Thursday, October 04, 2007

Raising a Healthy Vegetarian Baby or Toddler

Here's to the illustrious, healthy vegetarian baby. Reading the newspapers, even talking to doctors, and certainly talking to my parents you might worry it's as rare as the three toed astronaut. But vegetarians have been raising healthy babies for centuries, throughout the world. But how to do it in Houston?

The major caveat in raising a healthy, happy, vegetarian baby is that you have to expand the kind of items you put on your grocery list. You need to start buying the exotic goods staring out at you from the bulk bins in your health food store or co-op of choice. The other major caveat is that you have to learn how to cook. No more sandwiches for both of your two meals a day, no more a slice of pizza here and some french fries there. If you can manage both these tasks, you can raise your vegetarian baby just fine.

Grasshopper, our resident vegetarian baby, usually has six or seven meals a day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, snack, dinner, snack. She eats so frequently because she doesn't always finish a meal, and that's okay. If she eats three bites of lunch, I operate under the assumption that that old demon hunger will compel her to munch more heavily during her later snacks. (GreenDaddy's mom -- Grasshopper's Dadi -- visited this weekend and told me she'd read an article suggesting that part of the obesity epidemic in the US is linked to people forcing their children to eat every last scrap on the plate...that is, to eat when they're not hungry. I love studies that support my habits!)

The best thing about Grasshopper's frequent snacking, I think, is that it makes it much easier for me to ensure she's eating from the Green Parenting Food Circle (not a triangle because somedays she gets more of one than the other): protien, fruit, grains, water, dairy & vegetables daily between snacks and meals. I should also mention that she still breastfeeds once a day, though she's forgetting to ask everyday now.

With all this in mind, I thought I'd put out this list of foods that Grasshopper is inordinatley fond of, and/or, doesn't know she eats but does regularly. I'm certain I've forgotten or don't know about other great ideas, and I'd love any new ideas to widen our range.

Grasshopper's Favorite Vegan Foods:

Quorn. It’s a brand of meat-aping protein consisting primarily of fungus n’whey, you find it in the frozen food, next to the Boc-blech Burgers. I like giving it to Grasshopper because I don’t want to overload her with soy. It comes in fake chicken & fake meatball forms. Whole Foods has it on sale once a month, usually, and I stock up, or I can’t afford it.

Veggie/Bean/Tofu Burgers. We make them at home, usually. None of us like the store bought much.

Tofu. What can’t you do with tofu? It goes into homemade veggie burgers, in Chinese food. While I’m not such a huge fan of tofu blocks in food, Grasshopper is. In a pinch, I buy the pre-made teriyaki tofu from the Whole Foods salad bar.

Frozen edamame and lima beans. I microwave them in water for about 45 seconds. A favorite snack of MaGreen and Grasshopper alike.

All the other beans. Since I got my pressure cooker in gear I love buying all sorts of crazy looking beans at Whole Foods. Turtles, Aztecs, Black Beans, Navy, Kidney. Usually I cook these with greens.

Lentils & Dahls GreenDaddy has a favorite traditional Gujurati dahl, and I have a few favorites I make. Grasshopper munches them up.

Rice. A quarter of our meals are served over brown or white Basmati. This was one of the baby's first favorites.

Hot Cereals. I alternate between oat grout, seven grain, and plain old oatmeal from the bulk bins.

Rainbow Light NutriStart Multivitamin Powder. Grasshopper needs Iron supplements and the iron drops the doctor prescribed taste exactly like you’re eating a pole in winter: metallic and you can’t unstick the flavor from your tongue for hours. Rainbow Lite is a brand my friend Kayte turned me onto when I was looking for prenatal vitamins. They’re free of “artificial colors, flavors, sweetners, preservatives and other objectionable additives often found in vitamin products.” Since they don’t have any goodies in them they taste like blech, which is why I buy the powder packets. I put them in her cereal.

Quinoa & Amarynth. Super protein filled seed-grains of the Aztecs. I add them rice whenever I cook it, put a little in her seven grain cereal in the morning.

Noodles. Who doesn’t like a good noodle every now and then?

Sunflower & pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I grind them and put them in food, sometimes I just put them in food, sometimes we just snack on them.

Nuts. Walnuts, peanuts, cashews. No allergies in this house, thankfully. She’s just learned how to chew them well enough to snack on.

Peanut butter. Grasshopper likes it on slices of apples.

Dried, unsweetened cranberries we always have on hand. And I also usually have another sort of dried unsweetened fruit, pineapple if it’s available, or mango.

Veggies. Broccoli, corn, carrots are her favorites. I don’t put any sauces on them, except butter on occasion. I remember my dad trying to “mask the taste” of broccoli with melted cheese and just destroying the vegetable for me. I was shocked to discover I loved it when I was twelve or thirteen and my always dieting stepmother demanded he serve the cheese to the side so she could eat hers with lemon juice over it. I believe I told every single person I met for a month about this amazing discovery of lemon juice on broccoli.

Greens. The vegetable that one ups all the others. We're in the south, we get a variety of Kales, Collards, Mustard, Beet, Dandelion, Chards, Spinach...and a few I just can't think of. For grashopper I choose the more tender varieties and least pungent: Spinach, Chards, Dinosaur Kale. I usually cook them with beans or if it's a tough green, I boil it in the water with pasta. Grasshopper loves them sometimes, hates them sometimes.

Mushrooms. She likes cooked mushrooms.

Berries. Frozen blueberries. Seasonal raspberries, blueberries, strawberries.

Fruit. Apples, oranges, bananas, mango, melons, grapes.

Crackers. Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies or TLC cheddar crackers. But also just regular wheat crackers.

Catsup. What can you do? She loves to dip.


Whole Yogurt. Grasshopper eats a few bowls of plain yogurt with honey in it a day. It’s her primary dairy intake.

Honey. She inherited her craving of honey from my mom. For yogurt and cereals.

Whole Milk. In her cereal. On occasion she’ll drink it.

Eggs. She’s on and off with eggs, and we eat them rarely.

Cheese. Grashopper isn’t a fan of cheese, but some other babies might be.


Kristen said...

Hi GreenDaddy!
Check out This is vegetarian food specifically for toddlers. They have "Puffets" which are little hand-held casseroles. They sell them around me, I'm not sure if they sell them in Houston, but the website has a way to request stores!

MeganZ said...

Fantastic post - thank you so much! I'm not a vegetarian but my 13 month old so far refuses all meat products, so I'm anxiously looking for ideas on how to keep her healthy!

Love your blog. :)

cake said...

it is amazing how similar grasshopper's diet is to cosmo's. unfortunately, he will rarely keep tofu or eggs in his mouth! he also will not eat fish or the ocaissional other meat we offer him, so for now, he is a vegetarian by choice.

i give cosmo a baby museli, (made by familia, available at whole foods) almost every morning. i used to mix it will milk and warm it, now i just mix it with whole milk yogurt and serve it to him cold. i like it because there's a lot of good stuff in there, and it is sweetened only with fruit. the other thing i like about it is that cosmo loves it, and has for a long time. he always eats it, and sometimes eats two bowls. it is also easy for him to feed it to himself.
another favorite is french toast. he loves to help me make it (he gets to dip the bread in the egg mixture)and it is a way to sneak eggs into his diet.

i agree with meganz, fantastic post.

chuck said...

lil grasshopper eats like her tios.


GreenDaddy said...

When we went to the pediatrician, she told us that Grasshopper is around 25th percentile for weight and 70th percentile for height. We were worried because she looks skinny compared to some of her friends, and in the back of my mind that voice of mainstream advertising driven culture is saying, "Feed her meat, feed her meat." The doctor reassured us, however. She didn't think we should be alarmed because Grasshopper has always been in the lower percentiles for weight. Also, I wonder if the charts are based on the "unnatural" growth patterns of children overfed pork, chicken, and beef.

Kate said...

Quorn isn't vegan actually (egg/dairy). I am disappointed about that. I tried the stuff 10 or so years ago in the UK and quite enjoyed it. :)

Still, sounds like Grasshopper is eating all that she needs to hop healthily.

Nice to see you at the co-op from time to time, and I do enjoy the blog. :)


rachel said...

Thanks for this post! I'm mostly veg (I eat fish on occasion, though haven't liked it during pregnancy so far) and intend to have a veg baby/child. I feel reassured by this post after being harassed about it by my father-in-law.

Everyone in my family is skinny and tall, regardless of diets. This includes my nephew, who is 5 and does eat meat. Those things are often in the genes.

Amit said...

Such a nice blog!! I'm so glad that you are blogging about your green experiences and experiments. :)

Have you tried Sunshine Burgers by any chance? They are the best ever, and I've tried them all.


joanna said...

quorn isn't vegan -- i'm pretty sure the majority of it has egg whites.

congratulations on raising your kid veggie! this is a great post.

Anonymous said...

I left a comment earlier about the possibility of Quorn being a dangerous product. I was on my way out and didn't have time to search for the source. I was disappointed (and a bit hurt, to tell the truth) when I checked back later to find that my comment was removed. I greatly admire your blog and discover a great many new green theories from it. I had only intended to give something back. Besides, if Quorn really was bad for your child, you might want to explore it a bit more before continuing to feed it to her. Of course, it's understandable if you thought I was just some nut spewing warnings with nothing to back them up. And so, I searched and found the source. It was in an article by John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America:

"Quorn, in fact, is a highly processed food made in giant laboratory vats from a fungus (Fusarium venenatum) which is a mold, not a mushroom. An expert on Fusarium fungus, David M. Geiser of the Pennsylvania State University Fusarium Research Center, told the FDA that calling the Fusarium fungus that is the basis of Quorn foods a mushroom is like “calling a rat a chicken because both are animals.”

A mycologist from Cornell University said that mushrooms are as distantly related to Quorn’s fungus as humans are to jellyfish.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is strongly opposed to Quorn, and has asked the FDA to halt the marketing of Quorn products and to require all Quorn foods to be recalled from market shelves. According to CSPI, quite a number of people have gotten sick after eating the product, typically vomiting several hours after eating the product.

This comes as no surprise to Dr. David A. Morowitz, Clinical Professor of Medicine (gastroenterology) at Georgetown University. “ The data argue compellingly,” he says, “that the mycoprotein derived from Fusarium venenatum is almost certainly gastrotoxic. The risk of its toxicity does not justify its continued use here in the United States.”

“On theoretical grounds alone,” adds Dr. John Santilli, a Bridgeport, Connecticut allergist, “the use of this mold in food is highly dubious. Intentionally increasing consumer exposure to mold through the food supply will only increase the risk of discomfort and adverse reactions in mold-sensitive consumers.” "

Please look into it before you rule out the dangers of feeding Quorn to your toddler. Thanks.

MaGreen said...

Thank you anonymous for your research on Quorn. We didn't remove your original comment. I'm not sure why it didn't post.

We'll do an article on Quorn sometime in November, when we're back at the computer. We did read research on Quorn, but since Grasshopper has never had an allergy to it, we haven't been overly concerned about it. Soy and peanuts cause strong allergies, so we're not surprised that the potential for Quorn to cause an allergy exists. We are more concerned about how processed it is, however. It has been a staple of her diet -- she eats it several times a week -- but I think we'll use it less frequently. I'll just have to make more veggie burgers...

Kaz said...

Great post. Our daughter was (is?) still in the same percentile and also vegetarian, and we've never really been concerned. Nowadays, she eats what we eat, so (hopefully) gets a very balanced vegetarian diet.

She also understands the whole, "we don't eat meat... but other people do" thing. And that what we call a "chick nugget", "bacon", and "hot dog" is not the same as what her friends at school might eat.

We've found it very easy these days to feed her a veggy diet. I think starting her early eating what we eat has helped. I don't think she finds it unusual that her favorite foods are Thai food, stir fries, tacos, etc...

Good luck and keep up the good work!

Resa said...

Help! I am having a very hard time getting my 18 month old to try veggies and most fruits. If it was up to him he would eat nothing but blueberries and mac & cheese and barilla plus pasta. I am so worried that he is not getting what he needs. He won't eat so many things. I am going to try the grazing concept. Right now I'll put out a handful of grapes and cereal and he'll eat that but I hadn't thought to put out lots of little things. I do it for snacks. Anyway, thank you for letting me vent. I don't have any vegetarians in my life and it gets frustrating. Most of my family rolls their eyes at me, except my mom--she great about it.

Katie said...

Hello, my husband and I, as well as my 18month old are all vegetarians. My Son eats just about all fruits but it has been hard to get him to eat Veggies unless I sneak them into mac and cheese. :-) My main concern is that I just started him in daycare and he is the only veggie baby there so I am having to bring his lunch everyday. I don't mind because then at least I know he is eating unprocessed foods. But I am running out of ideas for things that will be easy for him to eat himself, plus easy for the daycare workers to heat up if needed. I always end up sending pasta or PB&J with fruit. Can you give me some ideas for To-Go meals?

Anonymous said...

The person who wrote about QUORN is only partially correct. We too eat Quorn at our house. We think it tastes much better that most of the processed tofu stuff (fake burgers etc.) I am a contributer to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and have a PhD in organic chemistry. So as you can imagine I was very alarmed when I read the report that has been partially posted in your comment section.

I contacted CSPI and asked them about this and their response was NOT that they were opposed to Quorn, and in fact acknowledged it as a good source of protein. What they did object to is the fact that SOME people have seriously allergic reactions to quorn and they are lobbying the FDA to put warnings to that affect on the packaging such as they do for milk and nuts etc.

When pressed on the issue I was told that "Quorn is perfectly fine but people should be warned that they may have a reaction. If you and your child have eaten it and feel no adverse effects then you have nothing to worry about." CSPI is NOT calling for a ban on Quorn only that they packaging be changed. That is why they called for the packaging.

I think in this day and age, with scarcity of resources we should be careful not only in what we eat and how we choose to live, but also in what alarm bells we ring. To come out against a food product that is made cheaply, with minimal impact on the environment without checking all of the facts is dangerous.

nerdmafia said...

wow! thanks for this post! i'm hoping to soon be mum to a mostly vegetarian baby (i do eat fish, eggs occasionally, and some dairy - yogurt & cheese, so...). but for now, i'm the full time nanny for two little ones and we just found out that the 2yr old is a little low on the iron side. she eats her veggies alright for me during the week, but i think she gives mum a hard time on the weekends. doc says she should eat more red meat, but she really hates it so far...i'm gonna tell her mum about the Rainbow Light NutriStart Multivitamin Powder as soon as i see them tomorrow! thanks for the tip!