Helen Rossiter looks at the challenges and triumphs of raising a vegan baby, and shares her favourite recipes.
As someone who hasn’t eaten meat or dairy for the last five years, I’m used to batting off questions from others about why I choose to live the way I do. But when meat eating friends and family found out that I planned on sticking to veganism through pregnancy, childbirth and beyond, the conversations started to get noticeably more intense.
Suddenly, everyone was an expert on nutrition, and even complete strangers seemed to have a problem with what I put on my plate. Friends of friends, family members and health professionals would all ask the same questions, their voices heavy with judgement. “So, are you going to stay vegan?”
What follows is a summary of what I have learned so far as a vegan parent, including a couple of my favourite recipes for pregnancy and childbirth. I hope that I can help more people to have the confidence to “stay vegan"!
Proud to have given my baby the best start in life
We’ve all read bad reports about vegan parents in the media. Stories of malnutrition and neglect are common; very rarely are we offered the chance to read about healthy, happy, well-nourished vegan babies. Because that wouldn’t be news, would it?
Vegan sceptics, I have news for you. My son Iolo was born a thriving 9lb 5oz. I produced so much breast milk I could easily donate to a milk bank. Many people say he is living proof that vegan babies can be perfectly healthy – actually glowing. He’s firmly in the top percentile for weight and height and is often complimented for looking incredibly happy and alert – even more so since we began weaning.
People’s interest in our diet hasn’t waned over the months; several parents continue to ask, “so, are you going to feed him meat?” I find this question quite hard to believe at times. I simply cannot comprehend why anyone would want to feed their baby the flesh of a dead animal. Or milk from another species. The sad thing is, I know many people believe it’s what children need to be healthy. I know this isn’t true.
How to survive an interrogation about what you choose to feed your child
1. Answer calmly
My first reaction was to be defensive, but I learned quickly that this was not the most effective way to win people over. Remember that if someone is questioning your choices, it’s probably because they care deeply about you and the health of your baby.
2. Know your stuff
Arm yourself with as much information as possible about veganism and nutrition so that you can speak with confidence about your choices. The Vegan Society has a free fully-referenced PDF here, while Sandra Hood’s Feeding Your Vegan Infant with Confidence and Rose Elliot’s Mother, Baby and Toddler are both excellent resources.
3. Speak the truth
Throughout my life, I have felt healthy, satisfied, and energised. I enjoy the foods that I cook and eat immensely, and have never been more adventurous and creative with food. Most importantly, I understand how a well-planned vegan diet can provide all the nutrition anyone ever needs. Including my baby.
4. Stand your ground
As a child, I turned to my mother one day and said “I don’t want to eat cows anymore.” Now a mother myself, I know that I can’t lie to my baby about what I believe to be right and wrong. Be in no doubt that your vegan diet is right for your baby, both pre- and post-natal. It’s just about education, confidence... and holding your head high.
Nutrients, nutrients, nutrients.
Are you getting enough? During pregnancy, your daily nutrient requirements increase considerably. You need more: iron, folic acid, B12 and other B vitamins, vitamins A, C and D, plus extra protein and calcium. I made sure I ate around ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day, including lots of leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, pulses, seeds, yeast extract, and fortified soya products. I also took Higher Nature’s Mum-to-Be supplement and Floradix Liquid Iron Formula, to ensure all bases were covered. That way, when my midwife asked about what I ate, she was left in no doubt that a vegan diet provided everything I needed.
From six months onwards, babies can enjoy fruit and vegetable purées, enriched with a variety of vegan protein, calcium and good fat sources. These include: lentils, mashed beans, quinoa, tofu, tahini, yeast extract, finely milled nuts and seeds and fortified soya products like milk or plain soya yoghurt.
In a rush? Top tips for a quick, nutritious dinner
Add quinoa to vegetables as they are cooking for a great source of protein. Almond butter on fingers of wholemeal bread makes a quick, calcium-packed snack. Cook polenta grain for just a minute on the hob with boiling water, then mix in readymade vegetable purée. Delicious and nutritious!
Tofu and Rocket Salad
For the salad:
½ packet rocket and spinach salad,
or other mixed leaves
½ block firm tofu (or about 120g), cubed
6 radishes, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
4 mushrooms, sliced
4 tbsp sunflower seeds½ yellow pepper, sliced
For the dressing:
1 tsp sweet chilli sauce
2 tbsp olive or linseed oil
1 tsp tamari or good quality soya sauce
1 tsp light tahini
1 tsp cider vinegar
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1. Mix all salad ingredients together in a serving bowl.
2. Make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a jug and beating together with a fork until smooth and the tahini is fully mixed.
3. Pour dressing over the salad and serve with hummous and wholemeal bread.
By Helen Rossiter
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