Feeding The Bonzai Baby: Vegan Baby Dinner

February 21st, 2011 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health

Waits does most of his eating in the a.m., so afternoons and evenings are more about exploring new flavors and textures. Every baby is different in terms of their enthusiasm for, and ability to handle, solids. Some are grabbing for food by four months and chomping carrot sticks before they reach their first birthday. Others, like our little bug, seem mostly disinterested. Waits would be happy nursing for all his calories. He didn’t really begin to eat until ten months or so, and even now (10 days shy of a year!) he’ll only eat mashes and purées.

C’est la vie! They all have their own little internal clock.

Before, left, lentils simmered with onions, garlic, carrots, basil, and oregano. After, right, lentil mashed and ready for a trip to the baby belly.

I make all of our baby food from scratch – not because it’s cheaper (it is) or because it’s healthier (it really is) – but because, well, it simply makes so much sense to me. I just make Waits a portion of whatever it is we’re eating. It takes a little more forethought and it means I don’t add spice or salt until after the dish is cooked, but otherwise it makes no difference. I cook up our dinner, portion some out for the wee one, and then finish off with seasoning. I mash by hand – I don’t even own a food mill. (Though I’d love to and I do recommend one. They’re certainly not necessary, but damn are they handy!)

Sprouted mung beans ready for cooking.

Here at HQ we eat a lot of legumes, and not a lot of grains. I buy in bulk and prepare them myself which is a great way to reduce sodium. All organic! And always properly prepared by soaking and/or sprouting. Lentils, beans, peas – these are a great source of protein as well as calcium, folate, iron, and other minerals.

Waits adores a good bean mash. A legume, a little flavor (cumin, basil, etc) and some oil – that’s baby hummus from heaven! Though I must admit, he’s much more likely to dig in if it’s salted . . . he takes after his mama!

Hemp oil is a great source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. Flax is also good but flax contains phytoestrogens, so I choose to use the hemp. I was given a bottle of Manitoba Harvest and I have to say I really love it (read about why I heart hemp here). It has a great mild flavor and best of all, it’s bright green! FUN! Olive and coconut are also excellent oil choices.

Steamed broccoli blended with full-fat coconut milk.

We also do some steamed veggie mashes and purées, but with less success. I have a feeling these are bland and the key will be adding salt . . . but I’m hesitant to do that just yet.

Parents: Do you think it’s better to keep food unsalted, knowing that much less will be eaten, or is it better to add the salt in order to encourage more substantial portions? I’d love some input on this!

Ahh, nutritional yeast, another one of those questionable “is it a food or is it a supplement?” items. Well for me, I think it’s just about the greatest condiment ever created. And for Waits, I consider it a super baby food additive extraordinaire! It’s got oodles of protein (and it’s ‘complete’ protein), it’s bursting with B-vitamins (including B12 in most), and best of all, Waits thinks it’s the bees knees. He loves it sprinkled on sweet potatoes, mashed into green peas, or even just off mama’s finger!

Eating at this age is all about exploring and having fun, and that’s just what we’re doing! I have a blast planning and preparing diverse and nutrient-rich dishes for my little man. And it makes me smile to know that he is getting the absolute healthiest food available.

I’m so excited for the next phase of finger foods and playful plating! But, the dogs sure will miss the food fights . . .

  • http://www.jaymadeit.blogspot.com Jay

    Hey Sayward,

    I’m feeling all out of sorts this spring and want to streamline my diet for a while with a cleanse or something. Do you have any recommendations for a book or web site that can tell me precisely what to eat for about a month? I’m not vegan, but I’d be willing to go for it for a bit (what I do KNOW is that I need to eat way less dairy, yuck). One of the hardest things for me when it comes to eating is deciding what to make for meals – it’s not the shopping or cooking, it’s that initial “what to have?” that always stumps me. So if I could find a book full of healthy, pretty easy meal plans to tackle for a while, that would be the best.

    Any guidance would be much appreciated! I think I’m going to make this my “monthly mission” for March ; )

    Thanks, Jay

  • jay

    that is before the baby eats it and after the baby eats it, right?

  • http://www.twitter.com/jbuesch Jacquelyn

    Personally, I don’t mind adding a tiny bit of salt to Owen’s food. I started out with no salt but he definitely liked it more salted, and who can blame him?! Salt makes things taste better. It obviously wasn’t enough for it to taste salty, but a little bit in a recipe never caused me to be concerned. I like that he’s getting a bit of iodine that way- definitely important for vegans, no?

