Today I’m sharing easy vegan baby food recipes that I developed to try baby led weaning as a way to feed my baby daughter. These plant-based recipes make perfect first solid foods for babies that are 6 months and older. Check them out if you’re raising a vegan or a vegetarian baby!
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First off, let’s get this straight: Is it OK for babies to eat a vegan diet?
Here’s what the US-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says on the subject:
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
Since I went vegan in 2013, I knew that I wanted to raise my future children vegan as well.
Every now and then I read articles about raising vegan kids, browsed through vegan and vegetarian parenting blogs and Instagram accounts in search of vegan baby food recipes and parenting inspiration.
I tried to map out my future approach to various challenges that vegan kids and parents face.
Of course, the number one challenge is, “What the heck do I feed my kid every day?” (Although I have a hunch that vegan parents are not the only ones who deal with this challenge 🙂 )
From the beginning, I exclusively breastfed baby J whenever she wanted to eat (I understand that not everybody can do this, so no judgment here). By the way, I have a separate post about my vegan breastfeeding experience.
At around six months, we started introducing solid foods.
Initially, I had my mind set on trying baby-led weaning (BLW) – the approach that implies babies feeding themselves whatever the rest of the family is eating instead being spoon-fed specially prepared mushy foods (there are a few important points to keep in mind, see below).
Baby-led weaning has a variety of benefits, and it’s very popular in the vegan parenting world. There’s a lot of information about BLW on the official website. If you’re looking for vegan-centric baby-led weaning tips and recipes, this book by Cathleen Woods can help.
At six months, baby J’s self-feeding skills weren’t well developed yet, so for the first couple weeks I fed her the standard baby oatmeal cereal or steamed and mashed veggies mixed with breast milk.
Eventually, her dexterity improved enough that she was able to hold some foods and feed herself.
Little by little, I introduced new foods, some of which were an instant hit (broccoli – can you believe it?!), and others took a few tries (carrots).
I knew that it was going to be a while before baby J is ready to eat most of the things Rob and I regularly eat (think salads, veggie burgers, spicy things like buffalo cauliflower, etc. – those flavors and textures can be too advanced for a baby).
So I started doing research to find out what other vegan parents were feeding their kids.
I found a lot of ideas for vegan baby-led weaning on Instagram (the #veganbabyledweaning hashtag is very useful), but most of the foods I saw were meant for kids older than baby J.
So what the heck do I feed to a mostly toothless vegan baby who’s not even a year old yet?
Eventually, after some trial and error, I came up with a few simple vegan and vegetarian-friendly recipes that included the same foods and flavors we eat a lot, but in textures that baby J could manage under our supervision.
I’ve figured that a lot of vegan parents must be going through the same headache – actually, not only vegans but anyone who’s trying to introduce some veggies to their little ones. So today I’m sharing my plant-based baby food recipes that baby J has loved since she was about 7 months old.
If you’re looking for vegan food ideas for older kids, see my post about what my vegan toddler eats in a day as a 2 year-old, plus check out these 15 kid friendly vegan recipes from the blog that she loves.
Things to Keep In Mind about Vegan Baby Food Recipes:
For all of baby J’s foods, I follow a few guidelines that also align with the rules of baby-led weaning:
– Cut all the holdable foods in pieces about the size of an adult pinkie finger, and have a soft texture (think easily mashed between two of your fingers);
– Prepare all foods with no salt or sodium added (babies’ bodies aren’t very good at eliminating sodium yet).
– Watch for allergies! With each new food, I wait 2-3 days to make sure baby J doesn’t develop an allergic reaction before introducing something else.
– Replicate the flavors that are common in your cooking. For cooked savory foods, I add the same mixture of spices that I use a lot in my cooking (think cumin, mild paprika, thyme, oregano, granulated garlic and onion, and sometimes turmeric or mild curry powder). By adding these spices to baby J’s foods, I want to get her used to the overall flavors of our home-cooked meals.
– Important for all caregivers: learn the difference between choking and gagging! Before introducing any solid foods to a baby, all caregivers need to learn the difference between those, and research ways to help a choking baby (there are lots of tutorials on YouTube).
Our introduction of solids to baby J started with dinner at 6 months. Then we added lunch at 7.5 months, and breakfast just after 10 months.
Most meals are a combination of 2-3 things from the list below, plus some soft fruit or halved blueberries every now and then. Baby J still breastfeeds 4-5 times a day in addition to that.
More vegan food ideas: 40 vegan snacks for kids that are suitable for children from age 2 and up.
A few nutrition rules for vegan children (6 months and beyond)
Here are the general guidelines that make sure your vegan kid gets everything they need for optimal growth and development.
These rules apply from the time babies first start eating solid foods and continue into later stages of childhood.
