Vegan babies eat what?
November 25, 2008 9:06 AM   Subscribe

What do I feed two vegan infants?

I may be receiving a placement of two little ones tonight. Both are vegan due to their parents religion. As a foster family, we have to honor this. No problems. However, I've no idea what to feed the little ones. One is only 8 months old and may be malnourished. The other is about 18 months old.

What milk replacement do you provide when breast milk is not available? What can I cook for the children to ensure they are getting proper nutrition? Is there an appropriate multi-vitamin that I can give them as well.

This is an emergency placement, so I'll need to know what I need to provide for them tonight.

posted by onhazier to Food & Drink (45 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
some info here and here. Like vegan children or adults, tofu, TVP, and other meat substitutes are fine.
posted by liketitanic at 9:18 AM on November 25, 2008

A quick bit of googling found this The Vegetarian Society. If the baby is malnourished, you may have to forgo the vegan diet until he or she is older, simply for the health of the child. But I am not a doctor, I would highly suggest calling a pediatrician and asking their opinion on the matter. They know best.
posted by Political Funny Man at 9:19 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

My immediate and snarky answer is "milk." But, as I happen to feel strongly about this, I want to be constructive, so I googled up some stuff:

"The most important element of a vegetarian babies diet is breastmilk, followed by formula
Breastmilk should be offered for the first two years, especially to vegan children. Only formula should be used as a substitute, soy, dairy, and other milks - even when fortified - are not suitable for infants."


"Because vitamin B12 is found in all animal products, deficiency is of primary concern for vegans. B12 is stored in the body, so a deficiency can take several years to manifest. However, only dietary B12 is incorporated into breast milk, so it is important for breast-feeding vegans to get enough B12."


Compendium of Breast Milk substitutes: "Choose a soy-based formula if baby is vegan, to support cultural/religious practices or if baby is diagnosed with galactosemia ... Soy formulas are vegetarian, but not vegan, as the Vitamin D is derived from animal sources."

posted by crickets at 9:21 AM on November 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

Since the placement agency is obviously in touch with the parents, and if the mother is still alive and available, perhaps you could get the agency to supply the mother with bottles and a pump so she can express?
posted by thanotopsis at 9:25 AM on November 25, 2008

Given that one of the children may be malnourished, I would consult with a nutritionist as soon as possible. A well-balanced vegan diet can be tricky, more so for children. I would hope that this is already in the works on the DSS end of things.
posted by wg at 9:26 AM on November 25, 2008

One option is that you could call a local breastmilk bank and explain your situation, especially for the little one. They may be able to provide you with a donated supply of human milk at low cost - donated freely and considered vegan suitable, I believe.

As for the 18m one my - non vegan - daughter loves the faux chicken nuggets, beans, and pasta.

Also, for both of them I have never met a baby or toddler that doesn't like avocado. Guacamole makes a surprisingly tasty and healthy meal, especially if you make it yourself with less salt. It's full of good fats and suitable for any eating infant, even the 8m baby.
posted by true at 9:26 AM on November 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

Wow, I'm surprised child services would allow the infants to remain vegan.

However, there is soy formula, and most fruit/veggie baby foods are vegan. You can also buy silken tofu and puree it in a blender with some fruit or veggies as a source of protein. The 18-month-old can probably have regular soy milk. In terms of what to feed the 18-month-old, good sources of protein are beans/rice, and diced tofu. If you freeze the tofu first (drain and dice it before freezing), it improves the texture. You could put some sort of seasoning/sauce on or with it to make it more appetising to the kid. There's also vegan prepared/processed foods such as soy chick'n nuggets and veggie burgers.

It is important that these kids get the right amount of calories, which can be hard to do on a vegan diet. Also, there are vitamins available in liquid form, for the baby, and gummy form for the 18-month-old.

Does child services have any input for you? I'd think that if they were requiring the children to remain vegan, they might have some suggestions.

You're doing a great thing by fostering these kids :)
posted by catwoman429 at 9:26 AM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I absolutely recommend contacting a pediatrician about this ASAP. A malnourished baby is in a position to take a dive quickly if you're not able to nutritiously feed it.

