Nurturing Love for Veggies & Plant-Based Foods in Infants and Toddlers!
How can you get your infant and toddler to eat more vegetables? Here’s everything you need to know in this plant-based healthy eating guide.
Infants and toddlers who are introduced to a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables, are more likely to eat them as they get older. Eating plenty of vegetables means children reap the rewards of oodles of nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrient antioxidants like lycopene in tomatoes and beta-carotene in carrots. Which explains why vegetable consumption can help protect against obesity and chronic diseases later in life.
Research shows that birth to 24 months is when food preferences and eating behaviors emerge and start to become established. The period from weaning to eating at the family table has significant impact on the likelihood of lifelong healthy eating habits.
Here are a few tips to get you and your tiny tot started on a veggie forward journey.
- Breastfeeding Moms, Start Veggies Early. Introduce your baby to veggies through your breast milk! Start your baby’s love for the flavors and nutrients of vegetables by including a variety in your own diet.
- Make Their First Solids About Veggies. As you move from solely breast milk or infant formula, make sure the first foods your baby is exposed to include veggies to start developing that palate towards savory vegetables over sweet tastes. These can include milder, pureed, strained vegetables, such as peas and green beans.
- Expose Young Kids to More Vegetables. Studies show that it takes multiple exposures of vegetables to get young kids’ palates more familiar with them. And the earlier the better! So, don’t give up! Even if they spit them out the first time or the first several times, eventually they will become more familiar with, and learn to like and be more apt to eat those veggies with a grin.
- Think Veggie Diversity. Try an ever-increasing range of flavors—pumpkin, spinach, carrots, beans, corn—in purees and toddler foods to further develop your child’s palate towards exciting new flavors. Open them up to the whole wide world of healthy plant foods that awaits them.
- Sneak Them In. Don’t feel guilty about sneaking in veggies here and there. Studies show this strategy really works as little ones learn to like the taste of vegetables. However, it’s also a good idea for them to learn to recognize and like the tastes of different types of vegetables. Mix pureed vegetables into fruit purees for infants, blend fresh greens (blueberries will cover up the green color) into smoothies; add shredded zucchini into tender muffins, pancakes, and bars; and puree squash into creamy soups. It’s also really easy to add a full pouch of Sprout Organic purees—based on natural, unsweetened organic produce with zero additives—into these kid-friendly foods.
- Add Veggies to Favorite Dishes. Take advantage of young children’s all-time favorites, such as soup, and pile on the veggies. Cook up flavorful veggies, such as tomatoes, zucchini, and squash, into a thick soup and puree it. You can even stir in a pouch of Sprout Organic vegetable purees into a pot of soup to up the vegetable profile of that dish.
- Pair Vegetables with Toddler-Friendly Foods. Studies show that when less familiar vegetables are paired with young children’s favorite foods, such as potatoes, they consume more of them. So, squeeze a Sprout Organic Veggie Power pouch in a small bowl and top it with mashed potatoes to make small veggie pot pies. Or try other profiles of pouches that pair flavors with popular kid-friendly flavors, such as Sweet Pea Carrot Corn & White Bean.
- Make Eating Vegetables Fun. Look for veggies and veggie-rich snack foods that are fun for young children to pick up and pop in their mouths as they start to grasp foods. As infants start developing their young palates and eating skills to include more whole vegetables, make them exciting. Try small pieces of tender veggies that they can dip and dunk in a pretty pink Beet White Bean Hummus. Let them paint their small plates with clouds of mashed potatoes, a lawn of spinach puree, and carrot crescent flowers as their imagination grows.
Planning a Well-Balanced, Plant-Based Diet for Young Children
No matter what your personal eating style—whether you are an omnivore, flexitarian, or vegetarian—you and your child can benefit from eating more plant foods. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can meet the nutritional needs of growing infants and children. All it takes is a little planning to include a variety of nutrient-dense foods to meet all the child’s needs.
It’s important to get adequate amounts of all the major food groups in your young child’s diet as he or she moves from solely breast or infant formula to solid foods. They need to consume the following foods to meet their energy needs for optimal growth and development (the texture and types of foods differ depending on age):
- Protein: Protein is important to build all of those tissues as the child grows and develops. Plant protein sources include tofu, soymilk, beans, lentils, and nut butters, like peanut and nut butters.
- Grains: Grains, such as wheat, rice, quinoa, barley, and oats, provide important sources of energy (carbohydrates), as well as essential nutrients for healthy development, including fiber, vitamins (B6, E, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamin, and folate), minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and potassium), and even some protein and phytonutrients—plant compounds with antioxidant activity.
