Let’s cover food introduction from six months to 2 1/2 years, with special focus given to using a non-allergenic food introduction guide. Everything you need to know about feeding vegan babies and toddlers is here!
Today we are getting into the nitty-gritty of food for your children. This post is dedicated to the wee ones!
This post is LONG. And text-heavy. But, I want to give you as much information as I can. I have reproduced some (not all, but much) of the information from my second cookbook, Vive le Vegan:
I have also expanded on some notes and categories. Let’s get started!
Starting your baby on solid foods is an exciting time, but it can also be a bit intimidating. For the first time, baby is consuming something other than breastmilk which is such perfect food for your little one: conveniently available, always the right temperature and your baby always enjoyed it.
Now, you have to look at giving new foods to baby, with all new considerations.
When I began feeding my daughter solid foods, I worked with my naturopath. She gave me a food introduction schedule that was designed to minimize allergenic reactions. And, it’s based on whole foods. I included this chart (with permission from my naturopath) in Vive le Vegan.
The original chart included some animal products, and you will see those listed, but crossed out, in the chart to follow. (I left them in to show that even with this schedule, animal foods are introduced far later than most people introduce them into infant/toddler diets.)
Please try to include as many organic foods for your child as possible (more on that later).
I used this schedule with all three of our girls. I found it very helpful, and have heard from many parents that used it after picking up Vive and also had very good experiences.
Following this chart, in combination with my well-baby consultations, gave me the reassurance I needed. Our daughters readily accepted most foods in each age grouping and did not experience any food reactions or allergies or digestive difficulties.
You will notice that this chart is quite different than most food introduction charts. Rice cereal is not the first food. And wheat is introduced far later – as well as soy foods and even nuts.
It is important to note that regardless of how you choose to feed and introduce food to your child, babies and children should routinely be seen for well-baby/child visits with a naturopath to monitor growth, weight gain, and developmental milestones.
While this schedule identifies age ranges for the introduction of different foods, these are not set in stone. Some foods can be introduced earlier for individual children if the child has not had any reactions and is assessed as ready to move to the next stage.
As vegans we know that almost all plant foods have protein, including vegetables. The category of protein here is meant to refer to foods with significantly higher protein.
Many of you may be confused about whether to add oils to your baby’s/toddler’s diet. And, you know I have developed many oil-free recipes.
I understand and value the need for oil-free diets for treating and reversing chronic health conditions like heart disease. I am not certain, however, that healthy oils should be excluded from the diets of young children.
Babies and growing toddlers need healthy fats (and not only DHA). They are in the most rapid growth phase of their lives. Not all babies accept whole food fats in early stages – such as avocado – and some may have food intolerances or sensitivities to these foods.
Moreover, you do not want to add nuts and seeds too early because you are risking allergic reactions. So, it can be very useful to supplement with some healthy organic oils like olive, flax, hemp, and also coconut oil.
Note that coconut is a saturated fat, but is a medium-chain fatty acid and metabolized differently in the body. Also, botanically coconut is not a ‘nut’ as we think of tree nuts, so has a lower allergenic risk.
While I support people following oil-free diets as adults to improve health conditions (I saw my own father-in-law reverse his heart disease – and talked about that in The Everyday Vegan), I am hesitant to advocate an oil-free diet for your babies. I didn’t exclude them from our children’s diet myself.
Vegan Food Introduction Schedule
|Food Introduction Schedule|
|Age||Fruits||Vegetables||Grains||Protein (see note above)||Oils (organic) (see note above)||Other|
|6 – 9 mo’s||BlackberriesBlueberriesPeaches (cooked)Pears (cooked)||ArtichokeAsparagusBeetsBroccoliCarrotsLeafy greens (collards, bok choy, swiss chard, spinach, kale, etc.)
Sweet potato (yellow and orange)
|9 – 12 mo’s||Apples (cooked)Apricot (cooked)Avocado (mashed)Cherry (pitted and mashed)Grapes (cut)/raisinsKiwi
|Brussel sproutsCauliflowerCeleryCucumberGreen beansGreen peas
|12 – 18 mo’s||FigsMango*Orange/CitrusRaspberryApples, apricot, peach (raw)*Strawberry||Cabbage*Corn (organic!)EggplantKelp/Spirulina*Tomatoes||BarleyKamutOatsRyeSpelt
|BreastmilkBeans and lentilsSeeds and seed butters (hemp, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)Soy products/milk (organic!)||ChiaHempPumpkinSesameSunflower||Blackstrap molasses(small quantities)|
|Food Introduction Schedule (cont’d)|
|18 – 24 mo’s||**Wheat||Breastmilk*Nuts and nut butters (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, etc.)||Nut oils (ex: walnut, almond)|
|2-3 yrs.||**Peanuts and peanut butter**|
* moderate to high potential for allergic reaction, delay introduction as late as possible
** high potential for allergic reaction, delay introduction as late as possible
Infant Digestion and the Food Introduction Schedule
At first glance, the Food Introduction Schedule seems restrictive, since many foods that people typically give their babies in early months are delayed until they are at least twelve months.
