Have you been thinking about the benefits of a vegan diet for your infant? Many parents, especially those who are vegan themselves, consider raising children without meat and dairy. Use this guide to make sure your little one gets the nutrients he or she needs with a plant-based plan.
Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating a plant-based diet is safe and healthy for humans of all ages.1 The AAND notes these benefits of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles:
- Better blood glucose control
- Lower blood cholesterol levels
- Reduced saturated fat intake
- Lower risk for many chronic health conditions including obesity, certain cancers, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease
In addition, a plant-based diet supports environmental sustainability by reducing damage to the environment and using fewer natural resources compared to a diet that includes meat and dairy. Many people find that a vegan diet costs less than eating meat or prefer not to depend on animals for sustenance.
Making Sure Your Child Is Getting Enough Protein
Protein provides the building blocks of the body's muscles, organs and tissues, so it's essential that your baby get enough of this nutrient without eating animal products. Soy is a significant source of protein in most plant-based diets. Try out different forms of this food to see what appeals to your baby. Readily available choices include tofu in various textures, seitan and tempeh. Beans are full of protein and fun to pick up with little fingers.
Mott Children's Hospital recommends substituting 1 oz of meat with a tablespoon of peanut butter or nuts or with 1/4 cup tofu, lentils, peas or beans. To make up the protein in dairy, look for soy-based brands of yogurt and cheese.2
Nutrients Your Child Needs as a Vegan
Nutrition experts recommend breastfeeding into the toddler years if you plan on feeding your baby a vegan diet. Your breast milk has all the nutrients your child needs as he or she develops. When you begin introducing solid foods, try giving your baby chia seeds, kale, walnut and flax seeds for brain-boosting omega-3s.
Calcium may also be a concern for parents of vegan children. Good choices in this category include calcium-fortified soy milk, cereal, yogurt and orange juice.
Including Supplements Into Your Diet
Most vegan children require a B12 supplement for full-fledged nutrition since this important vitamin is found only in animal products.3 Look for soy milk fortified with vitamins B12 and D after you wean your child from breast milk. Your child may also need supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron.
While you should talk to your doctor before you give supplements to your baby, general recommendations include:
- B12 supplements for breastfeeding mothers
- Vitamin D supplements until age 1
- Iron supplements after 6 months for breastfed babies
Planning & Prepping Vegan Meals
Creating your own baby foods makes it easy to feed your baby a plant-based diet if you are also vegan. For the newest eaters, blended versions of the meals you eat are easy to prep and help give your baby a sophisticated palette. For finger foods, create small bags or containers of your child's favorites for a quick meal at home or on the go. Plan lots of little meals and snacks instead of big meals to make sure your little one gets enough calories, since the fiber in a vegan diet can be filling.
Consulting a nutritionist can help you start off right when you plan a vegan diet for your baby. Professional advice will ensure that your little one gets all the proper nutrients to grow, develop and thrive with this type of lifestyle.