From as soon as I announced my pregnancy, people started paying more interest to my diet. Was I taking vitamins? Yes, all pregnant women are advised to take supplements. Was I craving meat? No, I’m actually not Phoebe Buffay. Was I thinking of raising the baby vegan, or just vegetarian? Always said as though vegetarian would be ok, but vegan would be a step too far.
The only people who weren’t interested in my diet were the healthcare professionals. They checked I was taking folic acid (which they do with all pregnant women), and then moved on. My doctor said that my vegan diet probably meant I was better clued up about food and health than most other pregnant women. I’m not sure it was strictly true at the time, but it is now.
Nothing gets you learning about nutrition than having a vegan baby to feed. The first six months were easy of course, I breastfed on demand and that gave her everything she needed. I took supplements while breastfeeding, when I remembered to, and was sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. Except on the days I only ate biscuits, but those were pretty early on, and I’m pretty sure even meat eating mums have those days in the newborn stage.
Then it came time to wean, and I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to see her enjoying her first tastes of solid food. The very first thing to pass her lips was a strawberry, stolen from my dish the day before she turned six months. With that one solitary strawberry, she managed to stain her vest, a blanket and a teddy as she gummed it round her mouth. From that point on, I started to give her solids three times a day. Fresh fruit for breakfast, salad or steamed vegetables for lunch, and for dinner she would have what we were having. During her first week this included dahl and madras. She was happy to eat anything, or play with it at least, I’m not sure very much of it made it through her digestive system for the first month at least. But that was fine, I was more worried about her exploring the food than eating it. She was still being breastfed on demand so I wasn’t worried about her missing any nutrients.
As the months went on, she started to eat more at mealtimes. As she got more teeth, she became better at chewing. Baby led weaning gave us hours of fun, and hours of cleaning, watching her enjoy new things. For the first six months of eating solid food, she ate mostly fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, rice and pasta. Sometimes she would clean her tray, other times she would just explore her food but not eat much of it. I didn’t want to force her to eat when she wasn’t hungry, so trusted her to decide what and how much she ate.
As she became mobile, I started leaving snacks in the living room for her so she could eat them at her own will. She would mosey over to the snack table for a nibble every now and again, eating what she wanted and leaving what she didn’t. She had favourite foods, and things she was less keen on, but I kept everything available to accommodate her changing tastes.
Sometime after her first birthday I started giving her the 1+ alpro soya milk in a cup. She still drinks this, as well as almond milk and water. Despite what some vegan charities may advise, I have never given her fruit juice (even diluted) because it causes tooth decay. Instead I make sure she is offered fresh fruit throughout the day - an offer she rarely refuses.
Without being overly meticulous, I offered her a mix of foods each day. I made sure to give her fruits and vegetables of each colour (red, yellow, green, orange and purple), to make sure she got a proper mix of nutrients. But if she chose not to eat any yellow food one day, then that was fine. I made sure she was regularly offered nuts, seeds, beans and lentils by including them in her daily diet.
At some point after her first birthday I started offering her soya yoghurts and cereal. These are both sugary foods so I tried to limit her intake, but I wanted to make sure she had some B12 fortified foods in her diet and these seemed to be a decent(ish) option.
When she became a toddler, I added more fat into her diet because this is important for brain development. Luckily she loves avocado so this was pretty easy. She will happily wolf down a whole avocado. She also loves coconut oil, which I add to her porridge, popcorn and any baking we do. I use flaxseed oil in her porridge too, and add it to her bowl of soup just before I serve it. She loves tofu, vegan cheese and the odd vegan burger.
Though I received a lot of comments and questions about vegan babies when I was pregnant and when I had a newborn, I very rarely get quizzed about this now. I can only assume this is because my daughter looks as healthy and full of energy as any other two year old, which she is.