Plant-based lifestyles are becoming increasingly common in the UK, with veganism among adults increasing by over 40% between 2020 and 2021.
Modern parents are now more likely to consider plant-based meals and reducing meat and dairy consumption for the whole family compared to previous generations. However, when it comes to their children's diets, parents want assurance that they can make environmentally conscious decisions without without sacrificing their children's nutrition.
There are some macronutrients and minerals, such as protein and iron, which we traditionally associated with animal-based products.
We've teamed up with Mamamade's expert nutritionist Jenna Hope for a Q&A plant-based proteins for babies! Along with our team of top chefs, Jenna is one of the masterminds who helps us to create the most nutrient-dense, plant-based meals and finger foods for babies and toddlers.
Jenna shares why protein is important for babies and toddlers, and offers advice on how to make sure your little one is getting enough protein in their diet from plant-based sources.
Why do babies and toddlers need protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient (along with fats and carbohydrates) for babies and toddlers. It's important for growth and development and plays a key role in so many processes in the body including the development of little muscles, teeth, skin, hair, nails and organs so your child can grow strong and healthy! It’s also particularly important in cognitive development at a young age, too.
Protein = strength 💪 + brain food 🧠.
What are the best plant-based proteins for babies and toddlers?
Ensuring a variety of plant-based proteins is important for babies as this will help to ensure your baby is getting all 9 essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and there are 9 which must be consumed through the diet.
Foods such as beans, pulses, nut butters, oats and quinoa are all great ways to increase the protein in your baby’s diet. Quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat are all complete proteins, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids, so we love including these in our Mamamade recipes!
How much protein does my little one need?
Protein intakes vary depending on the age of your child. It's also important to remember that babies raised on plant-based diets will require additional protein sources, compared to babies who are raised on a diet that includes animal products. This is because plant-based protein sources typically contain lower amounts of protein, so portions need to be eaten on a more regular basis (aim for a portion of a plant-based protein with each meal, along with fruits and vegetables as well).
Here Jenna has outlined below the recommendations in grams per day based on their age:
0-3 months – 12.5g
Babies at this age will be able to get all of the nutrition they need, including protein, from their usual milk (breast or formula).
4-6 months – 12.7g
Babies will still be getting all or most of the nutrition they need from their usual milk. Some babies may be weaned this early for medical reasons on purees and soft, mashed foods. If this is you, then consider offering your baby pureed sweet potato with white beans or quinoa for an extra protein boost.
7-9 months – 13.7g
Weaning is usually in full motion by this stage, however bear in mind that breastmilk or formula will continue to be a key source of protein for your baby.
For additional plant-based protein, you can try introduce your baby to pureed or mashed beans at this stage, or a teaspoon of smooth peanut butter stirred into porridge (read our blogs Introducing Allergens During Weaning and How To Introduce Peanuts To Your Baby!).
Try these Mamamade meals:
White Bean Puree
Cauliflower, Kale & White Bean
Mushroom, Black Bean & Spinach
10-12 months – 14.9g
Your baby will be introduced to different textures during this stage of weaning, so consider adding supergrains such as quinoa and amaranth which contain all 9 amino acids.
Try the following Mamamade meals:
Broccoli, Red Pepper & Amaranth
Banana, Quinoa & Kale
Hearty Veg & Quinoa
1-3 years – 14.5g
During the toddler stage, your child will need protein to help them grow and develop, and usually they'll be able to get all of the protein they need through a balanced diet. In addition to including a plant-based protein source in a meal, you could also consider adding a snack to help give them an extra boost.
Is raising my child on a vegan diet safe?
Raising your baby or toddler on a vegan diet is an personal decision for every family to make 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.
It's also important to make sure your baby is getting enough omega-3 through their diet - flaxseeds and chia seeds are great plant-based omega-3 additions to porridges and purees. It’s also recommended for all babies from 6 months in the UK to supplement with vitamins A,C and D up until the age of 5. Read our blog Do Babies and Toddlers Need Supplements? for more information on this.
If you are raising your baby on a vegan diet then do make sure you’re aware of where they’re getting their nutrients from, but try not to stress about it. There are loads of fantastic plant-based sources of protein out there, so as long as your little one's diet is balanced and varied then they should be able to get enough protein from food sources alone. :)
For meals and snacks for babies and toddlers that pack a punch of protein, try our meal bundles specifically designed for each stage of your little one's development.