Here are some helpful hints that outline some of the best plant-based baby food sources for healthy development. As well as some of the most important things to look for when buying foods for your baby, in a world full of misinformation, confusion about ingredients, and low-quality foods.
How to shop for quality foods
1. Why organic and non-GMO are important
We want to first start off by talking about organic and non-GMO, as these are important indicators of food quality.
Organic by the COS (Canadian Organic Standard), which is the regulatory body who overseas, monitors and enforces the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime, which certify artificial chemicals like pesticides and herbicides (like Roundup) weren't used in the growing of foods.
Certain herbicides, for example, have shown to be toxic to aquatic ecosystems, soil microorganisms, and human health.
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) represent the altering of genetic material in any organism through genetic engineering.
Since there aren't any longterm human safety studies regarding the consumption of GMOs, whether they're safe or not is unknown. With this in mind, It's probably best to avoid genetically modified foods in a baby's diet until more concrete safety data is published.
You can view this list of crops that have a high risk of containing GMOs.
2. Why plant-based?
When we start babies off with plant-based nutrition, they'll be getting healthy doses of fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They won't be consuming foods that contain cholesterol and other unwanted nutrients.
Cow's milk, for example, has added risks of causing dehydration and iron deficiency in babies. It's best to stick with breastmilk, dairy-free baby formula, and plant-based milk (after 12 months of age)
A diet free from animal products also lessens the chances of contact with superbugs (antibiotic-resistant bacteria) and foodborne illnesses that can come along with a non-plant-based diet.
Some of the best plant-based foods to feed your baby
It's recommended by the Canadian Paediatric Society and Health Canada that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months.
Understanding that breastfeeding isn't feasible in all situations, the best alternative is plant-based formula.
Babies will be ready for supplementary foods after they reach 6 months, and breastfeeding or plant-based formula should continue as other foods are introduced.
We have compiled a list of some of the most nutritious plant-based baby foods.
1. Sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamins A, C, and Bs, and are a great source of carbohydrates and fibre.
One of its greatest qualities, however, is its low GI (glycemic index) which means it won't cause blood sugar levels to spike and fall suddenly. This actually provides a longer-lasting "full" feeling for babies, compared to high GI foods like white bread and cereals which have the opposite effect.
Sweet potatoes are also the main food staples for many indigenous cultures; most notably the Kitavans, who've been extensively studied as being one of the healthiest populations on Earth.
Lentils are a great and often overlooked option to provide babies with important nutrients like iron, zinc, folate, and fibre.
On top of that, they provide one of the richest plant-based sources of protein, making it easy to incorporate for a well-rounded diet.
Pears which are easily digestible, high in fibre, potassium and Vitamin C, and let's be honest are easy on the palate are a great first plant-based food for babies.
Although innocent-looking, spinach actually makes a great addition to purees. It boasts a rich nutrition profile of iron and calcium, as well as vitamins A and C.
Spinach also contains the powerful antioxidant sulforaphane, and healthy doses of chlorophyll, a natural immune booster.
When we think of bananas, we usually think of potassium. But, did you know avocados contain even more potassium? Avocados also contain good sources of vitamins C, E, K, B-5 & 6, and folate.
Most importantly though is its rich fatty acid content, which is where 77% of its calories come from. Avocado's primary fat is monounsaturated omega-9, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Avocados can even increase the antioxidant absorption of other foods when eaten alongside them by up to 15-fold, due to its high fatty acid content.
Beetroot is a vegetable that has been shown to help increase digestion and brain activity. Just one cup of beets will provide roughly 4 grams of insoluble fibre, perfect for helping with regular bowel movements.
Beets are also a good source of iron, vitamins C and B-6, magnesium, folate, and antioxidants.
Chia seeds are incredibly nutritious due to their high concentration of omega-3 essential fatty acid, protein, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, and dietary fibre. In essence, chia makes a powerful breakfast food.
Omega-3 makes up about 25% of chia seeds, while fibre makes up 1/3. Omega-3's are essential, meaning we must obtain them through dietary sources as our bodies are unable to produce them naturally.
Chia seeds can either be soaked overnight or quickly hydrated in water, which will create a pudding consistency.
8. Hemp milk
Hemp seeds are rich in both omega-3 and 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, making it one of the best plant-based milks for babies. They also form a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids babies require for healthy development.
It's also a great alternative to cow's milk, which is very low in polyunsaturated essential fatty acids and high in saturated fat.
Hemp milk is the easiest way to get the best of hemp seeds, which will often have the added benefit of fortified nutrients like vitamins D and B12. Babies can start consuming hemp milk around the age of 9 months.
Not only is the root vegetable vibrant in colour, it is packed with beta carotene, fibre, vitamin K, potassium and antioxidants, supporting eye health, which makes this easily palatable vegetable a nutrition powerhouse for you babies
Feeding your baby a healthy, plant-based diet is easy. The above list of foods makes for great food staples.
We also make it easy to provide a healthy foundation with our organic and plant-based cubed baby foods, which we hand deliver throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
Baby food nutrition frequently asked questions (FAQ)
What baby foods do you start with?
Other than breast milk or plant-based formula, purees of sweet potato, avocado, apple, carrot, pears, beetroot, and bananas are great first staple foods for babies.
What baby foods are high in iron?
Spinach, lentils, beetroot, chia, and sweet potato are great plant-based sources of iron.
What baby foods are high in fibre?
Some of the best sources of fibre come from root vegetables like sweet potato, carrot and beetroot, as well as fruits like apples and pears.
Which foods help constipation in babies?
Foods high in fibre like sweet potato, pear, and banana may help relieve constipation.