1. Ensure that your child’s diet includes a wide variety of foods. The more varied the diet, the more nutrients it delivers to your child. Plus, different foods expose kids to different flavors – who knows which new favorite they may find?
2. Keep an eye on the important nutrients that can be tricky to find in plant-based diets: vitamins B12 and D, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids.
|NUTRIENT||WHERE TO FIND IT|
|Vitamin B12||Fortified nutritional yeast; fortified soy and almond milk; nori seaweed. Most reliable source: supplementation|
|Vitamin D||Fortified plant-based milk; fortified juice (for kids over 12 months). Most reliable source: sunshine.|
|Iron||Blackstrap molasses; lentils; chickpeas; kale; pumpkin seeds (as pumpkin seed butter); hemp seeds; dried apricots|
|Calcium||Fortified plant-based milk; dark leafy greens; sesame seeds and tahini; calcium-set tofu|
|Omega 3 & 9 Fatty Acids||Seaweed, algae, spirulina; flax and flaxseed oil; hemp; chia seeds; kidney beans; navy beans; black beans. Most reliable source: supplementation with an algae-derived supplement|
3. Make sure your vegan child eats a good amount of calorie-dense foods. Kids have small stomachs and big energy needs. Make sure to offer plenty of foods that contain higher amount of calories per serving.
Comparison: 1 oz avocado has 45 calories; 1 oz of apples has 15 calories. Avocado will deliver more calories = more energy for growth.
More info about feeding babies a calorie-dense diet can be found here (heads up: the article includes non-vegan foods).
4. Keep an eye on your child’s fiber intake. This rule dovetails with the previous one. Fiber is essential for promoting healthy digestion, but it also takes up a lot of room in our stomachs. This may be is nice for us adults (we get fuller while eating fewer calories).
However, if small kids eat a lot of high-fiber foods in a single meal, they may get full before taking in enough calories.
TL;DR: Fiber is great, just don’t go overboard with it when feeding your baby.
5. Provide foods that are good sources of fats. Babies need a higher proportion of fat in their diet compared to adults. Fat is needed for overall growth, and is especially important for proper development of baby brain and nervous system.
It is not a good idea to restrict calories and fat for the purpose of weight loss in babies and kids under 2 years of age (source).
6. Offer protein, but not too much. Protein is important for growing muscle and organs. However, our protein-obsessed culture may make you think that we need to load up our kids’ diet with protein, or else they’ll fall apart.
Interestingly, American Academy of Pediatrics says that the optimal amount of protein for babies from 7 to 12 months is only 11 grams a day. For toddlers it’s only 13 grams a day (source).
These numbers are easier to hit than you may think: a single cup of plain cooked pasta contains 7 grams of protein.
Also see: 20 vegan lunchbox ideas for school or daycare (with real examples of what I pack for my own toddler!).
7 Vegan Baby Food Recipes
Scroll to the bottom of this post to find all these recipes in a printable recipe card format.
1. Blanched Vegetables Dipped in Tahini
Note: The age shown after each recipe is the age we first tried giving that food to baby J. I’m sure other babies can have different abilities and food preferences at that age.
Broccoli, zucchini and carrots have been baby J’s favorite veggies. I cut an average-sized broccoli floret in quarters so that each piece has a long enough stem for baby J to hold.
How I make this: I cut carrots and zucchini into pinkie-sized sticks. In a shallow pan, I bring about half an inch of water to a boil, then add the vegetables.
Next, I cover the pan with a lid, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook the veggies – 2 minutes for broccoli and zucchini, 8-10 minutes for carrots.
Baby J loves holding the cooked veggies and feeding herself. By the way, tahini is optional.
Yield: 1 meal’s worth (depending on how much veggies you cooked)
Age: 6+ months
2. Steamed Potatoes/Sweet Potatoes
Potatoes are a perfect mashable and/or holdable food with lots of nutrients, healthy starches and fiber.
I slice a potato into half an inch-thick circles, steam them until fork-tender, then cool them slightly and cut into sticks. Another perfect food for baby J to hold and feed herself.
I refrigerate the leftovers and offer them to her again next day. By the way, steaming works well for cooking broccoli, zucchini and carrots too.
Yield: 2-3 meals.
Age: 6.5+ months.
3. Mashed Banana and Nut Butter* with Ground Flax Seed
This mixture has been baby J’s favorite lunch (and mine too because it’s so easy to make) since about 7.5 months when I first introduced peanut butter.
How I make this: I mash half of a ripe banana with about a tablespoon of nut butter and a teaspoon of ground flax seed for a boost of omega-3 fatty acids. We’ve had success with peanut, almond and cashew butters.
If the mixture is too thick, I thin it out with some water, non-dairy milk or pumped breast milk if I have it. This is one of the foods that I spoon-feed to baby J right now.