Once you study it a little closer, however, and try a few things, you will realize it is not complicated, and you will appreciate the value of delaying certain foods.
I followed this schedule fairly closely from six months forward. Our daughters did not have any digestive troubles or allergic reactions to foods. They didn’t experience gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or rashes, and she readily accepted and enjoyed most of the foods in each age grouping.
- Introduce foods one at a time, and after nursing.
- Add only one new food every 3 days, and watch for signs of allergies between each food introduced (see list of allergy symptoms below).
- Don’t be discouraged if a child rejects a food at first.
- Reintroduce foods in a few days to a couple of months. Baby may surprise you with a new love for the “new” food!
- For infants with a history of strong allergic reactions, apply new food to the cheek first and wait 20 minutes to see if cheek reddens. If the cheek is not red, apply food to infant’s lips; if still no reaction, give a ½ teaspoon or less of the food and observe over 4 hours for reactions. Still no symptoms? Then give 1 teaspoon of food and increase serving by 1 teaspoon every 4 hours.
Unfortunately, most people assume it is normal for babies to have digestive difficulties. In fact, because our children’s’ digestive systems develop greatly in their first few years, many discomforts and troubles can be avoided simply by delaying the introduction of certain foods.
An infant’s digestive system is too immature to digest most solid foods. The digestive lining (wall of the intestinal tract) is highly permeable to large molecules of food in the early months of life.
Most food sensitization occurs during baby’s first year. Gradual maturation occurs over their first 3-4 years, which is why children under 5 are particularly vulnerable to food allergies.
Given that an infant’s digestive system requires years to fully develop, it is essential that we introduce foods at the proper time. Adding certain foods too early can result in food allergies, digestive difficulties, and poor immune health.
The next section gives examples and suggestions for using the foods in each stage of the Food Introduction Schedule. These ideas will make preparing foods for your baby and toddler easy and fun!
Before and During Solids: Breastfeeding
Breastmilk is the best food for your baby. Babies should be breastfed exclusively until the middle of the first year, with continued breastfeeding after the introduction of solid food.
Continued breastfeeding is recommended to 2 years of age or longer. The World Health Organization identifies research showing that on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants.
Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding until the middle of baby’s first year is the best prevention for allergies. In addition, maternal avoidance of the most allergenic foods during the last trimester of pregnancy and during lactation may help prevent allergies.
Vegans should be aware that babies need DHA in their diet for their first two years. DHA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is important for brain development. It must be obtained through the diet in these early years.
DHA is in mammalian milk but is not found in soy milk, soy formula or any other plant-based milks. Therefore, if you will not or cannot breastfeed for 2 years, you will need to talk to your naturopath about other options.
Making Baby Food
Making baby food is an extra job when you are already a busy mom or dad. But, homemade baby food is best for your wee one. It’s most nutritious and tastes far better.
Think about it: should your baby be eating food that you wouldn’t want to eat? Some of those jarred foods smell awful, but homemade baby food always smells (and tastes!) good.
You will also save money making your own baby food. It gets costly buying large quantities of jarred baby food (especially the organic varieties).
When preparing your own food, it is easy to make large batches with inexpensive whole plant foods, that you can then refrigerate and freeze in smaller portions to meet your baby’s mealtime needs.
It’s not hard to make baby food. It does take time, though, and requires extra effort every few days. But it’s worth it to know that your little one is getting freshly made, tasty, and nutritious whole foods.
You don’t need special culinary skills to get started, or to come up with creative food combinations to keep your baby nourished and happy. It simply requires some advance preparation, a little thinking, and a few tools to make the process simpler.
You’ll need a few kitchen items to get started:
1) Pot to steam vegetables and fruit, or a steaming insert.
This is useful for the first few months when you are steaming most foods. Alternatively, you can cook the fruit and vegetables in just an inch or two of water and simmer until tender.
Some vegetables can also be baked or roasted whole, including yellow- and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, and white potatoes. (To do so place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at about 400°F until tender when pierced. Let cool enough to handle, and then remove the skins or rinds to puree with some water.)
