Baby’s first vegan foods

May 19, 2010

baby food

Are vegan parents doomed to a small selection of jars? No way, says our Council!

This week’s parenting column takes a look at baby foods, specifically some of the very first solids your baby might eat, since it’s something that a lot of parents-to-be have written in about, and hey, even though they’re just doing what you tell them to, this is the point where you really start making a new vegan, really.

Do you need to rely on prepared jars of baby food? Are there things to watch out for? Does ingredient scanning for vegans start pretty much from day one?

As it turns out, a vegan-raised baby’s first foods are actually a little easier on a vegan diet, since many of the common allergens like eggs, dairy, and fish are out of the picture. The rest of the tips we got drive home the point that, like so many other things, feeding a baby isn’t a problem for vegans, or more specifically, it isn’t really a vegan problem.

Before we get to what the Council of Vegan Parents had to say, here’s a bit of stuff from Doctor Science and her band of Facts: the World Health Organization has recommended that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and then continue with breastfeeding while mixing in some foods for up to two years or more (we’ve got some stories from the Council here if you’re interested in learning more about breastfeeding.) The American Academy of Pediatrics also has some recommendations for getting started with solids that might be worth a quick glance.

So what solids work well with vegan babies? Here’s what some of the Council had to say:

Don’t stress over it

Stephanie gave this introductory advice which is really worth noting: “don’t stress. Particularly with a first child, it’s too easy to worry that you’re missing something, not giving baby the best they need, not creating enough variety or whatever. Stress is time-consuming and doesn’t serve anyone at all, so trick number one: keep it simple and low maintenance. Don’t assume a baby cares what they’re eating; it’s all new and they’re going to ooze it out their mouth in the first few instances anyway. Feeding an infant is giving them an experience, and a largely tactile-over-taste one at that.”

Rice (cereal) is nice

It seems to be a doctor-type recommendation, and lots of Council members had success with it as a first food, so here you go: baby rice cereal is an easy simple way to get started without any pesky chopping. Quinoa flakes were cited as a good second step. And can I just point out once again that this is one of those things that works for vegans and omnivores alike?

Purée, hooray

Mashed bananas, avocados, applesauce, pears, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, zucchini, lentils, rice and couscous all made our Council’s list – this is one part of life where overcooking is actually a good thing since it makes things mushy, so steam away (no, don’t cook the avocados or bananas, unless your child is into it I guess…) What else? A few parents mentioned adding silken tofu to some of the purées, soups were also a hit in some households, and hummous time is, apparently, any time :)

If you’re looking for recipes, Sarah had these suggestions: “the biggest hit was lentil stew (mashed lentils, cauliflower, and spinach tossed in a food processor). We would steam carrots and process them with peeled tomatoes, a granny smith apple and some silken tofu, and flavour it with a little ginger. Peas and spinach in the blender was also a good one.”

By the way, as an extension to our time management for parents article, Sarah also outlined her baby food preparation technique for us:

“We set aside half an hour each Sunday for food making. What we would do is cook up a bunch of lentils, rice, fruits, and vegetables, and then puree/mush them in different combinations. We would then put them in ice cube trays, label them, and freeze them. We would take out a few cubes at a time and put them in the refrigerator to thaw. We got 2 dozen clean, empty baby food jars off of Craigslist for $3 and found that to be more than enough storage for her food.”

Ice cube trays were mentioned by a few parents (both for this and in the time savers article,) so I’m starting to think of them as some kind of secret weapon…

Milk-a-mole

I’ve seen a few references to adding breast milk to some of baby’s first solids (oh yeah, one of them was in this here article,) but Amy had a fun story around the theme:

“We started out with avocados, just smooshed up, and thinned with a little breast milk, we call it milk-a-mole, rhymes with guacamole. My mom did take a taste of the milk-a-mole, then was upset she had some breast milk.”

Weird how breast milk can upset people, but cow milk is “just what’s done” for the majority of society, isn’t it? Man, don’t get me started about eggs…

Jars are cool too

Don’t get the idea from any of this that everyone’s anti-prepared foods! While the above ideas can all be made from scratch, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you keep some (preferably organic) baby food jars in the cupboard – just like convenience foods for yourself, it’s a form of contingency planning and as Stephanie put it, “bottom line is, how much is your time and sanity worth? Having jars in the cupboard is smart and can be the difference between peace and not.”

Baby-led weaning

A few Council members were either practicing or expressed an interest in baby-led weaning, so it’s worth a mention here as well. In this case, rather than smearing purées acros your baby’s face (and the walls, I’ve heard,) you let the child experiment with food using his or her own hands. Everything you’re about to read is based on Council input, which may or may not be interpretive; if you’d like to learn from the source, there’s a site for that.