It is really difficult to find a formula that has vitamin D from a source other than an animal. Vegan babies need breastmilk for that reason; they need the vitamin B12 and Vitamin D because it's so hard to get otherwise. A B12 supplement (liquid) would help some.
posted by scabrous at 9:27 AM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is easier and more fun that you'd think. It's really so cool of you to be opening your home and heart to these kids.

One link to get started
One that documents the lives of one raw vegan family that totally rocks

posted by watercarrier at 9:36 AM on November 25, 2008

More info on Vegan kids - lots of info plus you can sign up for the forum.
posted by watercarrier at 9:42 AM on November 25, 2008

there are lots of soy products that toddlers love (like Morningstar Farms or Boca brands). Combined with beans and tofu you should have quite a few protein choices for the 18 month old.

The 8 month old could be started on soy formula, just read the ingredient list to be sure it's vegan, not all are.

Thanks for taking care of these little ones. You're awesome.
posted by agentwills at 9:45 AM on November 25, 2008

In addition to a wealth of information on breast feeding, La Leche has some information on US milk banks. They list:

# Regional Milk Bank, Worcester, MA 508.793.6005*
# Wilmington Mothers' Milk Bank, Wilmington, DE 302.733.2340
# Mothers' Milk Bank, Raleigh NC 919.350.8599*
# Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin, TX 512.494.0800
# Mothers' Milk Bank, Denver CO 303.869.1888 *
# Mothers' Milk Bank, San Jose, CA 408.998.4550*

There was a sad story about a year ago about a couple that fed their infants only soy milk and apple juice which lead to the Death by Veganism Op-Ed in the NYTimes. But the child who died was only 6 months old at the time. My suggestion would be to talk to their pediatrician to get a complete picture of the children's health as well as their nutritional needs.
posted by abirae at 9:45 AM on November 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

It's going to be hard and dangerous to have these kids be vegan without access to breast milk. See a doctor. Respecting the parents wishes might turn out to be a luxury that you can't afford.
posted by I Foody at 10:02 AM on November 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

Sorry, I realized my response did not address your question of what to provide them tonight. This link indicates that at least one pediatrician has found that babies develop normally when fed soy formula (which is supplemented far beyond ordinary soy milk). I imagine you could pick some up at your local natural food shop, or possibly a regular supermarket.

And nthing all the people who suggest seeing a pediatrician: they can give you a lot of information on the health and needs of the kids and may even give you samples of vitamin supplements.
posted by abirae at 10:11 AM on November 25, 2008

re: tonight: I'm trying to think like an 18 month old, and my mind turns to Nutella. Nut butters are a popular way to supplement vegan diets with protein and fat. Peanut allergies are common, and I personally never much cared for the old PB, so that's why hazelnut butter jumps to mind. Almond butter might also be a tasty alternative.

Small cubes of cooked tofu would make a fun finger food, and in a pinch, cut up soy dogs or tofu nuggets could work. Chickpeas might be fun to play with. Beans are a great food, if messy - but mashed into a paste with a little salt they are delicious! Mashed avocado, like a milder guacamole would also be a good source of fat.
posted by abirae at 10:26 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Babies need a lot of fat. The big problem with malnourished vegan babies is usually that they don't get enough fat.

I agree with several other posters above: what's needed here is whole milk, and a lot of it. That's more important than honoring the parents' wishes about veganism.
posted by Class Goat at 10:28 AM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm not a nutrition expert, but there is some controversy about giving children soy products due to high levels of estrogen that can negatively affect their development. definitely talk to a nutritionist.
posted by ialwayscryatendings at 10:31 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

[a few comments removed - take YAY/BOO VEGAN talk immediately elsewhere, thank you]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:38 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding ialwayscryatendings' warning re: soy products. I was a soy-formula baby, and grew up to have all sorts of hormone-related disorders - I realize that I'm only one person, but I wouldn't wish what I've gone through on anyone else, so I feel obligated to put this out there.
posted by chez shoes at 10:38 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

One thing: a lot of "veggie burgers" and faux chicken products, including fake chicken nuggets, contain egg (as a binder). A quick scan of the ingredients' lists will clue you in.
posted by amtho at 10:45 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another vote for talking to a pediatrician. Especially if the kids are going to be with you for a period of time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:48 AM on November 25, 2008

I'm really interested to know what religion it is that tells these folks they have to be vegan, because I've never heard of that religion before.