2) Blender or food processor to puree foods.
With our first two children, I used my food processor (for larger amounts) or my immersion blender (for smaller amounts). Third time around I used my Blendtec, because it works with varying amounts easily and achieves smooth consistencies effortlessly.
Sometimes you need to add a small amount of water to thin out the purees, so it’s handy to have some water boiled ahead of time (let it cool down if you want) to do so.
3) Glass bowls (preferably with covers) to store portions in the fridge and freezer.
I have two sets of glass prep bowls with covers (twelve bowls total). When making different batches of purees, you will need many bowls. These are perfect because they are easy to store, and well suited for freezing and thawing. Any size or shape of a glass or ceramic bowl will also work well but consider ones that have covers.
Note: I don’t use a microwave, so to warm the purees, I would simply spoon out into another glass bowl the amount your baby might eat. You won’t use the full 1 cup in the early weeks/months, so spoon out just a portion to warm. This helps avoid wasting any food that your baby may not eat, as you should not save any leftovers that have made contact with your baby’s hands or mouth.
Place this bowl in a larger bowl and pour in enough hot/boiled water to come up to about three-quarters of the height of the inner bowl. This will quickly warm the food; you can stir it to evenly distribute the heat. Of course, make sure to test all food for the proper temperature before feeding it to your little one.
In the first weeks of introducing foods, you’ll be working with single food purees, such as sweet potatoes. Later, you can start combining some of these foods. Some vegetables and fruits work better blended with others.
For instance, bitter greens such as broccoli, spinach, and kale, and stronger-tasting vegetables such as beet and parsnip will be more readily accepted by your babe if blended into a puree with sweet potatoes or pears. Later, once grains and beans are introduced, more variety and flexibility comes with food preparation.
Organics: Choose organic foods as much as possible for your wee one. Your baby is in the biggest phase of growth and development of his or her life; organic is best to avoid exposure to harmful pesticide and chemical residues. For certain, make sure you know what the “dirty dozen” produce items are and be sure to buy at least those items organic (and preferably more).
Have a Backup Plan: While I advocate making your own, sometimes you’ll have days when you need reinforcements! Pick up several jars of organic baby foods for your pantry. Don’t be surprised if your little one isn’t as keen on the jarred food. Who can blame them, once they get a taste for “the good stuff”!
Prepare For Dislikes: Your child may love parsnips. Or not. Don’t force the issue, but do reintroduce, and try to do so creatively. Maybe try a puree with parsnip and pears for instance. But, if your child is really refusing, don’t be stubborn, try something else.
What Goes In Must Come Out: You’re a parent, so I know this poo talk doesn’t surprise you, heck you were just waiting for it… you were, weren’t you?! 😉 Don’t be alarmed if you see bright pink poop in your baby’s diaper shortly after that meal of pureed sweet potatoes and beets! Also know that all of this food is minimally processed and fiber rich, so be prepared for two to four or more poopy diapers per day.
Food Preparation DOES Get Easier. Babies will eat only pureed foods for just the first few months (from 6-9 months). After that time, you will still be pureeing food, but things will become a little easier. Your babe will start to become interested in finger foods (e.g., cubed avocado, rice puff cereal, cut rice pasta, soft beans, pieces of cut fruit such as bananas, soft melon, raisins, apricots, and so on), and these foods will become part of your baby’s meals in addition to the purees. Also, food mixtures can now become somewhat chunkier and involve less preparation, such as mixing cooked quinoa or brown rice into mashed avocado or banana.
It’s Gonna’ Get Messy! 🙂
Foods For Each Stage
This section breaks down each stage of the Food Introduction Schedule, giving you tried and tested food preparation and cooking ideas for each stage. These are examples of what foods I fed my own daughter through the stages and how I prepared them.
From birth to six months, babies should be breastfed exclusively, as indicated in the previous section. In some situations, your baby may be able to start solids earlier, at around 5 months, but be sure to talk to your naturopath about that in more detail at your well baby check-up.
In the early months, introduce foods gradually and in small amounts. Refer to the notes on the Food Introduction Schedule, p.<>, for more information about testing foods and identifying possible reactions.
These examples do not use measured ingredients or amounts. There are no tablespoons of one thing and teaspoons of another. Parents of new and growing babies are busy enough most likely do not want to measure ingredients and follow a recipe for food that baby may not even like! Instead, each section gives you directions, examples, and ideas to help you feed your children healthy, tasty food.
