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Vegetarian and vegan diets

Explore ways of introducing vegan or vegetarian (plant based) diet to your babies and infants as well as key dietary considerations for parents.

Plant based diets are increasingly popular and they are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including infancy, childhood, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

In Australia, it’s estimated that around 9–11% of the population eats a meat-free diet. In countries like India and regions of Asia, the numbers are much higher.

We know that plant based diets are good for our health and the planet. People who consume a vegetarian or largely vegetarian diet tend to have lower risks of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Compared to diets rich in animal products, plant based diets are more environmentally sustainable as they use far less natural resources to produce.

Even if you’re not a vegetarian, eating some meatless meals can be good for you and good for the planet. Indeed, a diet largely made up of wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes with some animal products or vegetarian alternatives is recommended.

For all of us, whatever food we prefer to include in our diets, it’s really useful to have guidelines about how to ensure you and your baby will thrive.

Key Considerations

Most nutrients found in animal products can also be found in plants. But several nutrients, iron, B12, iodine, omega 3 fats and zinc can be harder to obtain from plant foods alone. Given this, careful planning is important.

The first 12 months of life is a critical time of rapid growth and development, and deficiencies in these nutrients can have impair the health of your baby.

Watch the video where Dr Miaobing (Jazzmin) Zheng and Konsita Kuswara, a dietitian, discuss some strategies on ensuring a well-balanced vegetarian or plant-based diet for infants and mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The table below summarises the key nutrients, their best sources and strategies to get the most out of plant based diets. IN_2.9_Key_Nutrients_200928.png
Key Nutrients table (select the image to download the PDF version)

Tips to ensure a well balanced vegetarian or vegan diets

Here are a few tips to help you and your baby follow a well-balanced vegetarian diet. You can also find an example meal plan for a vegetarian diet for infants below.

  • Breastfeed your baby for the first six months and continue breastfeeding to 24 months. If breastfeeding is not possible, donor breastmilk or infant formula are the only safe alternatives. Please revisit contents in week 1 that discusses milk feeding in more detail.
  • At around six months, introduce iron rich first foods such as iron fortified cereals, tofu, chickpeas and lentils combined with foods rich in Vitamin C such as broccoli, capsicums, oranges and berries. If you include some animal products in your diet, red meat is a rich source of iron and can be included as first foods. See steps 2.4 and 2.5 for details on appropriate textures.
  • Vitamin B12 only occurs naturally in animal products. The amount of B12 in breastmilk also depends on the mothers’ diet. For vegan mother and baby, eating foods fortified with vitamin B12 or having B12 supplements is important to meet the required intake. Similarly, iodine is generally found in seafood and commercial breads. Vegan infants not consuming seafood or bread regularly will need iodine supplements. Please consult appropriate healthcare professionals such as paediatricians, doctors, maternal and child health nurses, or dietitians for individualised advice.
  • Wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds are good sources of iron, zinc, and omega 3 fats and should be included in most meals.
  • Regular monitoring of nutritional status is recommended.

Sample Vegetarian Meals for Baby 6-9 Months Old, select the image to download a PDF version
Select the image to download a PDF version of the table

Sample Vegetarian Meals for Baby 9-12 Months Old, select the image to download a PDF version
Select the image to download a PDF version of the table

Your task

Watch the video and consider the following:

  • Do you or do you intend to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding?
  • If so, what are some strategies to ensure that you’re consuming enough iron, zinc, omega 3 fats, iodine and vitamin B12?
  • If you’re considering raising your child on a vegetable-based diet, how will you make sure that they’re receiving the right amounts of these key nutrients?
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Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids

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