegetables, peas and wholegrains, enriched cereals and legumes. Combining these foods with foods high in vitamin C and food acids, such as fruit and vegetables, will help little bodies absorb iron.

Zinc
Zinc is important for a healthy immune system. It can be found in egg yolks, beans, quinoa, nuts and nut butters and pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed butter.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is one nutrient not found in plant products and therefore it is vital that vegan breastfeeding mothers, or vegan children no longer receiving breastmilk or formula consume b12 fortified foods or supplements. It is critical to brain development and other bodily functions.
Vegetarian sourced of vitamin B12 include dairy products and eggs. There are also fortified vegan foods such as some soy beverages and some vegetarian sausages and burgers.