This stage you need to puree foods well, so they are smooth and easy to eat. Also, most foods need to be steamed/cooked to soften and also make more digestible for your babe. Some examples:
- Peaches/Pears: Peel and remove seeds/pits. Cut into chunks. Steam until soft. Cool and puree until smooth.
- Carrots/Parsnip/Turnip/Zucchini: Trim ends/peel as needed. Cut vegetable into chunks. Steam until soft (zucchini steam more quickly than the root vegetables). Cool and puree using a little water or breastmilk if needed to thin out (vegetables like zucchini have more water, so they puree easily without added water, whereas root vegetables need added moisture to make a smooth puree).
- Leafy Greens (Collards/Bok Choy/Swiss Chard/Spinach/Kale): Steam greens just until tender and still having a nice green color. Cool and puree until smooth using a little water or breastmilk if needed to thin out. It helps to puree these more bitter vegetables with a sweeter vegetable like carrots or sweet potato, or fruits like pears. Definitely opt for organic greens.
- Yellow or Orange Sweet Potato and Winter Squash: Bake whole at 400 degrees until soft when pierced. Once cool to the touch, scoop out flesh, and discard skins. Cool and puree, adding water or breastmilk if needed to thin out. Baking time will be about 40 minutes or more depending on size of yam or squash. This method of cooking is easier than peeling and chopping these very hard vegetables to steam. Plus, the taste is better when baked.
This stage really opens up a world of new foods for your baby, you may rejoice in the kitchen… hurrah, more food variety (even for your own interest)! Some wonderful grains can be introduced, as well as beans and lentils, and several oils. Some ideas:
- Apples: Since raw apples are crunchy and somewhat hard, some softening through steaming is recommended. Peel and core. Cut into chunks. Steam until soft. Cool and puree or mash. You can also use an organic unsweetened applesauce.
- Avocado: Such a wonderful whole food for your wee one, filled with vitamins, minerals, protein and also healthy fats! Cut in half and remove peel and pit. Mash or cut into small pieces, or mix with other foods (ex: beans and grains outlined in this stage). Avocado was a big hit with all our girls. Also try adding avocado to a green smoothie for your babe, along with spinach or kale, banana, and other fruits. You’ll enjoy watching your babe sip on them!
- Bananas/Kiwi/Papaya: Peel and remove seeds (for papaya). Cut in small pieces or mash or puree. (Plus, green smoothies!)
- Grapes/Cherries/Plums: Remove seeds/pits. Cut into small pieces. Please choose organic, since conventionally grown varieties rank as one of the highest for pesticide residues.
- Raisins/Dried Apricots: Puree with a little water, breastmilk, or rice milk. Or reconstitute in boiled water to soften and chop a little. Again, remember organic!
- Cauliflower/Green Beans: Trim as needed. Cut into chunks. Steam until soft. Cool and puree using a little water or rice milk if needed to thin out.
- Green Peas: Soak frozen peas in a small bowl of boiled water for 5 minutes or until warm. Puree or mash/squish.
- Potato (white): Bake whole (do not wrap in aluminum foil) or cube and steam/boil. Cut into small pieces or mash with a little water, or rice milk, and some oil such as coconut, olive or flax. Potatoes are another vegetable that typically has a lot of pesticide residues. Opt for organic for your baby if you can.
- Amaranth/Buckwheat/Millet/Quinoa/Rice/Wild Rice (Non-Gluten Grains): Adding non-gluten grains really opens up more food choices in this stage. Many of these grains can be a little dry after cooking – especially if refrigerated. So, be sure to moisten/soften them again with rice milk and a touch of oil like coconut or flax oil. Cooked grains can be combined with mashed avocado, or pureed with fruit or veggies. Our babes didn’t always like the ‘new’ texture of whole grains, so you may need to puree a little. Combine looser grains like long-grain rice or quinoa with mashed potato or avocado to thicken the mixture to spoon-feed your baby. Combine stickier grains like amaranth or short-grain brown rice with looser vegetable purees like beans and peppers, or with a fruit for a baby cereal! Afterwards, combine cooked grains, such as quinoa with brown rice, or millet with wild rice, and puree with rice milk and/or oils to improved texture for baby if needed. When you find grains that baby really likes, cook in large batches and freeze in small separate portions (remember, you will likely be cooking these grains for yourself anyhow, so cook larger batches and use smaller amounts for your babe to process/use in mashes, etc). Freezing smaller portions will prove useful for many things, including grains, cooked pastas, and beans. Thaw in the refrigerator to use, or soak in boiling water (as with frozen green peas) and then drain and use. Some grains will be a little watery when thawed, but will take on a good texture when mixed with something like avocado. This makes food preparation much simpler. There are also some commercially prepared (and convenience foods) made from these grains that can be used at this stage including:
- Rice Cereal: Look for an organic rice-based cereal, such as from Healthy Times. Frozen organic raspberries and blueberries are nice to mix with these cereals. Let the berries thaw a little in some boiled water. Drain and then mix in with the cereal and add a little fortified rice milk.
