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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!

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This week’s question was from the Council, to the Council:

“One of our Council members was wondering about baby formula: it appears that there aren’t any vegan versions out there, at least where she lives, since the vitamin D is derived from lanolin (wool) in all of the otherwise vegan varieties. Is anyone aware of a vegan brand that might have been missed, and if not, or in addition to it, what are some alternatives you’ve used or considered?”

OK, before we get to the Council’s advice, here’s the basics from our research on the internet: as of the time of this writing (March 2010,) there are no fully vegan infant formulas.

The only ones that comes up online at all are a brand called Farley’s and Heinz’s Nurture line’s Soya product, both of which were offered in the UK. Both appear to have been Vegan Society approved, but that’s because they’re the same product: Heinz bought Farley’s.

Before those of you outside the UK start calculating what are sure to be insane shipping fees, we’ve got some more bad news: unfortunately, it appears that as of February 2010, the line has been discontinued.

So what’s a vegan parent to do if breastfeeding isn’t an option?

Do your best

Julie had this to say on the matter: “I’m not aware of any vegan formulas, and I’m pretty sure the conclusion in Raising Vegetarian Children is that there aren’t any (or at least there weren’t at the time that the book was published.)

“We’ve been fortunate to never need formula, since both of our kids seem to be champion nursers, but if we found ourselves in a situation where we needed it, I think this would fall pretty easily in the ‘do the best we can’ category, meaning I’d be more than willing to overlook the non-vegan vitamin D if that’s what it took to be able to feed my kid. They can’t grow up to be world-influencingly awesome vegans themselves if they don’t get the nutrition they need as babies, so one way or another their survival and thriving is my top priority.”

Examine other breastfeeding options

I’m no expert on the subject, but as Linda writes, there are people who are. Consult with a local La Leche League group or the IBCLC to see if there are ways to overcome whatever’s preventing you from breastfeeding.

I’m already well outside my areas of knowledge (thank you Council!) and this takes things even further, but Linda also mentioned the possibility of human milk banks, which wouldn’t necessarily be from a vegan woman, but may be worth considering.

Plan for the future generations

As Elaine put it, “we should probably all be contacting baby formula makers and asking for a vegan version. If we do, it won’t be long before a truly vegan baby formula will be readily available in mainstream US stores. Sometimes, I think, being a good vegan parent isn’t just about what we do for and with our children, it’s about acting like a parent for future generations of children so that other parents won’t have to make the kinds of compromises we have to make now.”

With that in mind, here are the contact addresses for some of the major formula makers. If I missed any (and that’s very likely,) please contact us and I’ll update the post.

If you’re looking for your activism action of the week, getting in touch with these companies and politely asking them to market a vegan-friendly formula (INCLUDING vitamin D2 instead of D3) wouldn’t be a bad way to spend your time. Here are links to the various contact forms:

Thanks to Elaine, Steph, Julie, Pippi, and Linda for their help on this one!

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