With a record-breaking 500,000+ adults signed up for Veganuary in 2021, it's clear that plant-based, meat-free and dairy-free diets have become increasingly popular in the UK. 25% of evening meals in the UK are now vegan or vegetarian, and one in three people in the UK have stopped, or reduced their meat consumption.
Parents who have been living vegan lifestyles themselves, or experimenting with plant-based proteins and dairy alternatives, may be curious about introducing their little one to a vegan diet when they begin their weaning journey.
But is veganism actually OK for babies and toddlers?
The general consensus among nutritionists, paediatricians and child health experts is that yes, veganism can be safe for weaning babies and toddlers, provided that children still get the key nutrients required for their development. When a baby or toddler’s vegan diet is well planned and managed and they are exposed to a variety of nutrient-dense foods, a vegan diet can be beneficial.
We spoke to Mamamade's nutritionist Jenna Hope, who shared her thoughts on veganism for babies and toddlers:
Raising your baby on a vegan diet is an ethical decision and it is possible to do in a healthy and safe way. It’s important to ensure that your baby is not at risk of nutrient deficiencies by providing a wide variety of foods and ensuring that any formula milks are fortified with key micronutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc and B12.
Additionally, ensuring adequate omega-3 intake in the form of ground flax and chia seeds is important too. It’s recommended for all babies from 6 months in the UK to supplement with vitamins A,C and D up until the age of 5. If you are raising your baby on a vegan diet do make sure you’re aware of where they’re getting their nutrients from.
Read on for some tips on how to make sure your little one is able to follow a plant-based diet safely.
If you’re breastfeeding, consider doing so for longer
Breastfeeding is a personal decision and a privilege for some, but if do choose to breastfeed, you may wish to consider doing so for a few more months alongside solids if you’re planning on raising your baby vegan. This is because breast milk is packed with nutrients which non-vegan babies may get from other sources, but it may be harder to expose vegan babies to these nutrients initially.
Note that babies shouldn’t drink any kinds of milk - including plant-based - other than breastmilk or formula as a primary beverage before aged 12 months. This is because alternative milks, such as oat, soya or almond, don't have the right ratio of carbohydrate, proteins and fats that babies need.
Don’t miss out on key nutrients
You’ll need to pay extra attention to your baby’s diet to ensure they get the nutrients they need for their development.
Vegan diets can be lower in calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12, iron and omega-3 fatty acids, as animal products are the primary sources of these nutrients.
To avoid deficiencies, you’ll need to offer foods which are fortified with key micronutrients, especially vitamin B12, which is involved in the metabolism of every single cell in the body.
Here are some of alternative sources of key nutrients you could try adding to your baby’s meals:
Plant-based protein sources: beans, lentils, chickpeas, spirulina, amaranth, quinoa
Plant-based calcium sources: broccoli, kale, tofu, fortified soy milk
Vegan Vitamin D sources: mushrooms, fortified soy milk, fortified cereal, fortified orange juice, sunshine
Vegan Vitamin B12 sources: Marmite, fortified soy milk, fortified oat milk, fortified cereals
Plant-based Omega-3 sources: flax-seeds, kale, chia seeds
Iron + vitamin C = a winning combo 🙌
Did you know that serving a high vitamin C food (such as berries or sweet potato) with an iron-rich food (like leafy greens or chickpeas) can double iron absorption into the blood?
We recommend serving an iron-rich food alongside a vitamin C food with every meal.
Some of our organic baby meals which contain this fab combo are:
Read the label carefully
Remember not all meat and dairy substitutes are created equal!
Keep in mind that dairy and meat alternatives are not necessarily direct substitutes for these. For example, many milk alternatives such as almond milk, don’t have the same amount of protein as cow’s milk and many contain added sugar. This isn’t ideal for babies!
Be sure to read the label and make sure your baby is able to obtain the nutrients they may be missing out on from other foods, without adding a load of sugar.
Consult a qualified nutritionist
Whilst we are able to offer general advice on ways to help parents make sure their babies are getting the right nutrients, we encourage parents to seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist. This is particularly true for parents who may be avoiding feeding their babies or toddlers certain foods due to allergies.
Your GP or family doctor may not be well-versed in the intricacies of veganism, but a qualified nutritionist will be able to help you with tailored meal plans to ensure adequate nutrition, and addressing any issues which may pop up.
For parents who are looking for more general weaning advice, our baby food subscription boxes come with full access to our expert weaning coach, who’s there to help offer support and answer any questions you may have. You can book your 30 minute call as soon as you sign up!
Try some of Mamamade’s plant-based meals
All of our organic meals are 100% plant-based and free from the 8 big allergens. We offer 35 different recipes including porridges, purees, finger food and mixes containing over 80+ healthy ingredients. We work alongside nutritionists to create meals which are provide babies with a range of nutrients.
At Mamamade, we are supportive of all parents and their choices including those who feed their babies vegan diets and those who choose to include animal proteins and dairy products. Whatever you choose as a parent, you can be assured that Mamamade are here to support you.