Updated: Oct 17, 2019
When it comes to babies, every diet and every ‘way of eating’ needs careful planning. Vegans tend to endure a lot more negativity because there have been times when vegan parents have failed to raise healthy children. However, not feeding baby properly comes from neglect and a lack of education. There are far more cases of malnourished omnivore babies, which is why it’s crucial to carefully plan baby’s meals, regardless of dietary or lifestyle preferences. Like adults, children and babies can absolutely thrive on a plant-based diet – the same as my own children. As a mother of two, it breaks my heart when I read about any baby or child being neglected and not cared for properly.
The best time to start feeding baby healthy food is when he is in mama’s womb. When baby is in utero, he begins to store iron in his liver and this iron will last him for his first six months of life. It’s also when baby starts to ‘taste’ different foods. If you want baby to eat vegetables, make sure to eat plenty of vegetables while you’re pregnant.
Once baby starts solids, it’s crucial to feed him nutrient-dense wholefoods. In the early stages, puréed fruit and vegetables while breastfeeding or (clean) formula is substantial. Keep in mind that what mama eats while breastfeeding also impacts babies nutrient intake as well. For example, if mama consumes caffeine while breastfeeding, it lowers the iron content in her breastmilk.
As baby grows he’ll need plenty of nutrients, including protein, fiber, good fats, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and B-complex vitamins. When baby starts eating solids, it’s important to incorporate good fats with every meal. Good fats are crucial for development and putting on healthy weight, for cardiovascular, joint, brain and gut protection, and good fats help nutrient absorption as they bind to the nutrients in food. When bound to good fats, the nutrients have a higher chance of making it through the stomach and the liver, without being absorbed prematurely. Then the nutrients can be absorbed through the small intestine and transferred into the blood. Also, high fiber foods are typically packed with other nutrients, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
It’s also important to add vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich foods as this helps to increase iron absorption. And eliminate nutrient inhibitors: fried foods, highly processed foods, refined sugar, and phytic acid are just a few common nutrient inhibitors. Don’t feed baby fried foods, refined sugar, or processed foods, even mock meats. They’re empty calories, and are tough to digest which will compromise baby’s gut health. And if baby’s gut health is compromised, then his immunity is compromised too. To lower the phytic acid content in food, soak all legumes and wholegrains before cooking them. If baby can eat nuts, use activated nuts, nut butter, or soak nuts overnight first. Always opt for organic or pesticide-free where possible, as pesticides are harmful to baby’s growing and developing body.
My son absolutely loves drinking filtered water. When giving water to baby make sure it is filtered and fluoride-free. Naturally occurring fluoride is ‘calcium fluoride.’ This fluoride is naturally found in spring water and soil. The fluorides that are added to tap water are sodium fluoride and silicofluorides, and these fluorides are toxic waste by-products of the phosphate fertilizer and aluminium industries. Calcium is the antidote to fluoride poisoning, and when bound to fluoride, the calcium binds to the fluoride and helps to remove it from the body before it can store in the body and cause harm. With sodium fluoride and silicofluorides, they completely fall apart in water leaving the fluoride behind to store in the body.
Giving wholefoods to baby also helps to increase his nutrient intake, as wholefoods naturally contain a variety of nutrients that help each other do "their jobs." For example, the B-complex vitamins work together to help the absorption of each other: B6 helps the absorption of B12 and vice versa. B9 (folate) helps the absorption of B6 and vice versa. So taking B12 singularly, isn’t the best for absorption. Mushrooms are the only known food that contain all of the B-complex vitamins, and sea moss isn’t far off.
I opt for hemp seeds with most lunches or dinners because they’re a great source of protein, good fats including omega-3, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, some B vitamins including folate, and vitamins A, C and E. Hemp seeds also do not contain phytic acid making these nutrients completely bioavailable. Hemp seeds should be a staple in every plant-based diet or vegan household.
Opt for smoothies over juices as smoothies are wholefoods, while juice has the fiber removed. Fiber is needed to help baby digest the natural sugars in fruit.
