Introducing your baby to their first foods is an exciting yet often question-riddled time.
Despite what you may hear in the media, it is possible to feed your baby a vegan diet from the get-go, in a balanced, nutrient-rich way.
That said, tiny humans have different nutritional requirements than adults. So it’s important to make sure that you offer your vegan baby the right foods, in the right combinations.
If you’re planning to feed your baby a vegan diet, I strongly encourage you to speak to a registered dietitian specializing in plant-based diets first, just to make sure that you’ve got all of the basics covered.
If you can’t find one near you, feel free to shoot me a message by using this contact form.
But to get you started, this article shares the 3-step formula I used, as a registered dietitian, when introducing my vegan baby to her first foods.
What baby food should you start with?
There are a few categories you should pay special attention to when picking the best first foods for your baby.
Iron helps carry oxygen through the body and is especially important for the development of your baby’s brain and immune system.
Babies are born with a specific amount of iron stored in their bodies. Their size is influenced by various factors, but generally-speaking, iron stores start running low around 6 months of age for most babies.
Luckily, this happens to coincide with the age at which most babies are developmentally ready to begin eating solids.
Babies who fail to get enough iron at this time can develop iron deficiency, which, if left untreated, can progress to iron deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency can be identified by a blood test and comes accompanied by with symptoms like paleness, irritability, poor appetite and delayed growth and development.
However, these symptoms happen on a continuum, and may not become obvious until the deficiency progresses to iron deficiency anemia (1).
Iron deficiency anemia is a severe form of iron deficiency which can cause developmental delays that are not fully reversible, even once iron levels return to normal (2).
Therefore, offering iron-rich options as your baby’s first foods should be a priority.
Babies develop at lightning-speeds and need to eat enough calories to support their rapid growth. However, the amount of food they can eat is limited by the size of their small stomachs.
Energy-dense foods are an easy way to offer a lot of calories for a small volume. The foods most dense in energy tend to be rich in fat, because this nutrient provides more than double the amount of calories per gram as protein and carbs.
To meet their nutrient needs, babies require a higher percentage of calories from fat than adults do (3).
Therefore, it’s important to include enough fat in your baby’s diet. Vegan foods naturally rich in fat include avocados, ground coconut, hummus, olives, nuts, seeds and their butters as well as vegetable oils.
Fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can find and make a good contribution to your baby’s daily nutrient needs.
Foods rich in vitamin C are especially important on a vegan diet, because they help absorb the iron found in plant foods more easily. That’s why it’s a good idea to try adding a vitamin C-rich food to most meals or snacks (6).
That said, fruits and vegetables tend to be rich in water and fiber, and don’t typically offer many calories.
Filling up on fruits and vegetables can fill up your baby’s stomach on very little calories. It may also cause them to eat a smaller quantity of other iron-rich or calorie-rich foods, making it difficult for them to meet their daily calorie needs.
So make sure not to offer large quantities of fruits and vegetables at the detriment of other, more energy-dense foods.
In sum Iron-rich, energy-rich and nutrient-rich foods constitute the three categories you should keep in mind when picking the best first foods to give your vegan baby.
How long should I wait before introducing a new food to my baby?
The old school-method of introducing foods suggested you introduce one food at a time and wait a few days before introducing the next.
However, newer research shows there’s no advantage to using this slow food-introduction method for most foods and with most babies (7).
The only foods that can benefit from being introduced one at a time are allergenic foods such as peanuts, sesame, soy, tree nuts and wheat.
These should be offered one at a time, ideally in the morning, to give you the opportunity to monitor for allergic reactions throughout the day.
Most babies are most receptive to trying new foods between 6-12 months of age. And the more flavors and textures you introduce to your baby early on, the likelier they will be to accept these foods later in life (4, 5).
Unnecessarily adding a buffer period between each new food can reduce the number of new foods you are able to introduce within this time-frame (4).
Preterm babies, those with a family history of allergies or with severe eczema should get tailored advice from their doctor or allergist (7).
In sum Allergenic foods should be introduced one at a time, ideally in the morning. Otherwise, most foods can be introduced in combination with others, and require no further delays for most babies.
How often should I breastfeed or formula feed while weaning?
When introducing foods to your little one, breastmilk, formula, or a mix of the two should remain their main source of calories.
This means that you should start by offering solids as an addition, rather than a replacement to milk feedings. As your little one begins to eat more solids, they will naturally drink less milk.