Yield: 1 meal
Age: 7+ months
*Not sure about when to introduce nuts to your baby? “According to a recent recommendation from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, highly allergenic foods like nuts can be introduced into infants’ diets as early as six months … [S]ome research shows that introducing them early may reduce the risk of children becoming allergic to these foods later in life.” (Source) However, please consult with your pediatrician if you have further concerns.
4. Easy “Cheesy” Polenta
This was one of the first holdable foods I offered to baby J.
Freshly cooked polenta is soft enough for spoon-feeding, but when it cools, you can slice it into sticks or cubes that are easy for babies to pick up and hold. Nutritional yeast gives it a slightly cheesy flavor and adds vitamin B12.
How I make this: I bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add 1/2 cup dried polenta, and cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, adding a few more splashes of water or non-dairy milk when it becomes too thick early on.
The mixture needs to be stirred often to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot.
A few minutes before polenta is done, I add 2-3 Tbsp of nutritional yeast (yay to the vitamin B12 boost!) and my spice mix (see Things to Keep In Mind above) – dosage varies, but usually about 1/2 tsp each.
Once the polenta is ready, it can be spoon-fed to your baby as is, or poured into a rimmed glass dish, cooled for up to an hour, and sliced into sticks or whatever shapes your baby fancies.
Yield: 4-5 meals (I don’t let it sit in the fridge for longer than 4 days)
Age: 6.5+ months
5. Curried Lentil Stew
Lentils are a good source of plant protein, fiber, iron, potassium and other nutrients. I use red lentils here because they break down to an almost smooth, lump-free consistency (read: less of a choking hazard than other types of lentils that mostly remain whole during cooking).
How I make this: I cook 1/2 cup of red lentils in about 3 cups of water for 10 minutes until the lentils start breaking down.
Then I add 1 Tbsp of tomato paste or sauce (whatever I have in the fridge) and a few spices from my spice mix (see Things to Keep In Mind above).
If the stew looks too thick, I add a little more water. I let everything cook for another 5 minutes or so, then mix in 2-3 Tbsp of nutritional yeast and take the pot off the heat.
Yield: 3-4 meals
Age: 7.5+ months
If you want to make sure your kids grow up eating and loving vegetables, check out my post with 10 tips for how to get toddlers to eat veggies (hint: you gotta start early!)
6. Tofu Scramble
Tofu is a good source of protein, plus the texture of a simple tofu scramble is perfect for a voracious little eater.
How I make this: I pat-dry a quarter of a standard block of tofu (firm or extra-firm). In a small pan, I heat up 1 Tbsp of oil (or use water for oil-free), then add crumbled up tofu, add a few splashes of water and a few spices from my spice mix (see Things to Keep In Mind above).
I also mix in 1/2 tsp of Dijon mustard and 1-2 Tbsp of nutritional yeast. I let the tofu scramble simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates.
Note: If I have time, I’ll sauté finely chopped onions, shredded carrots and/or bell peppers in the oil first before adding tofu, then proceed with the rest of the steps. Yay for extra veggies and flavor!
Yield: 2-3 meals
Age: 8+ months
7. Chickpea Flour Omelet
I’ve been wary of offering whole beans to baby J for now, but I don’t want to skip their nutritional value. Enter the versatile chickpea flour!
How I make this: I mix 1/2 cup of chickpea flour with my spice mix (see Things to Keep In Mind above), a pinch of baking soda, a squeeze of lemon or lime, and just enough water to form a thick batter – think hummus rather than regular pancake batter.
Then I finely chop some veggies that break down well during cooking (zucchini and shredded cabbage work well).
I heat up 1 tsp of oil in a small pan, then pour in the chickpea mixture and even it out to reach 1/2 – 3/4 inch thickness.
I cover the pan, letting the omelet cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes, then flip it and cook it another 2-3 minutes.
The cooked omelet will look like a thick pancake. At this point, you can either tear it up into small pieces by hand, or cut it into sticks or any other fancy shapes that your baby likes.
Yield: 2-3 meals (the omelet keeps in the fridge for 1-2 days)
Age: 9+ months
I know that all this can look pretty overwhelming, but please bear in mind that I don’t make each of these recipes every day. I usually make a batch of polenta, lentils or tofu scramble once every 3 days or so, then add some blanched veggies as I go.
I also try to offer baby J whatever foods we’re eating if they are appropriate in texture and aren’t overly salty. If all else fails, she’s happy to eat sliced banana with a smear of peanut butter, which has also become her favorite breakfast.
See also: 40 vegan snacks for kids.
Question for you: What homemade vegan baby foods have you had success with while feeding your baby? Please let me know – I’d love to expand our repertoire!
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