As a treat, I also mix cultured nut butter (which is like dairy butter but made from nuts) into baby’s savoury meals. He absolutely loves it, and it adds good fats and extra nutrients.
Buckwheat is also a great staple. It’s a wholefood, and high in protein and fiber, and contains potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, several of the B-vitamins, and vitamin K. Buckwheat contains phytic acid, but it also contains phytase, which is the enzyme that we need to digest phytic acid. This means that buckwheat is much easier to digest and the minerals are more bioavailable than other grains and pseudograins. You can make soaked buckwheat groats into porridge or use buckwheat pasta.
I prefer sourdough because it doesn't contain added yeast and it's fermented; fermented foods are especially good for the gut, and much of the gluten dissipates. Added yeast contributes to candida overgrowing in the body, so it’s important to limit food that contains added yeast. Candida overgrowth is responsible for a plethora of health issues, including nutrient malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies. Not all sourdough is created equal. True sourdough is fermented for at least twenty-four hours. Many bakers have shortened the amount of fermenting time and add yeast instead. Always opt for organic and check with your baker to see if yeast has been added.
Don’t be afraid to give baby tofu – especially if you’re struggling to get enough protein and calcium into baby’s diet – just make sure it’s organic and GMO-free. Try not to rely on tofu as baby's only protein source as baby should be eating an array of wholefood. If baby is eating sufficient legumes, hemp seeds, buckwheat, properly prepared wholegrains, nuts, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, giving tofu once or twice per week is plenty.
What about supplements?
Most supplements are made from synthetic vitamins, minerals that are sourced from non-food sources, and concentrated-part-foods. This means that a nutrient is isolated from a food (or non-food) source and then added to a supplement in concentrated doses. Synthetic vitamins, non-food-sourced nutrients, and concentrated-part-foods are much harder for the body to digest and absorb. When it comes to supplements, I only ever take and give my family wholefood supplements which are generally powdered herbs. Wholefoods are digested and absorbed by the body a lot better, they’re much easier on the gut, and they come with an array of additional natural nutrients.
To add extra phytonutrients to my children’s meals, I add:
- Small amounts of sea moss to their smoothies. I also add sea moss to home-made hemp milk. Baby will only need sea moss once every few days.
- A herbal blend to add more iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc to their diets. I mix small amounts of herbs into baby’s breakfast and dinner.
Why sea moss?
Sea moss, also called irish moss, is a sea vegetable that’s been called ‘nature’s multi-vitamin,’ because it is the most nutrient-dense known food in the world. Nutritionally, sea moss contains high levels of magnesium, it's a great source of iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iodine, selenium, and manganese, as well as vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 (folate). It is also a great source of Omega-3. Sea moss has received a bad rap because of carrageenan. Carrageenan is one processed component of sea moss, which is used as a food additive. This is like comparing fresh raspberries with raspberry licorice. In its wholefood form sea moss is highly nutritious.
What iron herbs?
Herbs that have been used by herbalists and indigenous healers to treat iron-related ailments and deficiencies are iron fluorine herbs: dandelion root, sarsaparilla root, nettle root and burdock root, amongst other herbs as well. These herbs can be given to older babies (six-months-old and older), toddlers, children, and can also be used by pregnant women and breastfeeding mamas. Dandelion, nettle and burdock work well together, and adding sarsaparilla (one of the highest iron-containing herbs) adds even more iron. What’s also a huge benefit to using these wholefoods is that these herbs also contain magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, manganese, selenium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, K and some B-vitamins. Herbs are a great way to add more nutrients to any diet.