Here’s a summary from Julie:

“The first thing to realize there is that “weaning” means something different in other parts of the world than it does here. In the U.S., at least, “weaning” refers to removing breast milk/formula from a baby child’s diet. In the U.K., at least, it refers to adding solid foods into the diet. So “baby-led weaning” is about the process of introducing solids, not the process of taking away the milk.

“It’s actually a pretty cool concept. The idea is that the different parts of a baby’s body develop in unison to some extent; by the time their digestive system is ready to handle solid foods, they should also have the manual dexterity to pick food up and move it into their mouth, and the oral development to not push it back out (“tongue thrust”) Practically speaking, it means that starting at 6 months, we just stuck “chip-sized” (British-ese for “steak fry-sized) chunks of whatever we were eating on M’s tray. He mostly played with it at first, but that’s ok – when they’re that little, solid foods are really more about exploring tastes and textures than about actual nutrition, anyway, and most of what he did eat ended up in his diaper more or less unchanged. Creepy, maybe, but when you see solid chunks of carrot in the diaper, you know that not much is being absorbed, nutritionally-speaking.

“Lightly steamed carrot sticks, broccoli, avocado, etc. were big hits. As he got a little bigger and better with his fingers, he liked black beans, bits of cereal, etc. Soups were ok as long as he had some bread or something to dip in them. He made a huge mess, to be sure, but we only fed him solids once a day, at dinner, and dumped him straight in the bath afterward, so it worked out. I think it did a good job of getting us in the habit early on of only making one meal for the family, and it got him exposed to a wide range of tastes and textures, which I thin can only have helped him to be open to trying and enjoying a wide variety of foods now.

“We were fairly careful to keep things like peanuts out of his food for a while, and I saved the salt for our individual plates, but otherwise there weren’t many things that were off-limits to him. Big pieces are better than small pieces because they’re easier for little fists to pick up and gnaw on, and little pieces aren’t likely to get broken off and swallowed until they’re ready. In fact, one of the BLW things I remember reading suggested that spoon-feeding a baby anything remotely chunky was far more likely to lead to choking, since you were putting things into the baby’s mouth for them and they could then inhale things that they didn’t have the developmental ability to get into their own mouths yet.”

Once again: not a vegan problem

This was a real eye-opening topic for me personally, and I almost feel like I’m gloating when I say that from the looks of things, feeding a baby his or her first solid foods might actually be easier for vegans than omnivores, thanks to a reduced number of allergens to watch for and an overall familiarity with the source ingredients from our own cooking.

What about you? Any favourite first foods from your family? We’ve focused on really early foods here, but feel free to share some later-stage recipes (we’ve gotten a number of risotto mentions, for example) in the comments!

Thanks to Amy, Julie, Elaine, Lisa, Sarah, Stephanie and Jo for their help on this one!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph May 19, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Another factor to making your own food is that your baby doesn’t become “branded” or immersed in brand culture. I’ve heard of ten month olds that won’t eat food unless it comes from the jar with the baby on the front. Yikes. Talk about raising a picky eater.

It’s all about exploration, my kid never lets me forget that.

Erin May 20, 2010 at 1:56 am

I make all my daughter’s foods and she moved to table foods very quickly. I would add that rice cereal is not a necessary step, but it can be a nice addition. When I gave my daughter rice cereal too often it seemed to constipate her pretty consistently. The “Happy Bellies” brand makes a brown rice cereal that is easy to mix in to other mashes and adds the same nutrients as your typical rice cereal but it’s made with a whole grain.
Also, I didn’t start yogurt until later, but I wish I had thought of it sooner. My daughter loves plain coconut yogurt, and I add about a teaspoon of coconut oil per half cup of yogurt. I also mix in flax oil or flax meal in with her oatmeal or other foods. To make sure she’s getting enough fats, she has at least a teaspoon of flax or coconut oil a day. She had trouble gaining weight early on, but since she’s been on solids with these oils added her weight gain has greatly improved! Now that she is on to finger foods she eats everything we eat, just with oils added or a side of avocado slices (a first food that has remained a favorite). It’s an easy way to adapt one meal for the whole family instead of making multiple meals.
Finally, I would add that if you aren’t as concerned about nut allergies, almond butter is a great source of healthy fats and calcium and can be mixed in with cereal, yams, or other mushed foods.

Rosemary May 20, 2010 at 1:27 pm

My son (almost 12 now) refused to eat any of the lovely organic pureed foods I made for him. I started trying to feed him solids at 6 months, he thought it was a hilarious game, would grab the spoons (I ended up using 3 spoons–2 extra so he would have one in each hand) and smear the food around. Very little entered his body, but he was still nursing a lot and growing like a weed.

After three months of these attempts to get him to eat purees, some of the other moms at La Leche League suggested giving him finger foods. I forget what I tried first, cubes of baked sweet potato or cubes of baked butternut squash. Whichever it was, he ate a shockingly large amount.

He still doesn’t like pureed foods. Or soup.