- Gluten-Free Pasta: Cook rice, quinoa, and other gluten-free pasta well so that it is quite soft. Mix with mashed avocado or other mashed veggies or oils. Pureed soups (like a simple sweet potato or squash soup) can also be used as sauces to toss into pasta. Buckwheat pastas can also be used. Just be sure to check the ingredient list to see that they have just buckwheat in them, since some are combined with other ingredients. The texture of soba noodles is quite nice. Cook until soft, then chop and feed to baby as is or mixed with veggies, avocado, etc.
- Gluten-Free Breads: Gluten-free breads can sometimes be dry, and you may want to moisten them a little with oil or rice milk and cut into small pieces. You can also make breadcrumbs from rice breads to add to veggie purees and age-appropriate soups..
- Rice and Flax Milks: While rice and flax milks cannot be substituted for breastmilk and cannot be used for formula, small amounts can be used at this age to moisten cereals, bean mixtures, grains, etc, and in recipes like rice puddings and baked goods. Look for fortified rice milks with natural ingredients and higher fat content.
- Other non-gluten grain based cereals and crackers: Look in the health food section of your grocery store for cereals and crackers that are rice based or even made from something like amaranth, etc. These may be great snack and finger foods.
- Lentils and Beans: Time for this “Queen-Bean” to get excited! I loved incorporating beans into our girls’ diets, and there are so many ways you can do so! First, if using canned beans, I highly recommend using Eden Organic, as they are BPA-free and also seem to be more digestible than many other canned beans. Of course, you can also cook your beans from dry (and lentils/split peas are especially easy to cook). Start with varieties of beans that are easier to digest. Softer beans are the easiest to digest, and include lentils, adzuki, black-eyed peas, and split peas. Lentils are a wonderful choice because they don’t require soaking and they cook quickly. Plus they have a very soft texture and mild flavor for baby. Red lentils cook the fastest, and are also the mildest tasting lentil variety. Harder beans are more difficult to digest. Examples include chickpeas and kidney beans. As with grains, you can cook large batches of beans and then freeze in smaller separate quantities. As a side note, beans freeze much better than grains. Their texture does not change much, so you can use them from frozen in recipes for general use, whereas I wouldn’t use frozen grains in recipes other than soups because they become too watery. Thaw frozen beans in refrigerator or soak in boiling water for a few minutes until thawed, then drain and use. Here are some simple ways to feed beans to your wee ones:
- Mash beans with oils, avocado, grains, and/or cooked veggies and spoon-feed to baby.
- Squish whole beans a little and let baby work at eating them with his/her fingers.
- Add beans to pastas and soups, and puree a little for baby if needed.
- Puree beans into a dip with olive, hemp, or other oils and eaten straight from a spoon.
- Oils (Coconut/Olive/Organic Canola/Flax). As I mentioned above, I do not advocate excluding oils from your baby’s diet. Your baby is growing and needs those healthy fats. So, supplement with small amounts of organic flax, olive, and coconut oils in these early months – and later other oils and fats can be incorporated.It is easy to rely on just olive oil. You probably use it a lot yourself and it tastes wonderful. It is important to get and keep your baby’s palate used to a variety of oils because each offers different nutritional benefits. It is easiest to start children early with tastes and textures because children eat and enjoy the foods they know. Flax oil may be a little bitter tasting, so you might want to mix it with other oils like olive, hemp, sunflower, etc. Use a bib! Oily foods make for fantastically stubborn stains on clothes. Either have “scrappy” clothes when feeding – or a good supply of (full-length!) bibs. 🙂 Here are some ideas:
- Add oils to pureed foods and soups.
- Toss a small amount through beans, grains, pasta.
- Mix into non-dairy yogurts (coconut, rice at this stage – almond/soy later), and fruit purees like mashed bananas and applesauce.
- Toss pieces of bread, toast or sandwiches in oils to coat them.
- Add a little oil to baby’s milk if he/she will take them this way.
