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Foods to introduce to vegan infants from 6 months
At about 6 months of age, babies will be ready for solid foods alongside the breastmilk or infant formula that still provides most of their energy and nutrients. Some babies will happily eat finger foods and mashed foods, and may progress swiftly to a range of tastes and textures. Other babies may progress more slowly and start off on smooth foods given on a spoon alongside foods they can hold themselves, with the aim of moving on to mashed foods and other textures as they become more confident eaters.
Smooth foods can be prepared by cooking foods well, pushing them through a sieve, or blending them with a little breastmilk or infant formula – or unsweetened calcium-fortified soya milk alternative if baby is over 6 months old. Some foods can be easily mashed to a smooth consistency. Smooth foods should have no big lumps, pips, seeds or skin.
Mashed foods are simply raw or cooked foods mashed to a smooth but slightly lumpy consistency. This can usually be achieved easily by mashing the food with a fork, using some breastmilk or infant formula – or unsweetened calcium-fortified soya milk alternative if baby is over 6 months old – to aid the mash where needed.
Finger foods are pieces of food that babies can hold and use to feed themselves. Babies will often show their readiness to start having complementary food by showing an interest in holding foods and putting foods to their mouth, and it is important to encourage independence in eating. Babies are able to pick things up with their whole hand after 6 months and the best finger foods to offer are ones that are soft and easy to bite and chew. It can be useful to make the finger foods slightly bigger than a baby’s hand, so that they can grip things in their fist. The size of an adult finger is a good guide.
Never leave babies alone when they are eating at any time, but pay particular attention when they are eating finger foods to make sure that they don’t choke on any pieces that break off in their mouth as they develop their eating skills.
TIPS ON FINGER FOODS
Make sure finger foods don’t contain any pips, stones, tough skin or stringy bits.
To start with, offer soft or cooked vegetables and fruit.
Avoid whole grapes, chunks of apple or carrot, nuts and popcorn, as these are the foods babies are most likely to choke on. Also avoid small, hard foods and those that are in gelatinous pieces. Always stay with babies when they are eating.
If you are offering raw food, make sure it is washed thoroughly.
Vegetables are good first tastes to introduce to infants. Try vegetables one at a time to start with, to introduce new flavors, and then try combinations. To thicken smooth or mashed vegetables, add potatoes or sweet potatoes. Make sure a wide variety of vegetable foods is offered and that foods from across the rainbow of vegetable colors are introduced into babies’ diets. Brightly colored foods will be attractive to infants, but there is no need to use expensive vegetables. Using vegetables in season and from local sources will be most cost-effective.
A range of starchy foods can be offered as first foods. These can be: starchy root vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, yam or manioc; rice; porridge made from oats; cereals such as pearl barley, semolina (ground wheat), or polenta (corn meal); or other cereals such as quinoa or millet. You can cook and mash rice, porridge and other cereals rather than buy expensive infant versions, and ground rice and semolina are smooth cereals when made up. Cereals can be mixed with breastmilk, infant formula or a suitable milk alternative.
These protein foods are also rich in other important nutrients.
Vegan infants need a good variety of protein foods such as different peas, beans, lentils, soya beans, tofu, plain soya yoghurt, plain coconut yogurt, and nut and seed butters. *
Many of these foods are rich in iron and zinc, which are important nutrients for babies. Pulses are very good first foods to offer as they can be mashed easily and provide a variety of tastes and textures.
Tofu can be mixed with other foods as it mashes easily and has a smooth texture. Unsweetened soya yoghurt or coconut yoghurt can be mixed with other foods as well, to make them smoother.
Never add salt or sugar to food served to babies.
* If there is a family history of allergy, consult a health professional before giving nut butter at 6 months.
Once infants have accepted other savoury tastes, fruit can be introduced. Fruit will be accepted more readily than vegetables by most babies as it has a sweet taste. Cook fruits to soften them, or mash soft fruits. If making a smooth version, make sure the fruit is free of pips and skin. Any type of fruit can be used – canned in juice, frozen or fresh. If using canned fruit, avoid fruit canned in syrup. If fruits are naturally sour, add a sweeter fruit such as apple or banana to make it more palatable.
If serving fruit as finger foods, make sure the pieces are soft and manageable, and avoid chunks of apple or harder fruits.
Never add sugar or salt to foods served to babies.
Finger foods for older vegan babies
As babies learn to handle foods in their mouth, become more dextrous and learn to bite and chew, a wider range of finger foods can be offered. Some examples of finger foods for more confident eaters are shown here. Some babies will become confident eaters very quickly, while others might be developmentally slower, so follow each baby’s cues. Always stay with babies and young children when they are eating and watch that they don’t get into difficulty with any pieces of food they bite off.
General tips for eating well in the first year of a vegan baby’s life
Families can sometimes be anxious about introducing solid foods to babies. For example, they may worry about whether their baby can manage to swallow the food safely, whether they might have a reaction to a new food, whether they might like the food offered, or whether they will know how much food to offer.
