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Vegetarian and vegan feeding guide for babies

10-minute read

Key facts

  • Until around 6 months of age, breastmilk or formula contains all the nutrients that babies need.
  • Parents need to make careful choices about the vegetarian or vegan diet they feed their baby.
  • A vegetarian or vegan diet must have enough energy, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12 to support a baby’s growth.
  • Well-planned vegetarian diets can give babies all the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.

What is a vegetarian diet?

There are different definitions of a vegetarian diet. Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid meat, but eat eggs, milk and dairy food. Lacto-vegetarians avoid meat and eggs but eat milk and dairy food.

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet includes vegetables and plant-based products. It excludes food that come from animals.

Can babies have a vegetarian diet?

Babies can have a vegetarian diet if it gives them enough nutrients. Parents may be used to eating a vegetarian diet themselves for cultural or ethical reasons. Parents can begin feeding babies a vegetarian diet when they can begin eating solid foods.

Is it difficult to feed a baby a balanced vegetarian diet?

In recent years, more vegetarian food has become available. A vegetarian diet which avoids chicken, meat and fish can still be nutritious if you carefully choose alternative food.

What are some energy rich vegetarian foods for babies?

Regular meals and snacks help to give growing babies energy. As well as breastmilk or formula, offer your vegetarian-fed baby:

  • nut spreads
  • well-cooked egg
  • tofu and tempeh
  • avocado
  • oils — use olive and vegetable oils in cooked foods
  • meat substitutes such as lentils, nuts or substitute soy ‘meat’
  • rice, pasta and other grains

What are some protein rich foods for babies?

Offer your baby protein-rich foods 2-3 times per day to meet their growing needs. The highest concentration of protein tends to be in animal-based food. Offer your baby healthy and balanced meals at each of their main meals, for example:

  • dairy foods
  • nut butters and spreads
  • calcium fortified soya, rice, oat and almond drinks
  • eggs
  • meat alternatives like Quorn

Iron rich foods for babies

Iron is needed to help transport oxygen in the blood and prevent iron deficiency and anaemia. Haem iron, from animal-based foods, is a valuable source of dietary iron. If your baby is not eating meat, it’s important they get enough iron from non-haem iron sources, such as iron-fortified bread, cereals and green leafy vegetables.

Food rich in vitamin C helps the body to absorb more iron, so include fresh fruits and vegetables in your baby’s meals and snacks. Vegetarian iron sources include:

  • green leafy vegetables
  • legumes — baked beans and lentils
  • nuts and seeds
  • eggs
  • dried fruits

Does a vegetarian diet pose any risks to my baby?

Vegetarian food choices are often high in fibre. This means that babies can feel full before they’ve eaten enough food to meet their energy needs. Food high in ‘healthy’ fats has energy and needs to be included at each mealtime.

It is important to offer your baby regular meals and snacks. Healthy fats help to meet energy needs and include:

  • dairy foods or calcium fortified soy milk
  • eggs
  • tofu
  • nut spreads (children should not be given whole nuts until they are at least 5 years old due to a choking risk)

What are some of the challenges of a vegetarian diet?

When eating out, it can be hard for parents to make healthy and suitable food choices for their baby. Vegetarian food can be limited, which makes it difficult to ensure their needs are met. Consider packing food from home and transporting it safely. If your child attends a day care that provides meals, speak with the staff about your child’s needs. It may help for you to send vegetarian food that you know your child will eat.

Can babies and toddlers have a vegan diet?

It can be challenging for parents to make sure that a vegan diet has enough nutrients to meet a growing child’s needs. Vegan diets can be very restrictive, so parents need to carefully plan meals.

Does a vegan diet pose any risks to my baby?

Just as vegetarian diets can be low in energy, iron and calcium and Vitamin B12, a vegan diet may not meet a growing baby’s needs. It’s recommended that babies who are fed a vegan diet be breastfed for the first 2 years or more. If they are not breastfed, it’s recommended they have a soy-based infant formula for the first 2 years.

Do I need to give my vegan baby any supplements?

The general recommendation from experts is that vegans may need a vitamin B12 supplement. Iron supplements may also be useful for babies who are fed strictly vegan diets. Speak with your GP.

What food helps my baby to get the right nutrition?

Food swaps that will help ensure your baby is getting the right nutrition
Typical Diet Vegetarian Diet Vegan Diet
  • cooked egg dishes
  • cooked tofu
  • baked beans/ pulses/lentils
  • pureed vegetables
  • whole meal pasta with cheese/vegetable sauce
  • vegetable lasagna or pizza
  • zucchini or vegetable slices
  • vegetable soup with stock
  • beans/pulses/lentils
  • mushrooms
  • pasta with vegetable sauce
  • hummus with vegetables
  • steamed potato and/or sweet potato
  • mashed banana with nut butter
  • lentils
  • tofu
Cereals with milk iron fortified cereal with milk or calcium fortified soy milk cereal with fortified soy milk

Resources and support

Speak with your GP and maternal child health nurse about your baby’s diet. It may be helpful to see an Accredited Practicing Dietician to receive expert nutrition advice.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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