Jainism is one. There are others, depending on the personal beliefs of the person within the religion.

Onhazier, I would contact local houses of worship that mandate or encourage veganism. They may be able to point you in exactly the right direction. I know you are following the rules of fostering children, but I applaud that you are willing to go the extra mile to help these children and their families maintain their religious convictions.

I checked your profile to find something near you, and although this is not in your town, it's worth a call: Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington.
(301) 260-1264
(301) 384-9550
(301) 476-7620
posted by Houstonian at 11:01 AM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

abirae: according to our pediatrician all nuts, not just peanuts, are to be avoided before age 2. I have heard people say it's age 1, but we were, I believe, told age 2 to avoid possible future allergy issues.
posted by The Bellman at 11:02 AM on November 25, 2008

Extra vitamins. :/
posted by rokusan at 11:08 AM on November 25, 2008

Avocado is generally recognized as one of the "super foods"
posted by mandal at 11:10 AM on November 25, 2008

The Vegan Society offers a list of what to feed babies at 8-10 months, and 12+ months and also more information about veganism and nutrition in children, and popular foods for small kids.
posted by Houstonian at 11:14 AM on November 25, 2008

Thanks Bellman. I knew that nuts are common allergens, and frequently harbor fungi which are also allergens, but I didn't know about the warning for the little ones. I now shift my money to the mighty avocado (thanks mandal) which can be mashed together with almost anything. Avocado + bananna? Yum! Avocado + sweet potato? Looks funny but tastes good! Avocado + spinach? Creamed spinach delight!
posted by abirae at 11:17 AM on November 25, 2008

Uh, it's quite possible that avoiding giving nuts to babies is a big cause of peanut allergies and so refraining is counterproductive. There was just a post about ths on the blue. But I'm not an allergist.
posted by Justinian at 11:27 AM on November 25, 2008

Death by Veganism Op-Ed in the NYTimes. But the child who died was only 6 months old at the time.
Exactly. Most breastfed children are vegan when they are six months old, because official recommendations are that children do not eat solids before six months. Most children do not die when they receive breastmilk. The death of that baby had nothing to do with veganism. If they had fed their child only chicken, the child would have died as well.

If this is an emergency placement, I would not worry too much about nutrional completeness (but do give the older child a B12 supplement or better, a multivitamin, if he does not get enough formula), but focus on calories for now. If you cannot get donor breastmilk, or expressed breast milk from the mother, the little one needs soy formula. If you cannot find one that is completely vegan, the only problem usually is that there is wool-derived vitamin D3 in it. This will probably be an okay compromise because otherwise the child will die. I would also give the older child formula. The very best food you can give them is one of the mashed avocado options mentioned above: good carbs, good fat. That's what children need. I still like banana/avocado "pudding" myself (just put an avocado, a banana and cocoa powder in a food processor). If there are no allergy issues (this is not something all paediatricians agree about for all children, it may also depend on where you live), do nut butter sandwiches for the older child, and make date-nut-balls. Beans are good, it may be best to start with red lentils, since they are easier to digest, and taste somewhat neutral. You can hide them in pasta sauces etc.. If the older child is used to beans, hummus is great (use extra olive oil). Don't give them too much fiber, especially if they are not used to it. It will fill them up too easily. Don't overthink protein. Even if you only gave them pasta or boiled potatoes, they would get enough protein. Protein deficiency occurs if they don't get enough calories, so focus on that (and of course do not give them sugary junk food).

The Vegan Society link Houstonian gave is good. This list of accidentally vegan normal foods may also be useful.

There are many recipes for vegan muffins/pancakes etc. on the internet. Dreena Burton's cookbooks are good for families.

Dr. Fuhrman wrote a book Disease Proof Your Child with information about how to raise a healthy child. He is not vegan, but recommends an almost-vegan diet, so there is lots of useful information. There are also recipes in the book. Recommended if the child is going to be with you for more than a few days. (The doctor also has a website with a membership where you can ask questions, which I found useful and worth the $35)
posted by davar at 11:33 AM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Here's a primer on "feeding vegan kids." It has a helpful table at the bottom about what to start when. Nuts in any form before the child is 12 months can be harmful, and those kinds of fat and fiber can be found in other foods (avocado).

Here is a medical review, published in Pediatrics in Review, of articles on vegan diets for infants.
posted by barnone at 11:38 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I eat vegan 99% of the time and know more about toddlers than about infants. So this is more relevant to the toddler than the infant.

Everything needs to be chopped into bite sized pieces or pureed, no matter what. Think about the size of a Tums. Let them eat with their fingers and let them spill all over themselves.

ANY melon.
Strawberries, but you need to chop them up.
Nuts of all kinds, softer nuts, like walnuts, are better.
Canned baby carrots, they're nice and soft.
Sliced avocados.
Baby tomatoes.
Granola. Lots of healthy fats and high calorie.
Cereal. Cheerios are a classic.
Peppers, red tends to be sweetest but get a few different colors.
Sorbet. Make sure it doesn't have milk.

PB&J sandwiches, cut them into little squares.
Beans. If you can find a bean salad at the deli in your grocery store, they like to pick and choose what kinds of beans they'll eat.
Frozen veggie mixes, make as directed but with less water and a few tablespoons of veggie oil.
Smoothies, include soy milk, bananas, and some other stuff.
Hummus. TONS of fat. You can buy the store bought or make it with chickpeas and olive oil.
Frozen french fries. Not the healthiest, but drizzle them with a little oil before you put them in the oven and it's better than nothing. Serve with ketchup
Picky eater, make rice with a few tablespoons of olive oil (or other veggie oil).
Slice firm tofu into squares, dip them into teryaki sauce or soy sauce, and bake them at a medium teperature until they're dry.
Peanut butter balls.

And, no, don't just give them milk. A lot of people are lactose intolerant, and if they've never had it, it could make them ill. Thank you for respecting their parents' wishes for them.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:44 AM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Cows milk is actually quite bad for babies. If you think about it, most 8 month olds are vegan by default anyway: they ordinarily, no matter what their parents eat, get breast milk and vegetable or fruit baby food at that age with not much else. So don't freak out or worry too much; this is normal food for infants.

I'd go to the local health food store, get whatever kind of infant formula they're selling and a couple of jars of earth's best (my kids were partial to sweet potatoes) and a banana or two for the baby. Try tofu dogs - cut up into slivers just like you would always do with a hotdog for a toddler - or a veggie burger for the 18 month old. S/he'll probably like bananas as well, and oatmeal with soy milk is great. A lot of kids like green beans and they pretty much all like rice; you shouldn't have too much trouble finding vegan toddler food without much effort.

On preview, what davar said.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:45 AM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

More ideas:
Sweet potato, mahed with a little brown sugar.
Green beans, fresh and canned, plain or sauteed with some salt and olive oil.
Canned olives
Portobello mushrooms (or other mushrooms) cut up and sauteed with salt and olive oil.
Juices are great and help keep them from getting constipated. The toddler might not know how to work juice boxes so be prepared to put them in a sippy cup or bottle.
Pasta. Try getting the shaped pasta (wagon wheels, WOAH!) and put a small cup or bowl of tomato sauce and let them dip.
The really nasty fake whipped cream is sometimes vegan.
Crackers with any form of spread or dip.

You might have noticed that I'm a big fan of cooking stuff in oil, that's because unlike adult cooking (where we sometimes tend to avoid fat), toddlers really need fat. And oil tends to be delicious.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:01 PM on November 25, 2008

From barnone's link, a publication by the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Although there have been case reports of children failing to thrive or developing cobalamin deficiency on vegan diets, these are rare exceptions. Multiple experts have concluded independently that vegan diets can be followed safely by infants and children without compromise of nutrition or growth and with some notable health benefits. Pediatricians working with vegan families must ensure that the parents understand the special nutritional needs of children at different developmental stages and assist them in meeting those needs within the framework of their beliefs.
posted by davar at 12:07 PM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Have you asked child services' if they have a nutritionist? You might get important answers like "Oh, please don't follow that request from the parents!" which no one here can give you.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:53 PM on November 25, 2008

If you do end up taking them to a doctor, you may want to find a vegan-friendly practitioner who will help you stay on track with the parents' wishes. This local Yahoo Group might have good resources for you. I'd also recommend checking out's forums, which have sections on nutrition as well as local sections for each state. You'll find a lot of vegans and vegan-friendly resources there.
posted by xo at 1:25 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Call child services.