Anxiety around introducing solids can mean that some families rely on soft foods for a longer period than needed, may offer a restricted range of foods, or may be unsure how to try new foods when a baby has initially shown disinterest.
Some of the questions and answers below may help families as they introduce solid food.
I have tried to offer my baby tastes of food on a spoon, but he just turns his head away.
If your baby is under 6 months of age, they might not be ready for solid foods yet. If they are about 6 months old and show the signs of readiness for solids (being able to sit up and hold their head steady, picking up food and moving it to their mouth, and swallowing food), keep offering tastes of foods at mealtimes on a spoon when they are alert and happy, but always wait for them to open their mouth. Give them finger food to hold as well, to get them interested in the tastes and smells of food. It takes a while for some babies to realize that food, as well as breastmilk or an appropriate infant formula, can satisfy their hunger. Don’t force a baby to eat. They will get the hang of it if you keep gently trying.
I have followed the advice on offering mashed vegetables as the first tastes but I am sure my baby just doesn’t like things like broccoli as she makes a face and spits it out!
A baby will often grimace when trying a new food as it is unfamiliar, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t like it. Research suggests that it can take up to ten times of offering a food for a baby to accept it readily, but that if you do persevere with a range of flavors, starting with savory tastes, this will make them a much better eater in the long run.
I am worried about my baby choking if the food is not very smooth.
Babies take different amounts of time to get used to lumps in food, but this is an important skill they need to learn. Try to offer a range of increasingly lumpy textures when they are 6 to 7 months old, and always stay with your baby so you can be sure they are not getting into difficulty. You may be surprised how well they manage to handle the food in their mouth and swallow it safely. There is no evidence babies choke more when feeding themselves, so let them get involved.
I get very anxious around feeding my baby at mealtimes, and am just not sure I’m doing it right.
If you feel anxious, talk to your health visitor or staff at your local children’s centre, and they will give you tips for managing mealtimes and managing your own feelings. We know that when mums are stressed this can impact on how they feed their baby. So, if you feel you are not coping, that your baby is more difficult or fussy at mealtimes than other babies, or that you are not good at reading your baby’s ‘cues’ around when they are hungry, ask for help.
Food variety is important in a baby’s diet but there is also a small chance that a baby may have one or more food allergies. Overall about 4% of children will have a true food allergy, but this will be higher in younger children. It is much more likely your baby will have a food or other allergy if they come from an ‘atopic’ family (a family where one or both parents have eczema, hayfever or asthma, or have food allergies themselves). Most children will grow out of food allergies, however, and it is important to seek advice if you suspect your baby has an allergy.
If babies are from atopic families, breastfeeding offers the greatest protection against allergy development.
There is no evidence to suggest that avoiding ingredients that either contain, or are themselves allergens during pregnancy, or giving these ingredients to infants before 6 months of age, or much later, will help prevent them developing a food allergy.
Introducing foods at 6 months to vegan babies with a family history of allergies
Once vegan infants reach 6 months of age, the following foods can be introduced carefully one at a time:
nuts, ground nuts, or nut butters
seeds, crushed seeds, or seed butters.
Initially give them to your baby in very small amounts and watch for any symptoms of an allergic reaction. This can be one or more of the following:
diarrhea or vomiting
wheezing or shortness of breath
itchy skin or throat
swollen lips and throat
runny or blocked nose, or
sore, red and itchy eyes.
Gluten-free diets for Vegan Babies
There is no need to restrict gluten (the protein found in some cereals such as wheat, rye and barley) in the diet of babies over 6 months of age, even if there is a history of gluten intolerance in the family. Gluten has to be present in the diet for a diagnosis of gluten intolerance to be made.
If babies are introduced to new foods and flavors at about 6 months of age, are able to watch and mimic older children and adults eating the same foods, and are encouraged to be independent eaters, they are likely to accept a range of foods. If the introduction of foods is left until later in the first year, babies may be less keen to try new foods. So introducing foods at about 6 months of age is important. Most advice around fussy eating is aimed at toddlers who are more likely to go through a phase of food refusal, but some of the tips to encourage babies to eat well, above, may be useful if families are anxious about fussy eating in babies.
Breastfed babies are more likely to accept new food tastes because flavours from food that their mums eat will have passed into the breastmilk, preparing babies for a range of foods.
Being physically active every day is important for the healthy growth and development of babies. Babies should be encouraged to be active throughout the day, every day. Before your baby begins to crawl, encourage them to be physically active by reaching and grasping, pulling and pushing, moving their head, body and limbs during daily routines, and during supervised floor play, including tummy time. Tummy time – when babies lie on their tummy or side while they’re awake – is important for babies’ healthy development. Babies can be put on the floor, on a safe firm surface, or on someone’s lap or chest – whatever works best. This supports development overall and will encourage muscle development in their neck, back and arms, which will help them learn to roll and crawl. Always supervise tummy time and remember all babies are different and some will take longer to learn or enjoy new skills and experiences.
Once babies can move around, encourage them to be as active as possible in a safe, supervised and nurturing play environment.
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