While it’s more difficult to get the balance of essential nutrients and energy in a vegetarian diet, it’s not impossible with careful planning. You can still give baby all the nutrients they need, just be aware that some vegetarian diets can be low in iron, vitamin B12, protein, calcium and also zinc. So this is something you need to be very careful with because your baby needs these nutrients.
A Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which includes dairy, eggs, as well as plant based foods is generally a better choice for baby than a purely plant based diet (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.
It’s a good idea to consult your GP or well child or Plunket nurse to make sure you have all the right information. Below is some information on some common vegetarian foods:
Iron - Plant foods contain iron, although it’s not as well absorbed as iron from meat, chicken and fish. Legumes and fortified baby cereals are first foods containing iron. From around 8 months introduce green veges like spinach, silverbeet and broccoli. Giving your baby foods containing vitamin C in the same meal will help them to absorb iron. Apple, potato and pumpkin are some fruit and veges that are good sources of vitamin C.
Fortified foods - baby cereals are fortified with iron, like Wattie's Rice Cereal, Farex Baby Rice, or Farex Pear and Banana Baby Rice. It’s an easy way to add iron to your baby’s diet and you should include baby cereals for the first year.
Dairy products – from around seven months you can offer yoghurt, custard, cheese, and milk can be used on cereal. These foods contain plenty of protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Remember your baby’s main drink will still be breast milk or formula until 12 months.
Meat Alternatives – to begin with, legumes (cooked dried peas, beans and lentils) are a good source of protein and can be offered as a first food. Eggs and tofu are high in protein and are suitable from around 7 months, and smooth peanut butter or other nut butters can be offered around 8 months onwards
Breast milk – if you aren’t fully breastfeeding your baby, you need to use a suitable infant formula for at least the first 12 months. Don’t give your baby any unmodified cow’s milk, goat’s milk, soy milk, rice milk or nut milk as a main milk drink under 12 months. These milks are not nutritionally suitable and lack the energy and nutrients baby needs.