If you’re breastfeeding, it’s important that your diet remains well-balanced. It should also contain a reliable source of long-chain omega-3s, iodine, choline and B12, as your intake of these nutrients will directly impact how much your baby will receive through breastmilk.
If you’re formula-feeding, make sure that your formula contains these important nutrients.
You can experiment with offering milk feedings prior to or after meals, depending on what works best for your baby.
Offering milk feedings before meals can allow the time needed for babies to slowly develop their feeding skills without feeling overly frustrated by hunger.
On the other hand, some babies are more motivated to try new foods when feeling a little hungry. In which case, topping up a meal with a milk feeding may work best.
In sum Breastmilk or formula should remain the main source of calories. At first, try offering milk feedings before or after each meal or snack. The more solids your baby eats, the less milk they will naturally drink.
The 3-step formula to introducing solids to vegan babies
Here’s the 3-step formula you can use to pick the best first foods for your vegan baby.
- Start by picking an iron-rich food. For instance, beans, peas, ground nuts or seeds, or iron-rich fruits and veggies.
- Add an energy-dense food. Such as avocado, hummus, olives or ground coconut flakes.
- Top it off with a nutrient-rich food. For instance fruits and/or vegetables, ideally also rich in vitamin C, as these will help boost the absorption of iron from the iron-rich foods (6).
You can download a free printable list of the best first foods for your baby above. I’ve split them by category so you can easily pick one from each when building your baby’s meals.
In sum A great combination of first foods for your baby should consist of an iron-rich food together with an energy-dense food and a nutrient-rich food.
Vegan baby food recipes
Here are a few examples of weaning meals you can build using this 3-step formula.
These meals and snacks are best suited for a baby-led weaning approach to solids introduction. But you can also purée them together, if you prefer.
- Banana rolled in ground almonds and coconut flakes.
- Oatmeal topped with flaxseeds, coconut flakes and thawed berries.
- Toasted bread topped with a thin layer of peanut butter and blackstrap molasses and a sprinkle of hempseeds. Serve with a side of sliced kiwis.
- Whole wheat pancakes made with coconut milk and chia seed and topped with mashed strawberries.
- Full fat coconut yoghurt topped with wheat germ and sliced tangerines.
Lunch or Dinner
- Mashed black beans, hummus and slices of baked sweet potato.
- Toasted bread topped with a layer of hummus and shredded carrots or red cabbage.
- Shredded spinach mixed in with mashed avocado and hempseeds and served with a side of marinated tempeh.
- Scrambled tofu served with baked potato, tomato slices and a sprinkle of flaxseeds.
- Chickpea flour pancakes topped with hummus and minced bell peppers.
- Whole wheat pasta in a tofu and tomato sauce topped with ground pumpkin seeds.
- Black bean burger with a side of avocado slices and steamed broccoli.
- Butternut and kidney bean chilli with a side of crispy kale chips.
- Red lentil Dahl made with full fat coconut milk, broccoli and carrots and served on brown rice.
- Spiralized zucchini topped with a lentil bolognese sauce and rinsed olives.
- Creamy white bean and pumpkin soup served with sliced toasted whole grain bread.
- Full fat coconut yoghurt topped with sesame seeds and thawed berries.
- Rhubarb compote topped with ground pistachios and ground coconut.
- Baked potato slices served with a black bean dip and a cashew sour cream.
- Chia pudding topped with sliced tangerines.
- Mango and spinach smoothie with ground flaxseeds.
- Slices of peanut butter and banana in a whole wheat tortilla wrap.
In the begining, you may want to only offer a few individual foods, in small amounts and soft, non-sticky textures. However, as your baby gets more comfortable with eating, you can start offering family-style mixed meals.
In sum The meals above contain energy- and nutrient-rich combinations suited for use as a baby’s first foods.
To sum it up
It is definitely possible to feed your baby a vegan diet from the get-go, as long as you keep a few pointers in mind.
The best first foods for your baby should be rich in iron, energy, vitamins and minerals and the 3-step formula outlined above should help you construct meals and snacks rich in these nutrients.
For more ideas of which foods fall under each category, feel free to download the printable list of the 76 best starter foods for your vegan baby which I’ve inserted above.
That said, if you’re planning on feeding your baby a vegan diet, I strongly encourage you to speak to a registered dietitian specializing in plant-based diets first, just to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered.