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Vegetarian diet for infants: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


Weaning Vegetarian Babies

Taking the first steps in bringing your child up as a vegetarian isn't difficult. Remember that the nutritional requirements of a small baby are high, needing more protein, calcium and most other nutrients than at any other time of life. It is now widely recognised, even by the British Medical Association, that a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients needed for growing infants.

Bringing up your child as a vegetarian, you will want to get them used to the vegetarian food groups: cereals, beans, nuts and seeds, dairy and soya produce, fruit and vegetables. Your baby may reject stronger-tasting foods, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, at six months but may like them several months later.

It is quite safe to bring up your baby as a vegan, with no animal foods at all, as long as you make sure that plenty of nutrient-rich foods are included. Vegan babies need good sources of calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and protein.

Weaning is a gradual process that begins when you start to replace milk with solid foods. Solid foods should not be introduced earlier than three months and the majority of infants should not be given solid foods before the age of four months. A mixed diet should be offered by the age of six months, at which stage babies need a source of iron in their diet as breast or formula milk can no longer provide enough. Especially if there is a family history of allergies, when you begin weaning your baby, introduce one food at a time and leave a few days between each new food. This way, you will be able to tell if your baby is allergic or sensitive to any particular food.

Stages of Weaning

4-5 months

Breast or formula milk is still the most important source of nutrition. Start by introducing one teaspoon of baby rice or pureed fruit after a milk feed or in the middle if this works best for your baby. The nutrition of the food is not so important at this stage as milk still supplies all the baby's needs. Just one solid feed a day should be enough for most babies at this stage.

Other foods to try are:

  • Puréed vegetables, such as potatoes, carrot or spinach.
  • Puréed fruit, such as apple, banana or pear.
  • Baby rice, corn meal, sago or millet can all be given as a thin porridge.
  • Do not give wheat, oats, milk, nuts or eggs.

5-6 months

Milk is still the most important food in your baby's diet, but gradually increase the number of times solid food is given from once to twice and then three times a day.

Try mashed lentils with some added vegetable oil and a wider variety of fruit and vegetables such as avocado and green vegetables. It is still too early to introduce wheat, oats, milk, nuts or eggs.

6-8 months

Most babies will by now eat solids although milk is a large part in their diets. Solid foods now provide an important source of iron. Most babies will be having solids three times a day. From six months you can start to introduce wheat and oat-based cereal such as bread and porridge. You can purée or sieve family foods to give variety, as long as they do not contain added salt.

Try introducing tofu, smooth nut butter, and mashed beans. Dairy foods (cow's milk, yoghurt and cheese) should not be introduced before six months because of the risk of intolerance. Free-range eggs can be given after six months, as long as they are hard-boiled. Some experts recommend avoiding all dairy products and eggs until 12 months.

8-12 months

Your baby will gradually be able to cope with lumpier foods. Foods from the family table can be given as long as they do not contain salt. Well cooked and mashed peas and beans can be introduced at around 8 to 12 months. They are difficult to digest and so can cause problems if introduc