A growing number of commercially-prepared baby foods are suitable for vegan infants. Nevertheless, many parents opt to prepare their own baby foods. Foods should be well washed, cooked thoroughly, and blended or mashed to an appropriate consistency. Home-prepared foods can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days, or frozen in small quantities for later use.
- Infants need plenty of energy. Home-prepared cereals should be made as thick porridge and not as thin gruel. Add a little vegetable oil to the cooked grains to increase their calorie content and improve palatability by making them less glutinous as they cool.
- Use more soybean oil or rapeseed (canola) oil, and less sunflower, safflower, or corn oils. The former may encourage the production of fatty acids that are important for the development of the brain and vision.
- Do not allow infants to fill up with liquids before mealtimes.
- Spread bread with margarine fortified with D2 and B12 or with seed or nut butter to increase energy density.
- Low-salt yeast extract is a good source of vitamins and minerals.
- Well-cooked and mashed pulses provide energy and protein. Use black molasses to boost iron and calcium intakes.
- Tofu prepared with calcium salt (usually calcium sulfate) contains more calcium than cow’s milk. It is also rich in protein.
- Make sure children have access to sunshine regularly and provide vitamin D2 supplements in winter.
- Use soy milk that is fortified with calcium, vitamin D2, and vitamin B12.
Peanuts & Allergies
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend any sort of nut butter for children under 3 years. In families where there is a history of allergy, eczema, or asthma, it is recommended that peanuts and peanut products be delayed until the child is at least 3 years old.
The British Dietetic Association (June 1997) says there is no need to specifically delay the introduction of peanuts in families where there is no known allergy. Use peanuts and tree nuts of a suitable texture, such as smooth nut butter, from the age of 6 months or when weaned, but not before 4 months. Whole nuts are not recommended for the under-fives due to the risk of choking. Peanuts are a good source of calcium and protein.
In the UK, it is recommended that peanuts be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women if there is a history of allergies. It is suggested that women who are atopic (or where the father or any sibling has atopic disease) may wish to avoid peanuts in their diet to reduce the risk of their children developing peanut allergy, but this is simply precautionary as there has been no conclusive evidence.
Vegan Toddlers and Preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers, whether vegan or not, tend to eat less than most parents think they should. While nutrient needs are also relatively lower than during infancy, an adequate diet remains important to promote growth and development. These early years are also important for developing healthy eating patterns that can establish a foundation for a healthful adult diet.
Young children have small stomachs, and too much high-fiber food may make them feel full before they get all the calories they need. Foods such as avocados, nut and seed butter, dried fruits, and soy products provide a concentrated source of calories. Dried fruits are also a concentrated source of energy and are an attractive food for many children.
Children from an early age should be encouraged to brush their teeth after eating dried fruits and other sweet foods to prevent tooth decay. If necessary, the fiber content of the diet can be reduced by giving some refined grain products, fruit juices, and peeled fruits and vegetables. Eating more frequent meals, including nutritious snacks, can also help to ensure adequate energy intake.
Growth of Vegan Children
If your child’s diet contains enough calories, normal growth and development can be expected. Vegan children in the UK and the US have been found to be slightly shorter and lighter in weight than average but appeared to be growing at a normal rate.