- Vegetables: A variety of vegetables—aim for a rainbow of colors and tastes—such as carrots, tomatoes, greens, beets, squash, and peas provide healthy carbs for energy, fiber for good digestion, and essential vitamins (A, B6, C, K, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid), and minerals (iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, copper, and selenium), plus a bevy of phytonutrients, and even some protein.
- Fruits: A bounty of fruits, such as berries, peaches, bananas, and pears, offer natural sweetness, plus healthy carbs for energy, fiber for gut health, and a range of essential vitamins (A, B6, C, E, K, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, and pantothenic acid) and minerals (calcium, potassium, manganese, and copper) for proper development, plus a cache of phytonutrients.
- Healthy Fats: Make sure that healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and plant oils, are part of the diet in order to meet needs for essential fatty acids, which are key for brain health.
- Supplements: It’s important to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin B12—available only in animal foods—in the diet through supplements if the child eats exclusively plants for good brain health. Other nutrients that may need supplementation include vitamin D for healthy bones and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for brain development. Speak to your health care provider about options.
Veggie-Forward Infant and Toddler Feeding Guide
While every child is unique, and you should monitor their readiness cues for foods before introducing new types, this serves as a general guide for feeding your baby a healthy veggie-forward diet, including vegetarian and vegan diet patterns. Including more vegetables in your young child’s diet helps them get a good start on life, filling their tummy with the nutrients they need for optimal development and disease protection later on in life. Introduce single ingredient fruit and veggie purees when babies show they’re ready for solid foods.
4-6 Months. Ideally, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and breastfed along with solid foods through the first year of life or longer. At about 4-6 months, babies begin to show developmental signs that they are ready for solid foods. One of the first solid foods you can try is iron-fortified infant cereal based on a single grain mixed with breast milk or formula. You can start trying one or two tablespoons of single purees of vegetables, such as peas, green beans, and squash to first introduce savory flavors, followed by fruits such as prunes, and protein foods, such as pureed, strained beans, one new food at a time. See Sprout Organic Foods Guide to Starting Solids.
6-8 Months. In addition to breast milk and formula, you can now start adding an increasingly fun variety of healthy plant foods as baby shows signs of readiness. Offer three to four tablespoons of plant protein foods such as pureed lentils to support growth, healthy whole grains cooked cereals for the energy they need, and a variety of pureed fruits (try apricots, berries, apples) and vegetables (like spinach, beets, zucchini) to provide the phytonutrients and essential nutrients their bodies need. By increasing this diversity of foods, you’ll give you baby a greater exposure to a variety of wholesome foods to expand his or her palate. In addition, you can start providing developmentally appropriate foods for picking up, such as soft crackers and breads, as the baby starts to develop these skills.
8-12 Months. At this stage, continue to increase the amount, variety, and texture of fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein foods to keep up with the growth and development demands of the baby. Satisfy your baby’s growing appetite with additional servings of protein and fiber to keep them feeling full and satisfied during mealtime. Try to introduce new flavors and textures, like four to six tablespoons of pureed, mashed or chopped soft fruits (try pears, bananas, and strawberries), vegetables (like green beans, chard, and asparagus), and tofu or beans, in addition to other finger foods during this stage, such as pieces of toast with thinly spread nut butters. Encourage them to practice self-feeding as their skills develop.
1-3 Years. During this period, it’s important to keep up with the child’s development and growth needs by aiming for adequate servings of plant proteins (legumes, nuts, seeds), whole grains (such as quinoa, oats, wheat), fortified soymilk (or whole milk), fruits (like oranges, cherries, and peaches), vegetables (such as squash, tomatoes, and snow peas), and healthy fats from avocado, nuts and seeds. These plant foods will provide a diverse range of important nutrients—carbs, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals—the baby needs to develop the brain, organs, muscles, and beyond.
Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Sprout Organic Foods pouches and snacks offers a full line of delicious, healthful products ideal for providing a veggie-forward, optimal diet your infant or toddler. These plant-powered children’s foods are made from 100% natural, organic whole vegetables, fruits, pulses, and grains, without the use of preservatives or additives. In addition, Sprout Organic Foods offers a rainbow of different types of flavorful veggies and grains, including beets, chickpeas, spinach, and quinoa, in their lineup to help provide new tastes and flavors for young children.
Sponsored by Sprout Organic Foods.