Feeding your little one is one is a big task! The nutrients they get from food are important for brain and physical development, energy, sleep, weight, and overall wellness.
Once you add solid food into your child’s diet, you want to aim for a well-rounded plate at meals and snacks. But what if you’re considering a no-meat (red meat, poultry or fish) diet for your baby? Can they still get the nutrients they need?
Nutrition experts say yes, and we’ll get to their tips below, but remember to always consult with your pediatrician about your child’s unique needs.
Important Considerations for Vegetarian Babies and Toddlers
If you get the thumbs-up from your pediatrician for a vegetarian diet for your little one, ask for their advice about doing it right. Here are tips from experts for ensuring that your child thrives on a vegetarian diet:
Ask about regular blood screenings.
Ask about routine blood panels at well checks. Children who don’t eat meat may be at risk for certain nutrient deficiencies, such as iron and vitamin B12, which are abundant in various meats. Although many plant-based foods contain iron, the body tends to absorb iron from meat more efficiently. Other than meat, vitamin B12 generally comes from dairy, eggs, and fortified foods.
Don’t underestimate breastmilk and formula.
Breastmilk naturally contains nearly every vitamin and mineral your baby needs, and formula comes fortified with them. Remember that one or a combination of these should be your child’s primary source of nutrition for their first year.
Be mindful of protein.
Protein is an especially important part of a child’s diet. It’s abundant in meat, so removing meat from mealtimes means careful planning to be sure you’re adding healthy protein-rich substitutes.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), protein-rich foods like almond or peanut butter, beans and eggs, are quality vegetarian substitutes. And while older advice cautioned parents to delay introducing common allergenic foods like peanut butter, newer research shows that introducing them at the very beginning of your child’s solid food journey may actually prevent allergies to those foods.
Consider the help of a dietician.
Because it’s so important to be sure your vegetarian baby or toddler is getting all of the nutrients they need, you might consider consulting with a pediatric dietician.
Pediatric dieticians are well-versed in all areas of child nutrition, and some may even specialize in vegetarian diets. Sometimes even one session can help you better understand how to plan well-rounded meals for your little one’s specific needs.
Healthy eating habits start early! By feeding your vegetarian child a well-balanced mix of the foods they need, they can thrive and learn how to make good food choices. Head over to this article for more baby and toddler nutrition tips, and be sure to browse the live classes in the BabySparks app for classes led by top pediatric nutrition experts.