Vegetarian parents often hope to introduce a vegetarian diet to their little one which is completely understandable and makes sense in a vegetarian household. There is no reason why you can't do this, it just takes a little more care and planning to ensure your baby is getting the right balance of essential nutrients and energy in a vegetarian diet.
A vegetarian diet can be low in iron, vitamin B12, protein, calcium and zinc which are also some of the most important nutrients for your baby's healthy development. It is a good idea to build an understanding of which non-meat food sources are rich in these nutrients and ensure your baby is offered these at meals.
A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which includes dairy and eggs as well as plant based foods, is generally a better choice for a baby than a purely plant based vegan diet. Vegan diets are not recommended for babies as they lack essential nutrients in the correct balance and can be too high in fibre.
If you are looking at a vegetarian diet for your baby, it is a good idea to consult your doctor, child health nurse or dietitian to make sure you have all the right information.
Below is some information to help you understand a vegetarian diet:
Iron: Iron can be found in plant foods however it is not as well absorbed as iron from meat, chicken and fish. Vegetarian food sources of iron include legumes, cooked tofu, spinach, silver beet and broccoli... Vitamin C helps boost the absorption of iron so it is a good idea to include foods which are rich in vitamin C into the same meal – think capsicum, tomato, oranges and kiwi fruit.
Iron-enriched foods: Farex dry infant cereals are fortified with iron as a nod to how important iron is to a baby's growth and development. Look for Farex dry infant cereals which are enriched with iron, and can be used on their own or add these to your baby's meals throughout the first year. This is a good way to get peace of mind in the eternal quest for an iron-rich diet!
Meat alternatives: Cooked eggs, cooked legumes (such as chickpeas, beans and lentils), tofu and nut butters such as peanut butter are all sources of protein.
Dairy products: From six months you can offer yoghurt, cheese, custard and small amounts of milk can be added to cereal. These foods provide protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals.
Breast milk: Breast milk will always reign supreme when it comes to the best nutrition for babies, however if you aren't breastfeeding your baby then you need to use a suitable infant formula. Breast milk or formula will still be their main drink for the first 12 months, so don't give your baby any other types of milk (cow, goat, soy, rice or nut) as a main milk drink while they are under the age of 12 months as they are not nutritionally suitable for all that important growing that is going on!