Is a vegan diet healthy for babies and toddlers? Experts say yes! But veganism can be tricky to navigate, even as adults, so it’s extra important to pay close attention to your child’s diet to ensure they’re getting all of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need during a time of rapid growth. We’ve collected tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other experts to keep in mind, but the number-one thing to start with is talking to your pediatrician or a pediatric registered dietician (RD). Nutrition is critical for little, growing bodies, so professional guidance is essential when it comes to ensuring that vegan babies and toddlers thrive.
Important Considerations for Vegan Babies and Toddlers
According to the experts, here’s what you need to focus on to ensure your vegan baby or toddler gets all the nutrients they need.
Breastfeeding and Formula
Vegan breastfeeding moms need to keep in mind that their own reserves of vitamin B12 may be low, which can, in turn, lead to a B12 deficiency in their baby. For parents who choose formula-feeding, vegan options are steadily increasing; however, it’s important to note that many plant-based formulas may contain common allergenic foods, such as soy, so it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of food allergies or sensitivities. Whether you breastfeed or formula-feed, you may need to provide more frequent feedings during infancy and weaning, to fill in any gaps in their diet.
Iron is a nutrient that serves a few critical functions – most notably, the body uses it to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the entire body. Because animal meat is one of the richest sources of iron, it’s very important to be sure vegan babies get iron from other sources when they start eating solid food. Some plant-based sources of iron include fortified baby cereal, beans, tofu, broccoli, and kale (all of which can be pureed, if needed).
Vitamin B12 is essential to nerve and blood cell health. It helps make DNA, and also prevents a type of anemia that can lead to fatigue and weakness. B12 is one of the most common deficiencies associated with veganism. As we mentioned above, vegan breastfeeding moms need to ensure that they’re getting enough vitamin B12 to pass on to their babies. Your pediatrician or RD may recommend giving your baby B12 supplements as well.
With vegan diets, it can be easy to skimp on protein, especially when toddlers hit the picky-eating stage! High-quality plant-based sources of protein include:
- Almond and peanut butter (whole almonds or peanuts are a choking hazard for babies and toddlers – and remember, new food allergy data shows that you DO NOT need to delay introducing almonds and peanuts to your baby)
- Flax and hemp seeds
Calcium, Zinc & Vitamin D
Other common deficiencies for vegans include calcium, zinc and vitamin D. You can increase your little one’s intake by regularly including these foods:
- Calcium: calcium-fortified plant milk, beans, broccoli, kale
- Zinc: zinc-fortified foods, beans, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, potatoes
- Vitamin D: zinc-fortified foods, mushrooms, supplements
In addition to carefully planning your child’s vegan meals, your pediatrician or registered dietician may recommend routine blood tests to check nutrient levels.