One mom in my LLL group had a son who was still refusing solids at 12 months, and he was perfectly healthy and happy.

Allison, The Busy (Happy!) Vegan May 20, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I made most of my daughter’s baby food, except for the cereals, until I noticed something a touch disconcerting. Many of the powdered cereals have some form of dairy in them – especially the ones for “older babies”. Just a quick comment so that vegan parents will know to check the ingredient lists – even when it just says “rice” on the front of the package!

Dalyn May 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Just a quick note about cereals: I’ve found that the easiest thing to do is just take a tablespoon or two of your chosen grain and run it through a coffee bean grinder (the one you use for spices, not coffee). Then all you have to do is add hot water or cook it with fruits/veggies for a short period of time. It cooks much faster and is easy when you’re in a hurry. We never really did rice, but millet and oatmeal are big hits in our house.

Oh, and one more thing: If you have cast iron, try to cook and heat up all your baby food in that (the extra small cast iron pan is a great size for heating up food), because it’s an easy way to add iron to baby’s diet. And, we add nutritional yeast to EVERYTHING to take care of the B’s. It’s a simple way to get some of those tricky vitamins in.

Now, if we could only get the baby to drink soy milk (which he is not interested in) since he’s almost got himself off nursing. Any suggestions for a baby (13 months) who won’t drink anything but water? He’ll eat anything, but seems to be picky about his liquids…

deva May 24, 2010 at 10:00 am

Both my kids wouldn’t try solids until they were 10 months. And even then, they preferred breast milk. They loathed mush. Since they already had a tooth or two by the time they started eating, pasta and rice were very popular with them. We never did baby food. Well, we tried, but they refused. Instead we just fed them off our plates.

It really wasn’t a big deal. Like breastfeeding, having them eat what we were eating just made life easier. We never worried about their nutrition, did not supplement them with vitamins and now they are 5 and 6.5 and total emblems of health!

Heather May 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

We did the baby-led weaning with our kiddo and it worked great! He actually started trying to grab food off my plate right about 6 months, so we let him try some.

Favorite first foods were steamed sweet potatoes, bananas, avocado, steamed green beans, apples, pears and cucumber! Once he mastered his pincer grip, black beans were a big hit. Once he was able to use a spoon on his own (right around his first birthday, loaded by us) soy yogurt and applesauce became favorites.

One tip I have for people is to use a crinkle cutter to cut up fresh fruit/veggies. Makes it easier for babe to hold onto, especially as they get them all slobbery. :-)

Carmen May 7, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Not all babies like puree and mash. My 6mo had trouble eating until 9mo when we introduced finger foods. She just wanted to feed herself. There is not much online about this so I found out the hard way, she stayed vegan the whole time though as thankfully on mumma breastmilk. I did find this just now — http://www.theveganwoman.com/baby-led-weaning-for-the-mini-vegan/ — maybe a useful resource. Thanks, Carmen the vegan mum of 3

Renee July 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Dylan, our lil’ one isn’t into Soy Milk either but Rice Milk and Almond milk are a huge hit. Rice milk is similiar in consistency and taste to breast milk so perfect step for babe. Hope this helps :)

Lisa June 6, 2014 at 9:02 am

I was vegan with the last baby before this current baby, and vegetarian with the one before that. Even then, I felt guilty about not letting my husband’s view into the picture. I trained them to eat lots of vegetqrian or vegan foods, and also to eat a bit of meat. I fed the one before this one, a lot less of the meat, and more like a vegan. He still prefers vegan and vegetarian over the stuff his dad eats, with the exception of chinese food meats. He loves my husband’s ham fried rice and sechwan chicken. He also loves eggs. He hates milk, and says no, pointing to the rice milk.

With this new baby, My plan is to raise him up vegan. Do you have tips, anyone, on how to resolve this conflict with my husband when it comes up? He does not want me to raise his kids to be vegans. I want to raise them to be vegans. This is a tough thing. It is like when one spouse has one religion and the other has a different religion!

Christina June 16, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Lisa, I almost had the same issue but my husband magically turned vegetarian two months before our son was born due to a podcast segment by Mark Passio on the religion of Carnism (Google it…I believe it’s around podcast #111?). Back when my husband was a carnivore, our agreement was that we’d raise A as a vegan until the age of 3 or so, then explain to him where meat comes from. I just figured he’d be asking by then or trying to grab things off Dad’s plate. If you’re husband is open-minded at least, try explaining to him that you simply want your children to be as healthy as possible and that your ‘mom’ instinct tells you that this is what’s right. When the child is old enough to make his own choices, you can then ask the child if he’d like the potato from the garden or the bunny. I hope your husband comes around one way or another. The most important thing is that you come to an agreement and that you don’t argue about it in front of the children, so that they don’t grow up in that kind of environment. Hopefully you’ll be able to use this as a tool for your children on how to resolve conflict and come to compromises. Hugs!

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