Introducing Solids: Feeding vegan babies
by Erin Pavlina
When my daughter, Emily, was 5½ months old she started showing an intense interest in eating solid foods. I had planned to wait until she was six months old and start introducing fruits, but one day my husband, Steve, was passing by her with a banana. She started reaching and grabbing for it and nearly launched herself at her daddy’s feet to get some. Steve said, “What do you think? Should I give her a taste?” I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea but it did appear as if she wanted it badly. He held it up to her nose and she smelled it and then started licking it. She opened her mouth to take a bite and I told Steve not to let her bite it since I wasn’t sure she could chew it up or swallow it. We got out a little bowl and mashed the banana and held the spoon up to her. Her first bite was anything but tenative. She chomped the spoon and swallowed the food like she’d been doing it her whole life. She ate half a banana in less than 3 minutes and wanted more. And that’s how my baby came to be eating solids. She was ready before I was!
Signs of Readiness
Maybe your baby isn’t leaping out of her chair to take a bite of your lunch, but maybe she’s showing other signs of readiness. At around 4 to 6 months of age, look for these signs:
- Can sit up on her own.
- Can turn her head away to show she is done.
- Can move food to the back of the mouth and swallow it without pushing it back out with her tongue.
- Eyes and grabs food from your plate.
- Seems interested in eating solids.
Just because your baby wants to eat solid foods doesn’t mean your breastfeeding relationship is over. Remember, baby needs breastmilk (or formula) until she’s one year old. Some moms want to delay solids as long as possible, but solid food will help provide your baby with nutrients and energy, and she’ll begin to develop a taste for solid foods. Encourage that.
So what should you feed your baby first? Usually people start with iron fortified infant cereal, however, many moms start with fruits since they are so easy to digest. Babies will probably enjoy the natural sweetness of fruits which may help them develop a taste and desire to eat solids. And fruits are so nutritious. Vegetables are another good choice for beginning foods. However, don’t start your baby on foods that are difficult to digest like meat analogs, tofu, and hard to chew grains like rice. Whatever you decide to start with is up to you. Here are some ideas:
- 4 to 6 months: Try iron fortified infant cereals and mashed fruits like bananas or apples. Be sure the fruit is pureed and strained and use organic fruits whenever possible.
- 6 to 7 months: Now you can introduce vegetables. Babies generally like sweet potatoes, peas, squash, and carrots. Avoid giving your baby spinach until he is over one year of age.
- 7 to 8 months: Now it’s safe to add mashed tofu, and well cooked and pureed legumes.
- 8 to 9 months: Baby is ready for finger foods and whole grains. Finger foods should be easy to chew or should dissolve quickly in baby’s mouth to avoid choking. Make sure grains are well cooked and mashed.
- 10 to 12 months: Solid foods can now require a bit more chewing and baby is ready to start eating off your plate. Add nuts and seeds at the one-year mark, but make sure they are mashed, blended, or pureed to avoid choking.
When you introduce solids to your baby you need to watch for allergic reactions. Start by giving your baby one food at a time, leaving 3 days or more before starting any new food. Watch for signs of allergy such as a rash, diarrhea, vomitting, sneezing, runny nose, ear infection, and hives. However, if one of these signs does appear it may not be an allergy to the food but something else. In that case, eliminate the food and try reintroducing it later and see if the same reaction occurs. If there is a strong family history of being allergic to a certain food, don’t give that food to your baby for the first one to three years of his life.
- Choking hazards: Don’t give your baby grapes, hard candies, whole tofu dogs, popcorn, and overly sticky foods like raisins that they may have a tough time chewing up and swallowing. Make sure that if you make them oatmeal or other grains and cereals, that it’s not too gummy. I know a full grown adult who choked on oatmeal that was too thick.
- Salt and sugar: Babies don’t have the same palates that we do. Don’t salt their food or add sugar to it. They won’t know any different.
- Avoid non-nutritive foods: It might be tempting to give your baby juice, but make sure not to give her more than 8oz. per day or it will crowd out other nutritious foods. I always water down Emily’s juice so that she is drinking between 50% and 80% water and only 20% to 50% juice. She thinks juice is supposed to taste like that.
- Use organic whenever possible: If you’re making your own baby food, be sure to buy organic produce to avoid introducing pesticides and herbicides into your baby’s diet. You can buy organic baby food in jars if you’re not making your own. We relied on organic baby food a lot since I didn’t always have time to cook, mash, and puree.
- Don’t skimp on fat: For the first two years of your baby’s life, don’t try to restrict fat intake. Babies need fat at this age to grow properly. Good fat sources are avocados, nut butters, tofu, olive oil, and flax oil.
- Avoid too much fiber: When babies eat too much fiber their bellies are full before you’ve had a chance to fill it with all the nutrients they need. Limit really high fiber foods to occasional use only. That said, there’s no need to give them white flour all the time. Use whole grains!
Before you know it your child will be eating like a champ, eager to try new things and new textures. Have fun with this time! It goes fast!