Standard iron supplements are made from iron oxide which comes from rocks. This type of iron is notorious for causing digestive upset. In nature, iron oxide is absorbed by plants, and in turn, forms in plants as iron fluorine. Iron fluorine is what we need. If adding these herbs to baby’s diet, use single herbs first, then make a blend, if baby shows no signs of intolerance. Using only organic or wildcrafted powdered herbs, mix:
2 parts dandelion root
2 parts nettle root
2 parts burdock root
1 part sarsaparilla root
1 part natural vitamin C (acerola, Kakadu plum, or a natural vitamin C powder)
If you can’t source natural vitamin C, mix the iron blend into a vitamin C-rich smoothie. Small amounts, such as 0.25g or 1/16th teaspoon in baby’s breakfast, and 1/16th teaspoon in baby's dinner is sufficient. If baby is eating a variety of wholefoods, 1/8th teaspoon per day should suffice. However, please speak to your practitioner as this will depend on baby's age, weight, and dietary requirements. If giving to baby over a longer period of time, add 1 part burdock root instead of 2 parts. We have an IRON BLEND+ Powder here.
These herbs are typically safe in small and recommended doses, however, no one food is safe for everyone. If symptoms of an intolerance or allergy appear, discontinue use and seek professional advice.
What about B12?
If mama is breastfeeding and eating a healthy wholefoods diet, baby will get B12 from breastmilk. B12 synthesizes in the small intestine of those with a healthy gut, but because a large majority of people have poor or compromised gut health, I do recommend taking a food-made B-complex powder when pregnant, breastfeeding, and give to baby when baby starts solids. When baby is on solids, mix a tiny portion into his food a couple of times per week, or as directed. The only B-complex powder that I buy is made only from quinoa sprouts, and I give this to my children once or twice per week.
Make sure to get plenty of fresh air and spend time in the sun. During warmer months, spend time in the sun when the temperatures are the lowest – in the morning and evening. Build baby's time up in the sun slowly, starting with several bouts of twenty seconds intervals per day, and work your way up. When taking baby for a walk in the stroller, take baby's socks off and let his feet rest in the sun when it isn’t too hot. And always be sun smart as overexposure does exist. Put a hat on baby rather than sunglasses. Sunglasses block the eyes which tell the brain that baby is indoors, so his skin isn't prepared to be outside in the sun, making it easier to get burnt. In cooler months, make the most of sunny days and spend plenty of time outside.
The below meal ideas are for babies aged six-to-twelve months plus – you can add and swap foods as baby gets older. When baby is starting solids, start with plain puréed foods before you start mixing foods, or giving baby ‘chunks.’ Start baby on legumes and (wholegrain or legume) pasta closer to 8-months-old, making sure to cut them into very small pieces, or purée the pasta with vegetables. If puréeing the pasta, you may need to add plant-milk to thin it out. When giving cruciferous vegetables, make sure they’re cooked properly as these vegetables are otherwise tough to digest.
Try and start baby’s day with fruit: fruit is easy on the digestion, it delivers a plethora of phytonutrients, and fruit – because it converts to glucose in the body – is the best fuel to start the day. These are the meals that I fed my healthy and thriving plant-based children.
1. Puréed fruits, such as poached pear, poached apple, mango, papaya, banana. After establishing what baby prefers and easily digests (and doesn’t have an allergy or intolerance to), mix the fruits for more flavours. Give baby chopped fruit when he is older.
2. Mashed banana or mango, and coconut yogurt or home-made cashew cream. My son absolutely loved this! Mash the banana rather than puréeing it, as the puréed texture can be hard for baby to swallow. If baby can’t have nuts, use hemp seeds. If baby doesn’t like the texture of the seeds, mix them into the fruit and allow them to soften, or purée them with the mango.
3. Smoothies: banana and raspberry, or strawberry, or acai, or mango etc, with ginger, hemp seeds or cashews, a half Medjool date, and filtered water or fresh plant-milk. I usually make a smoothie for the entire family and put some aside for baby. Don’t add raw greens to baby’s smoothies – baby’s ‘greens’ should be steamed and given with lunch or dinner.
4. Traditional oatmeal (soaked overnight and rinsed before cooking) or buckwheat porridge, coconut yogurt or cashew cream, and plant-milk. Sweeten with date paste, which you can make by soaking dates in filtered water and purée them. Try different varieties and top with mango or strawberry purée, or mix with mashed banana.
