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Vegetarian and vegan babies and children - Your pregnancy and baby guide

Advice on introducing your baby to solid foods from around 6 months is the same for vegetarian and vegan babies as it is for non-vegetarian babies.

Babies and young children on a vegetarian or vegan diet can get the energy and most of the nutrients they need to grow and develop from a well-planned varied and balanced diet.

Find out more about vegetarian diet and vegan diets

But they might need specific supplements (such as vitamin B12) in addition to the usual vitamin supplements recommended for all babies. Talk to a health professional for advice.

Read more about your baby's first solid foods, food allergies in babies and food to avoid giving babies.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods, including eggs, cheese and milk.

If your baby or child has a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet that does not include dairy or eggs, they'll need to take a supplement that contains vitamin B12 or eat foods fortified with B12.

Foods that may be fortified with vitamin B12 include:

  • breakfast cereals
  • yoghurts and milk alternatives, such as soya, oat, coconut and almond drinks

Always check the labels as not all these products are fortified, especially organic versions.

Vitamin B12 can also be found in some yeast extracts, which is suitable for vegans (choose a brand with no added salt for your baby).

Iodine

In the UK, fish, cows' milk and other dairy products are the main sources of iodine in our diet.

Iodine can also be found in plant foods, such as cereals and grains, but the levels vary depending on the amount of iodine in the soil where the plants are grown.

Some seaweed and kelp products contain iodine, but these are not recommended as they can provide very high amounts of iodine, which may be harmful.

If your baby or child has a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet that does not include dairy, a supplement can provide a reliable source of iodine.

Omega-3

Omega 3 fatty acids are mainly found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel.

If your child does not eat fish, other sources of omega 3 include:

  • flaxseed (linseed) oil or ground linseeds
  • walnuts – give children under 5 years walnuts that have been ground up to reduce the risk of choking
  • ground chia seeds and hemp seeds
  • eggs enriched with omega-3

Evidence suggests that vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids may not have the same benefits for reducing the risk of heart disease as those in oily fish.

Find out more about vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids

Iron

You can make sure your child gets enough iron by giving them:

  • beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • seeds and nuts – offer these ground or as a nut butter for children under 5 years to reduce the risk of choking
  • dark green vegetables
  • wholegrains like wholemeal bread and brown rice
  • fortified cereals
  • dried fruit, such as apricots, figs and prunes (offer these with meals, rather than as a snack between meals, to help prevent tooth decay)

Calcium

Milk and dairy products are a good source of calcium, which is important for bones and teeth.

Whole cows' milk can be used for cooking from 6 months and offered as a main drink from 1 year old.

You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, oat or almond drinks, from the age of 12 months as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Children under 5 years should not have rice drinks as a substitute for breast milk or infant formula because they may contain too much arsenic.

Other sources of calcium include:

  • pulses (such as beans, lentils and chickpeas)
  • tahini
  • almond butter
  • calcium-set tofu
  • dried figs
  • bread
  • green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and okra

Some foods are also fortified with calcium, so check the labels.

Protein

Good sources of protein for children who eat some animal foods include:

Good sources of protein from plant foods include:

  • beans, chickpeas, lentils and soya products, and foods made from them, such as hummus, tofu and soya mince
  • seeds and nuts – offer these ground or as a smooth butter for children under 5 years to reduce the risk of choking

Peanuts, nuts and allergies

If your child already has a diagnosed food allergy, or there's a history of allergies in their immediate family (including asthma, eczema or hayfever), talk to your health visitor or GP before offering them foods containing peanuts or nuts for the first time.

Find out more about food allergies in babies

Is your child getting enough calories?

Young children need a good variety of foods to provide the energy (calories) and nutrients they need to grow and develop.

A vegetarian or vegan diet can be high in fibre. This can mean your child feels full up before they have taken in enough calories and nutrients.

When it comes to starchy foods, in addition to the higher fibre wholegrain and wholemeal versions, your child should have some lower fibre foods, such as white bread and rice, until they're 5 years old.

If you're concerned your child is not getting enough energy, offer them higher calorie foods, such as hummus, smooth nut and seed butters or full-fat yoghurt (dairy or dairy alternatives), and use vegetable oils or vegan fat spreads in cooking.

Vitamins for children

The Department of Health recommends that all children aged 6 months to 5 years are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.

It's also recommended that babies who are being breastfed are given a daily vitamin D supplement from birth, whether or not you're taking a supplement containing vitamin D yourself.

Babies who are having more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day do not need vitamin supplements because formula is fortified with nutrients.

Vitamin D2 is suitable for babies and children who have a vegan diet, and you can also get supplements containing vitamin D3 that comes from lichen.

Your health visitor can give you advice on vitamin drops for babies and young children.

Find out more about vitamins for children

Media last reviewed: 22 December 2017
Media review due: 22 December 2020

Page last reviewed: 27 February 2019
Next review due: 27 February 2022