Feeding Guide For Vegetarian Babies And Toddlers

Raising a vegetarian baby? Let's look at your child's nutritional needs. Read on to know about nutrients your vegetarian child must eat.

By Aarthi Arun

Feeding Guide For Vegetarian Babies And Toddlers
Wholesome vegetarian food is good for babies

There has been an age-old tradition of vegetarianism in India. And in recent times, for various reasons ranging from health to personal, many meat-eating Indians are embracing the vegetarian way of life. 

A vegetarian diet can be extremely healthy because it is low in cholesterol and trans fats, and is high in fibre and antioxidants. However, there is a catch: you have to be mindful about eating the right balance of macronutrients (carbs, proteins and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) when you follow a vegetarian diet. It is easy to miss out on key nutrients like proteins, vitamin D, B12, zinc and iron on a strict vegetarian diet. If your child is growing up in a vegetarian household, you must ensure that he gets the right foods that promote his growth. On World Vegetarian Day, let's see how you can help your tiny vegetarian tot grow healthy on a no-meat diet.

Breastfeeding is essential

Whether you're raising your child vegetarian or otherwise, breastfeeding is vital to boost your little one's immunity. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months. Since breast milk is specially made for your child, it has the right amount of nutrients to help her grow and be healthy. So, it is important for you to have a variety of nutritious foods when you're breastfeeding your baby. If you're unable to breastfeed your baby for some reason, you can opt for fortified formula milk. Remember, cow's milk is not suitable for babies younger than 12 months.

Don't forget the proteins

One major concern when opting for a vegetarian diet is your child's protein intake. Protein is necessary for your child's muscle growth. So, make sure you include proteins like dal, green peas, chickpeas and dairy in the form of milk, paneer and yoghurt in your child's meal. If possible, you can include boiled or scrambled eggs in your child's diet after he turns one. Even if you are not feeding eggs to your child, don't worry, she can get her protein from other sources.

Healthy fats for brain growth

Nuts are not only delicious but provide your child with the much needed Omega-3 fatty acids. They are also rich in zinc, calcium and iron. You can offer nuts in the form of nut butter as soon as you start solids to your baby. Add a teaspoon of nut butter to your baby's cereal, and you have a nutrient-dense meal to power up her energy. Toddlers can have them on toasts or rotis as spreads. You can add chopped nuts and dry fruits to your child's porridges and salads to make them enticing and more nutritious. Whole nuts can cause choking in young children, so wait till your child turns five to offer them. Include healthy oils, butter and ghee to enhance your tot's brain power.

All about Iron

There are two types of dietary iron called heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme Iron is only found in non-vegetarian sources like meat, poultry and seafood. It is also easily absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron — which is found in plant sources like grains, legumes and vegetables — is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme-iron. For your child to absorb iron from plant sources, you must pay attention to her meal composition. Adding foods that are rich in citric acid and vitamin C to your child's meal can help his body absorb iron better. 

Watch out for the deficiencies

The nutrients like vitamin D, B12 and zinc are abundant in non-vegetarian foods but are negligible in vegetarian foods. If your toddler is following a lacto-vegetarian diet, that includes milk products and eggs, there is nothing to worry about. Your toddler needs two servings of milk per day. The IAP (Indian Academy of Pediatrics) recommends vitamin D supplements for exclusively breastfed babies. It is a good idea to have a word with your child's paediatrician for any supplements for him.

A word on fibre

Eating fruits, vegetables and legumes that are chock-full of fibre is great for your toddler. However, fibre can quickly fill in your child without giving her much energy. Your child should eat enough carbohydrates in the form of grains, millets and nuts to replenish her energy. Moreover, fibre can interfere with the absorption of iron. So keep an eye on your child's fibre intake.

Contrary to popular belief, a vegetarian diet that is not balanced may not be inherently nutritious. Potatoes are vegetarian, but gorging on a bowl of French fries is far from healthy for your little one. Your child requires fresh, homemade, well-balanced, nutritious meals to grow stronger every day. Variety is the key, so, stock up on those colourful vegetables and fruits.

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