At this stage several new food groups are introduced, including gluten grains, soy products, seeds, and more fruits and vegetables. Here are some ways to offer these new foods:
- Apples/Apricots/Peaches (raw): Remove seeds from apples/pits from peaches and apricots and chop. Puree or cut in small pieces. Apple peels can be left on if pureed. If cutting in pieces, you may want to remove some or all of the peel if your child finds it difficult to swallow. Smaller pieces will help them swallow the peel. Apples and peaches are typically heavily treated with pesticides, so choose organic if you can.
- Citrus: Remove peel, pith, and seeds. Cut into small pieces. Use a juicer to make fresh orange juice and try a little on your toddler. Keep in mind that there is allergenic potential with citrus. Try in small quantities to test. Choose organic oranges and other citrus if possible.
- Figs: While many of you may not buy fresh figs, most people enjoy fig newtons. Wheat-free fig newtons are available, look for them at your grocery or health food stores. They make a great snack when on the go.
- Mango: Cut along each side of the flat, oval-shaped pit. Score (cut criss-cross) flesh and press in on the skin side to turn halves inside-out and bring out chunks of mango flesh. Also pare off the flesh remaining around the outside of the pit. Cut off the mango chunks and chop into smaller pieces if needed. Mash and add to warm cereals or other foods. Blend into smoothies or puddings using whole grains.
- Corn: Only buy organic, either organic fresh or frozen (gmo corn is not something you want your babe eating). Frozen corn kernels: Soak in boiling water until warmed. Drain and serve whole to baby. Puree kernels and mix with other foods. Fresh ears of corn: Remove husks and silk. Cut into thirds or quarters. Lightly steam and cool. Let toddler eat with hands and chew off kernels. Corn kernels also make a great snack to bring in little containers when you go out. Corn is more allergenic than other vegetables, so introduce gradually and test on your child.
- Tomatoes: Many children do not like raw tomatoes, but most will likely enjoy tomato products like pasta sauce. At this stage, many of the foods you enjoy with tomatoes and tomato products (spaghetti, lasagna, soups, casseroles) can be given to your child, with possibly a few modifications, for things like spices. That being said, I know some toddlers who love salsa, so a little spice may go a long way with your toddler! Tomatoes are also more allergenic than other vegetables, so introduce gradually and test on your child.
- Barley/Kamut/Oats/Rye/Spelt (Gluten Grains): Cool and combine with beans, veggies, sauces, oils, avocado, etc. Use in soups, casseroles, and warm cereals. Chewier whole grains like kamut and spelt are good additions to soups and stews, or pureed a little for easier chewing. Combine with some of the non-gluten grains, such as rice or millet. Your toddler is already familiar with these grains so mixing in some gluten grains is a good way to introduce them. Oats can be used to make a hearty cereal, and if you are a little more adventurous, you can look for spelt, kamut, and barley flakes to make a warm cereal much like oatmeal. Barley is a hearty grain that combines well with other grains and vegetables because of its sticky texture. For a sweeter version, mix with applesauce or mashed mango. Barley is also a great addition to soups and stews because it helps thicken them. Make your own baked goods with ground oats, barley flour, spelt flour, and kamut flour. I have plenty of recipes using wheat-free grains in my books and also on this site (such as Banana Oat Bundles). When processed, many cereals, pastas, and breads are made with these gluten grains. Examples of some prepared foods include:
- Spelt and kamut pastas: Cook as directed, and toss with sauce, beans, oils, veggies, etc. Your whole family can enjoy these pastas, just as you enjoy wheat or vegetable based pastas.
- Spelt tortillas: Spread tortillas with a little bean puree, jam, mashed avocado, or melt on a little non-dairy rice cheese. Cut into squares or roll up and cut into slices.
- Spelt, oat, rye, and kamut breads: You may have to visit a bakery to purchase these breads, although many supermarkets are now carrying wheat-free breads. Check the ingredients to ensure they are free of eggs and dairy. Use the bread to make sandwiches, toast, etc. Also puree a few slices in your food processor and keep on hand in the freezer. You can use the breadcrumbs to thicken soups and stews for your toddler.
- Breakfast cereals: Many breakfast cereals are made from these wholesome grains. Just check the ingredients for varieties that are wheat-free and vegan. Nature’s Path has a great line of organic cold cereals, with several wheat-free varieties like Oaty Bites, Mesa Sunrise, and Millet Rice Flakes.
- Frozen waffles Look for wheat-free waffles in the health food section of your grocery store. Toast as usual, and top with a little applesauce or seed butter, then topped with applesauce!
