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 parenting blogs and Instagram accounts, trying 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). 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 and in this book (not 100% vegan FYI).
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).
Curried lentil stew, blanched broccoli and zucchini (plus vegan Jambalaya for me on the bottom)
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 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.
Sliced fresh peach, mashed avocado with nutritional yeast, tofu scramble with onions and peppers
Things to Keep In Mind:
For all of baby J’s foods, I follow a few guidelines that also align with the rules of baby-led weaning:
– All the holdable foods need to be cut in pieces about the size of an adult pinkie finger, and have a soft texture (think easily mashed between two of your fingers);
– All of the foods are prepared with no salt or sodium added (babies’ bodies aren’t very good at eliminating sodium yet);
– With each new food, I wait 2-3 days to make sure baby J doesn’t develop an allergic reaction before introducing something else;
– For cooked savory foods, I add the same mixture of spices that I use a lot in my cooking (think cumin, 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: Before introducing any solid foods to a baby, all caregivers need to learn the difference between choking and gagging, 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.
7 Plant-Based Baby Food Recipes
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.
1. Blanched vegetables dipped in tahini. 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. Carrots and zucchini are cut into pinkie-sized sticks. In a shallow pan, I bring about half an inch of water to a boil, then add the vegetables, cover the pan with a lid, lower to heat and let simmer for 3-5 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
Chickpea flour omelet torn into small pieces, halved blueberries, steamed sweet potatoes
2. Steamed potatoes/sweet potatoes. Potatoes are a perfect mashable and/or holdable food with lots of nutrients, healthy starches and fiber. To steam them, I use my Cuisinart steamer insert similar to this one. 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. To 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. Spiced 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. To make it, 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
Spiced polenta sticks, blanched carrots and zucchini with tahini dip on the side
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). To make this stew, 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
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. To make this scramble, 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 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 saute 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
Baby J is enjoying her chickpea flour omelet crumbles and sweet potato sticks
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! To make this omelet, 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 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.
Question for you: What foods have you been successful feeding to your baby? Please let me know – I’d love to expand our repertoire!
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