Your baby is the cutest. And the most advanced. And the best around. Right? You can hardly wait for the first smile, first word, first tooth, first steps, the first tantrum in the junkfood aisle of the supermarket. Wait. Hold on a minute, can’t we skip that bit?
We feed our babies to keep them healthy as they grow. But the end game is that they learn to eat the same foods as the rest of the family. Who knows, if you can limit their experience of processed food, they may be less likely to be fussy eaters later on. That would make life easier for them, and for us.
Once your baby is on solids, feeding a varied diet will help to develop their tastes for a wide range of foods, and what’s great is they don’t have to be bland. After all, breastfed babies have already contended with a variety of tastes from their mothers’ milk. That’s why we’ve included some interesting flavours in our ideas and recipes for healthy plant-based baby food.
Tried and Tested
But first, the disclaimer! These are suggestions and recipes from an ordinary family that happen to be vegetarian, tried and tested on our daughter from six months, through the toddler and later years. We are not nutritionists, or fantastic cooks, but we were as careful in our research as any new parents. If you have any concerns we would always suggest you consult a qualified nutritionist. We hope you find some useful ideas whether you are vegetarian or not. We had jars of processed babyfood in reserve but just tried not to use them too often, or stretched them ("diluted" may be a better word) with real home-made babyfood.
Parents who make vegetarian food for their baby are often asked how they will meet their baby’s nutritional needs. The common concerns raised are Protein, Calcium and Iron, along with Vitamin B12. What follows is a summary of our (inexpert) findings.
You do need to ensure that you include foods fortified with Vitamin B12 e.g. yeast extract, some plant milks, some breakfast cereals or you can supplement. Once you’ve covered that, a varied menu of grains, beans, vegetables and fruits provides plenty of protein and lots of other essential nutrients. There are many natural wholefood sources of protein e.g. beans, lentils, quinoa, seeds, and eggs. These have the further benefit of being unprocessed. Organic Nut butters and Tofu (check for GMO) are other valuable sources that are minimally processed, with nut butters also providing healthy fats. Just remember nuts can choke so use smooth versions until they are older, and water down if necessary.
Iron and Calcium are found in a variety of beans and lentils, dark leafy vegetables, sweet potato, broccoli, dried fruit, and fortified bread and cereals. The Vitamin C in fruit and vegetables enhances absorption of iron, especially when eaten together.
Oatmeal, Millet and rice are good for complex carbohydrates, as well as pasta, potatoes, couscous etc. And of course you have plenty of vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables. There really is an abundance of good wholesome food to choose from.
Herbs and Spices
Aromatic spices can be introduced from six months and provide antioxidants as well as flavour. Leave out the Hot spices such as chilli for a few years, but there are lots of others they can have. Aromatic spices and herbs to introduce gradually are Ginger, Dill (mmm… Gripe water!), Turmeric, Coriander, Cumin, Cinnamon, Caraway and Nutmeg. Garlic is also fine. These great flavours can be introduced little by little, and will help to avoid adding sugar and salt. We choose Organic Herbs and Spices.
One step at a time
All babies are unique and some will be more sensitive so it makes sense to introduce new foods a little at a time. We assume that by about 8-9 months they have progressed from babyrice and other ground cereals and have mastered pureed vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, green beans and peas. Fruits such as stewed apples, mashed bananas and avocados are very baby-friendly. Between 8 and 12 months food will be mashed, moving on to chopped and they are probably ready for higher protein foods like tofu and well-mashed well-cooked beans, When they can move food from hand to mouth they can tackle finger food e.g. rice cakes, raw fruit and vegetables, breadsticks etc. If you also use jars of processed babyfoods, its a good idea to mix some ordinary food in too.
Babies are part of your family though so remember that they will be eating the same as everyone else in the end.
Ideas and Recipes
Check out our Baby Food Recipes page to read more about these
Basic Rice & Millet Porridges
Organic Apricot Puree
Organic Vegetable Baby Food
Pearl Barley Risotto (Mary Fleming)
Homemade Baked Beans (Sunniva Egan Kenny)
Organic Carrot, Red Lentil and Caraway Goulash
Our Puy Lentil and Beetroot warm salad could also be reduced to baby texture – but if it’s a first time for beetroot be prepared for the nappy!
As they grow
The marketing of separate foods for children is a relatively recent phenomenon and a pretty lucrative one judging by the supermarkets shelf space. Aside from the dubious morality of swamping children with advertising, the excessive packaging and disproportionate prices, most of the products are highly processed and only serve the purpose of developing a taste for more junkfood. Similarly, there are very few healthy choices on the Kids Menu when you eat out, and this perpetuates the fallacy of children having to eat different food to their parents. What happened to the half-sized portion of normal food?
We think our children deserve better – a taste of real natural food with all its wonderful flavours. Lifelong eating habits are established from a young age - and good ones are a gift.
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