- Cereal bars and other snacks: Your health food store or grocery store will likely carry wheat-free cereal bars. These make a great snacks when you are running out the door. Also look for crackers and biscuits. Just try to opt for whole-grain choices and those with healthier sweeteners.
- Soy Products: Cut tofu and tempeh (cooked) in small pieces. Let your toddler work at picking up it up with his/her hands and fingers. Pieces of tofu and tempeh are great to pack in small container for outings and snacks. Your baby may like a little seasoning in the tofu or tempeh, but nothing too spicy. Try some of the pre-seasoned varieties that you can simply bake to save yourself time of seasoning yourself. Soy yogurts make a quick snack and are easy to pack for outings. Soy milks can be introduced in sippy cups to your toddler. They can also be used in cereals, puddings, and recipes. When choosing soy milks and other soy products, choose organic fortified and regular fat (rather than low-fat) options where possible. Soy products add versatility and offer many options for your toddler, but be careful not to rely too much on them. It is easy for vegetarians and vegan to consume soy milks, yogurts, puddings, tofu, tempeh, and soy meats to excess. Also, since soy can be consumed in so many ways these days, there is no need to buy cereals, breads, and pastas with soy products in them. Look to these products to incorporate different grains like kamut, millet, and spelt. Be sure to check the ingredients to ensure that other more allergenic foods, such as nuts and peanuts, are not included. Always choose soy products that are certified organic and do not contain genetically modified ingredients.
- Seeds (Pumpkin/Sunflower/Sesame/Hemp/Flax) and Seed Butters: There are SO many ways to include this new food group for your wee one, including:
- Offer whole seeds to your toddler (pumpkin and sunflower in particular, so they can work at picking them up with their fingers).
- Stir chia, sesame seeds and hemp seed nuts into your toddler’s cereal, pasta, soy yogurts, etc.
- Add chia and hemp seeds to smoothies.
- Grind seeds in a small food processor just until crumbly. This will make it very easy to add seeds to food. Once ground, stir into sauces, pasta, bean mixtures, mashed avocado, warm cereal etc, and sprinkle on veggies, soups, casseroles, etc. This is a great option if your child doesn’t like whole seeds.
- Sprinkle ground chia, ground flax, or whole hemp seeds on food or into cereals, sauces, fruit purees, etc.
- Add to baked goods.
- Use that tahini to make Kale chips!
- Pates made from seeds may be an option. They can be mashed and spread on bread for sandwiches. These pates are usually combined with things like potatoes and seasonings. Check that the ingredients are vegan.
- Spread seed butters on bread or tortillas with some jam. Most seed butters are not sweet, and can be bitter, so start with a small amount and combine with a little jam, maple syrup, or applesauce for your toddler.
- Stir seed butters into warm foods such as oatmeal and pasta. The butters will soften and melt into the foods giving it a slightly thicker texture. You can then add other sauces and/or oils as you like.
- Add cinnamon and a touch of maple syrup to seed butters, stir though and taste to make them a little more palatable for using in sandwiches, etc.
- Seeds are a handy snack to take on outings. You can pack some in small containers for snacks, and mix with other foods like raisins or cranberries. There are some seasoned varieties of pumpkin and sunflower seeds available now that your child might like. Avoid the spicy varieties, but try the lightly seasoned or lightly sweetened ones.
- “Raw” products: Many raw products are calorie-dense using seeds and nuts. Look for some options that are seed based here – and not too hard/crunchy for your little one’s mouth (and also beware of choking hazards, cut/chop as needed).
- The sticky consistency of seed butters will be a new experience for your child, and they may not be fond of it. Start with small amounts, about a teaspoon, just to get your child used to the new taste and texture. If they seem to dislike the stickiness, adding small amounts to warm foods is a great way to incorporate them in your child’s diet. Your child will gradually get accustomed to the taste and texture of these butters, but this may not be until you start using nut butters at 18-24 months. For now, this is a great way to get these nutritious seed butters into their diets.
- Seed Oils (Hemp/Pumpkin/Sesame/Sunflower): Use seed oils in many of the same ways you use olive, canola, and flax oil. Hemp seed oil offers a good balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and does not have any bitter taste. Rather, it has a nutty taste, similar to the taste of sunflower seeds. Mix into your baby’s food straight or in combination with other oils. Keep in mind that flax and hemp oils should not be used for cooking or otherwise heated to preserve their nutritional value.
- Add oils to pureed foods and soups.
- Toss a small amount through beans, grains, pasta.
- Mix into non-dairy yogurts, warm cereals, puddings, etc.