1. Pumpkin and/or carrot, spinach, and hemp seeds. Add chopped chickpeas, or legume pasta, or buckwheat pasta when baby gets older. These days, legumes and buckwheat are made into pasta which makes it super easy to incorporate higher levels of protein into baby’s diet.
2. Sweet potato, broccoli, hemp seeds, plant-milk. Apple purée goes great too! Add chopped chickpeas or lentils when baby gets older.
3. Mashed potato, garden peas, steamed greens, hemp seeds, and plant-milk. Add chopped chickpeas or lentils when baby gets older.
4. Pumpkin, parsnip, or cauliflower purée, steamed greens, and hemp seeds. Add chopped legume or buckwheat pasta when baby gets older.
5. Roasted pumpkin or sweet potato, cashew cream (or hemp seeds and plant-milk if baby can't eat nuts), and steamed greens. Add buckwheat or legume pasta when baby gets older.
6. Mushrooms, mashed potato, spinach, and hemp seeds. Make a gravy with the chopped mushrooms, add the spinach and serve on top of the potato mash. Make sure the mushrooms are chopped into very small pieces, or purée them with the spinach. When baby gets older, add lentils, making sure to soak the lentils overnight before cooking them.
7. Potato or cauliflower mornay (make a white sauce or use cashew cream) with chopped carrots, peas and greens. Add hemp seeds if using a white sauce (for good fats). Add chickpeas when baby gets older.
8. Carrot or sweet potato and silverbeet (swiss chard) purée with diced/mashed tempeh and avocado.
1. Raw fruit, such as banana, watermelon, mango, mandarins, papaya, or berries in a mesh feeder, or chopped into small pieces when baby is older.
2. A fresh Medjool date (cut into small pieces and ‘squished’ if baby is still new to solids)
3. Home-made hummus. I dipped carrot sticks in hummus and let my son suck the hummus off - just be careful that baby doesn’t bite through it. Or mix it with avocado. As he got older, I topped (soft) sourdough toast with hummus and avocado.
4. Mashed or diced avocado in a bowl (or served on small pieces of soft sourdough toast). Add chopped tomato around twelve-months-old.
5. Plain coconut yogurt topped with home-made fruit purée.
6. Soft sourdough toast with nut butter and avocado, cut into small pieces. When introducing baby to nuts, I prefer to let baby lick the nuts first. I do this several times before I add any nut butter to his meals. Start with small amounts first.
7. Dessert smoothies. Banana, almond butter, Medjool date, and plant-milk. If your baby can’t have nuts, swap the almond butter for tahini. There’s no reason why baby can’t have two small smoothies throughout the day. It’s one of the best and easiest ways to get a whole heap of nutrients into him. Make it thick and spoon feed it like yogurt. You can also fill a reusable pouch feeder and take it with you.
When baby starts getting used to solids, don’t be afraid to season baby’s food with small amounts of pink Himalayan salt, basil, oregano, turmeric, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, or cinnamon and nutmeg. Baby loves trying new flavours and will get sick of eating the same flavours over and over again. Mix it up! Herbs and spices also contain a variety of different nutrients as well! You can use a variety of nuts, seeds, legumes, and wholegrains, just make sure to prepare them properly so the phytic acid content lowers – we want baby to be absorbing the most nutrients as possible.
To recap: give baby only nutrient-dense food, particularly wholefoods (as well as breastmilk or clean formula) and filtered water. Have hemp seeds, sea moss, a B-complex powder, and iron-rich herbs handy, and get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. If you live near the ocean, make use of the bioavailable healing salts (magnesium, sodium and chloride) in seawater, and take baby for regular beach plays and swims.
If you're new to the plant-based or vegan scene this information may seem overwhelming. However, always research and be well-informed. If you’re ever in doubt, please know that many professionals are more than willing to help. Raising a healthy and happy baby is the priority. If baby isn’t putting on weight, reaching milestones, or appears to be unhappy, tired, or lethargic, please seek immediate professional advice.
Plant-based babies can absolutely thrive and I hope this article helps you in some way. If you ever have any questions, please join our FORUM, and we'll answer your questions there. We get so many repeat questions so the forum is perfect for others to read as well.