Let me repeat again, call child services and report a potentially malnourished infant.

They are vegan, as you said "due to their parents religion", not evidence that is is better for them.

If the child looks malnourished, he/she is potentially being abused by his/her parents and you have an imperative to call child services.
posted by zentrification at 1:37 PM on November 25, 2008

I think there is lots of good advice above about feeding the vegan toddler, but if you think the 8 month old is malnourished, then definitely call a local pediatrician. I think the soy formula is a good place to start, its not like you are signing him/her up for it long term. I agree with the concerns about soy in large amounts, but one night or a few days are not going to harm. However, call a pediatrician, please, for suggestions on the 8 month old. He/she should still be getting all or most of his/her nutrition from breastmilk or formula, and you should be careful about what other foods you feed, not knowing what has been introduced, what the families allergies are.

I also strongly second the mothers milk bank too.
posted by Joh at 1:42 PM on November 25, 2008

Zentrification, the poster is a foster parent -- she says so, right between the words "religion" and "malnourished" that you picked up on. The children are in foster care. That means, child services has already been called.
posted by Houstonian at 2:13 PM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you truly want to respect the parents wishes, check with them first about the breastmilk bank - they might not consider breast milk from a non vegan person to be vegan/religiously appropriate.
posted by missmagenta at 2:39 PM on November 25, 2008

The only question here should be as to what is best for the child. The parent's wishes only come into play so long as those wishes are not clearly against the child's best interests.
posted by Justinian at 3:03 PM on November 25, 2008

Justinian, foster parents receive extensive training, and have house visits to ensure that they follow the rules. One of the rules is that they promise to respect the religious preferences of the child and the child's legal/birth parents. So the question is, "What do vegan babies eat?"
posted by Houstonian at 3:15 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

[a few comments removed - if this isn't about how to feed a vegan baby or respectful commentary on that issue, please take it to metatalk or email thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:43 PM on November 25, 2008

A bit late here, but I just got to the part of my nutrition textbook that covers feeding vegan babies. Here's what it says:

The risks of malnutrition in infants increase with weaning and reliance on table foods. Infants who receive a well-balanced vegetarian diet that includes milk products and a variety of other foods can easily meet their nutritional requirements for growth. This is not always true for vegan infants; the growth of vegan infants slows significantly around the time of transition from breast milk to solid foods. Protein-energy malnutrition and deficiencies of vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and calcium have been reported in infants fed vegan diets. Vegan diets that are high in fiber, other complex carbohydrates, and water will fill infants' stomachs before meeting their energy needs. This problem can be partially alleviated by providing more energy-dense foods, such as nut butters, legumes, dried fruit spreads, and mashed avocado. Using soy formulas (or milk) fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D and including vitamin C-containing foods at meals to enhance iron absorption will help prevent other nutrient deficiencies in vegan diets. Parents or caregivers who choose to feed their infants vegan diets should consult with their pediatrician and a registered dietitian frequently to ensure a nutritionally adequate diet that will support growth.

From "Understanding Nutrition" by Ellie Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes
posted by vytae at 1:59 PM on November 30, 2008

Thanks for all the input. Your information was greatly helpful!! After a week, we had more information from the case worker and the vegan/vegetarian confusion was cleared up. The babies were to be kept on a vegetarian diet; not vegan. While they were lean, they were not malnourished.

We only had them for 35 days. In that time, both children put on weight and were fed very healthy vegetarian meals. I was able to give them normal baby formula and the older one drank whole milk. They were seen by a pediatrician (after about 15 practices turned them down due to insurance/lack there of) and were deemed to be in good health other than drippy noses from being in daycare.

So, while we do not have them in our home any longer, your links and info made my life easier and helped more than you may realize. Thank you!
posted by onhazier at 7:47 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

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