- Toss pieces of bread, toast or sandwiches in oils to coat them.
- Add a little oil to baby’s milk if he/she will take them this way.
Yep, those would be some hemp seeds on my wee babe’s face! 🙂
Feeding Vegan Toddlers: 18-24+ MONTHS
The “final frontier” of food introduction! Now you can introduce nuts, wheat products, and later peanuts (still, you can opt to delay introduction of peanuts if desired). Some ideas:
Nuts and Nut Butters
- Crush or chop softer nuts (ex: pecans, cashews), for your toddler to eat on their own. Be sure to give smaller pieces to avoid choking hazards.
- Harder nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, and green pistachios should be chopped very finely or ground in a food processor and then added to your toddler’s food. These nuts are really difficult to bite and chew and can be a big choking risk.
- Stir ground nuts (ex: almond meal) into your toddler’s cereal, pasta, soy yogurts, or onto their meals.
- Nut butters are sweeter than seed butters so may be enjoyed more by your little one. Their sweetness also lends itself better to mixing into warm cereals, and spreading on waffles, pancakes, and breads. They can also be spread on apple slices and other fruits, and used in baking. There are a variety of wonderful nut butters available, including almond, cashew, hazelnut, and macadamia.
- Nut milks can also be introduced at this stage. Add to cereal, use in recipes, and try small amounts in your child’s sippy cup. Almond milk is available in most health food stores. Look for fortified and regular fat (not low-fat) varieties. As with the other plant-based milks, remember that they cannot be used as a substitute for breastmilk.
- Wheat is another food that has allergenic risk. You may have already inadvertently introduced it in small quantities to your child, because it is in many foods. If your child is okay with wheat and wheat products, that’s great. Keep in mind, though, it is still important to vary the grains in your child’s diet, as well as your own. It is very easy to eat just wheat-based breads, pastas, crackers, cereals, etc, because they are widely available and generally less expensive. However, there is much to be gained in nutrition, taste, and texture of foods by eating different grains, so try to incorporate other flours like barley and spelt, and use products made from other grains when you can. There are a number of wheat-free recipes on this sitefor you to experiment with.
- If you like using seitan, you can bake or sauté lightly seasoned varieties of seitan (wheat gluten). Cut into small pieces for your toddler. Leftovers make a handy item to pack for meals out of the house for your little one.
- Whole-grain wheat breads, pastas, cereals, crackers, biscuits, etc, can all be used.
Nut Oils (Walnut/Almond)
- As with the other oils that you are using in your toddler’s diet, you can now offer oils from nuts. Use these oils as you have the others, to stir into foods, drizzle on meals, or add to smoothies and drinks.
- (2+ years – delay longer if desired): After 2 years, your toddler is eating just about everything you and your family is eating. The only vegan food that has been delayed to this point is peanuts. As most of us know, peanuts and peanut butter are highly allergenic, so introduce in a small quantity to test your child. Choose organic peanuts and peanut butters when possible, and be sure to check peanut butter labels to ensure they don’t contain hydrogenated oils.
- Choose organic!
- Chop peanuts and let your toddler eat on his/her own.
- Grind peanuts in a food processor or chop finely and sprinkle on your toddler’s food or stir into sauces, yogurts, etc.
- Spread peanut butter on bread, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, muffins, cookies, crackers, slices of apples, etc.
- Mix peanut butter with mashed banana or other pureed fruit (applesauce, mashed mango, pureed strawberries) to eat with a spoon or dollop on waffles, on top of puddings, etc.
- Mix peanut butter with other nut and seed butters. For example, make pb&j sandwiches with half peanut butter and half hemp seed nut butter.
- Use peanut butter in sauces and dips (ex: peanut sauce). While some of these sauces might be spicy, you can adjust the seasonings, and your toddler might surprise you with their enjoyment of these seasonings! Your little one can then dip veggies, breads, pastas in the sauce or dip on his/her own. Or, use the sauce to top beans, whole grains, and other dishes.
Now you are well-prepared for those first two years! If you are still looking for other ideas, here are a couple more resources:
- Raising Veg Kids and Teens from Nava Atlas’ VegKitchen (scroll to bottom for information about babies)
- Information for Vegan Babies and Toddlers from VegFamily
I have mentioned other resources in my earlier posts as well. Note that the food introduction guides will differ from the one I’ve posted here.
Mmmmm, that honeydew is GOOD!
I truly hope this information is useful.
Does this help give you ideas for feeding your wee one(s)? Please comment with any additional resources you would like to share with readers.