If you’re a vegetarian or you want to wean on a meat-free diet, then Annabel Karmel has some top tips for making sure your baby gets all the nutrients they need
“Weaning trends have changed considerably over the years. Many of us have become more conscious of what we eat ourselves, as well as what we feed our children.
“If you are setting out to wean your baby on a vegetarian diet or want to try a vegetarian lifestyle then this is absolutely do-able. However if you do cut out a whole food group, it is important to find suitable substitutes. You need to be extra careful and ensure that your baby’s diet is well balanced, with all the critical nutrients required for their long-term development.”
Where do I start?
“The good news is that for the first six months of your baby’s life they will naturally get most of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need from their regular milk.
“Once first tastes have been accepted from around six months, babies are growing at a rapid rate and certain nutrients are essential for their development. At this stage you would typically start to introduce meat, poultry, and fish. This is when you will need to look for alternative sources of iron, protein, zinc, and vitamin B12 for your baby.
“Foods such as tofu or beans and pulses (including lentils), dairy products, eggs, green leafy vegetables (like broccoli and spinach) and fortified breakfast cereals are all great foods to include on the menu for your little one.”
What nutrients do I need to look out for?
Protein, iron and zinc
“These three critical nutrients are a must in your baby’s diet. With a meat-free weaning diet they will need two to three portions of vegetable protein (found in dairy, eggs, beans, soya and pulses) or nuts*(finely ground or smooth nut butters) every day to ensure that they are getting enough protein and iron. You will need to monitor this closely as a lack of these nutrients can lead to anaemia if not addressed from the start.
“In order for your baby to absorb non-meat sources of iron such as lentils and leafy green vegetables, you will need to combine these with vitamin C which helps boost iron absorption. You can add this into their diet with vitamin C-rich fruits such as strawberries or satsumas in the same meal.
“Eggs are an excellent source of protein and also contain iron and zinc. Under new government guidelines, it is now safe to introduce runny and soft-boiled eggs to babies from six months. Just be sure to look out for the red British Lion stamp. Often referred to as ‘nature’s multivitamin’, eggs are extremely versatile and make the perfect base for countless healthy meals or snacks. Try cooking up an omelette, scrambled eggs, mini tartlets or some frittata squares. Then get creative with nutritious toppings and fillings.”
“While a low-fat, high-fibre diet is good for adults, too many high-fibre foods can deplete your baby’s vital nutrients. This could hinder iron absorption, so go easy on high-fibre cereals.”
“Babies need proportionately more fat in their diet than adults, so always make sure you choose full-fat rather than low fat-dairy products for your little one if they are under the age of two. Adding grated Cheddar cheese or Parmesan to purées is a great way of getting those much-needed calories and nutrients into your baby’s diet. Plus, it is a tasty secret ingredient to include when introducing them to slightly bitter flavours such as kale and spinach.
“Provided there is no family history of allergy, you can also introduce peanut butter from six months. This is a good source of protein, B vitamins, iron, folic acid and fibre. It is also a good source of essential fats which help support cognitive development.
“You will need to include plenty of vegetarian sources of essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular are essential for cognitive development and can be found in oily fish including salmon. You can also find these fatty acids in eggs but as these may not make up the full requirement, you may want to consider giving your baby a supplement.”
“Vitamin B12 is needed for healthy red blood cells, your baby’s nervous system, and healthy growth and development. Eggs and dairy produce are both good sources.”
“Dairy is an important source of calcium, vital for teeth and bone growth. It’s also a good source of protein.”
*Please note, it is not safe to give children under five whole nuts as they could choke – grind nuts finely or offer smooth nut butters. As long as there’s no history of food allergies or other allergies in your family, you can give your baby peanuts once they’re 6 months old, as long as they’re crushed or ground into peanut butter. Please visit the NHS website for more information.
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The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.