A vegetarian diet

A vegetarian diet

It’s possible to have a healthy well-nourished infant or child who eats a vegetarian diet if care is taken.

Is a vegetarian diet adequate for babies?

Many people choose to follow a vegetarian diet. It’s possible to have a healthy well-nourished infant or child who eats a vegetarian diet if care is taken.

What first foods?

At first, a vegetarian baby's feeding will be similar to any other infant – breastmilk or infant formula and first foods such as iron fortified baby cereal, vegetables and fruit.

As the variety of foods your baby is eating increases try introducing some of the following: mashed tofu, bean spreads, thinly spead nut and seed butters (but not whole nuts and seeds), mashed avocado and cooked chopped dried fruit.

What nutrients are vegetarian babies and children at risk of missing out from?

Important nutrients that need consideration in vegetarian and vegan diets include energy, protein, iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12.

Energy intake

Babies and children on vegetarian diets are more likely to have an inadequate energy intake. Many vegetarian foods are bulky and babies' and children's stomachs may be too small to hold all the food they need for activity and growth.

Serve small meals often from foods appropriate for your baby's age.

Iron

Vegetarian children need food with iron such as legumes (cooked lentils and cooked dried beans), cereals and green leafy vegetables. The iron in plants (non-haem) is in a different form to the iron in meat (haem). The body can’t use non-haem iron as easily. Eating foods that are high in vitamin C at meal and snack times helps the body to absorb more non-haem iron.

If your baby is having a vegetarian diet, you might like to talk about their diet with your Well Child nurse. You could also talk to your doctor or nurse about seeing a dietitian for further advice. You can also contact the New Zealand Vegetarian Society for information, advice and support. If you plan a vegetarian diet well, you will be able to look after your baby's nutrition needs, making sure your baby gets all the vitamins and minerals they need, such as iron and vitamin B12.

New Zealand Vegetarian Society website

This page last reviewed 09 June 2013.
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