  • http://www.windycityvegan.wordpress.com Monika {windycityvegan}

    Nina was a late eater, too – I think she was about 7 1/2 months before she would let us put anything other than breast milk in her mouth. We didn’t add any salt to her food until she was around 18 months old (when she went off breast milk), and it was very, very sparingly. She immediately developed a taste for it, which made us cringe in the beginning; but now that she’s older and has developed a broad palate, *she* knows which foods are enhanced by a teensy bit of salt (same with oil) and which are not. How many 4-year olds would declare grilled brussels sprouts as their favorite food?

  • Lisa

    hi there! love all your recipes! so exciting for us – we are not 100 % vegan – but both my daughter and husband are intolerant to dairy, eggs, gluten and cane sugar!
    my question for you is about yoghurt – your recipe uses cane sugar (and i see that maple syrup didn’t work for you because of its pH?) seeing that my family can’t use cane sugar – do you think something else would work?
    thanks for any help!

  • Amanda
  • Annie

    Lisa, you can use other sweetners in your yourt, just not while you’re making it. Other sweetners can mess up the pH balance and provide an unideal environment for the cultures.
    However, once the yogurt is made you can mix in fruit syrups, maple syrup or or anything you like.

  • http://Gingeristhenewpink.blogspot.com Lauren

    Just found your blog and I am super excited! I have a 3 month old, I plan on nursing for as long as possible, but this is such a great resource for when I decide to give her solids! Thanks for sharing! Vegan moms rock!

  • Megan

    Isn’t a good-quality salt full of wonderful and and important minerals?


  • Adrienne

    I began adding salt to our Anna’s (also homemade like yours) “baby food” just before she turned one. Our pediatrician ok’d it, as long as it’s not “salty” and proportionally appropriate for a child. For what it’s worth, his explanation was that the idea of limiting dietary sodium for young children was primarily a concern over the excessive sodium in processed foods, which we of course weren’t offering.
    I found I would lightly salt our food, take out baby’s portion, and then adjust seasoning for the adult portions. This was right around the time her portion consumption started to really ramp up, who knows if they were connected but we’ve never worried about nutrition! By about 18 months she was just eating what we ate, seasoned and all. She’s always had a very healthy appetite (now almost 3!) and rarely turns down new foods without at least tasting them first. As she went through ages 12-24 months, I found there was not a vegetable she wouldn’t eat if it had a smidge of butter and salt on it. Obviously butter’s not a choice for you, but you get the idea! Happy eating!

  • RJ

    Making your own baby food is definitely healthier! I had a friend who worked briefly at an orchard, where they had to grade the fruit. One pile for farmer’s markets, one for shipping, one for canning, and a final pile for baby food. She said she would have grabbed a peach from any of the piles except the baby food pile, because most of that fruit was half rotten. Eek, that story has really stuck with me.

  • Jane

    I had great luck mixing all the veggies with breastmilk. I think it eases the taste difference for them, and I think it’s better than adding salt. I don’t think it encourages a non-vegan palate, it’s just a transition food.

  • http://creativespiderbite.blogspot.com/ Pat

    Around here pediatricians and midwives all tell you to stay away from salts in baby food, because of the danger of kidney failure and in rare cases even brain damage (but I think for that they really would be over salting the food). I went looking for an english site for you that explains pretty much what they explained to me: http://www.wholesomebabyfood.com/saltinbabyfood.htm
    but in the end it is like with all the baby feeding, go with your guts, no one knows your baby better than you do! And information out there is more than confusing.
    As for the amount of food: my son is now 7 months old we started solids about 6 weeks ago. He still doesn’t eat the amounts other babies eat, and he still prefers his breast milk to all the other supplies. But as long as he is by no means thin or malnutritioned looking I am not going to worry too much. He’ll dig in in the eventings for oatmeal with fruits (i think he got my sweet tooth) but for the rest of the day…veggies and plain fruit are not so much his taste, you can tell by his face and the amounts he eats.

  • http://easierthanyouthink.wordpress.com Ginger Baker

    As many many others have stated, a little bit of salt isn’t gonna hurt your kiddo. However, what struck me about your statement was the idea that Waits + more food = better…and this is something that you may want to rethink as your default. :-) If your kid is fine in the weight-gaining (which, he looks way healthy, and trust me, underweight does not, and sadly I know), then any solids he has before a year are experimentation. Supplemental calories, sure, but mostly just taste-and-experience stuff. He’ll have plenty of time to develop a larger appetite when he’s ready to cut down on the mamamilk. :D

  • http://northernveg.blogspot.com Fanny

    First of all; How cute is your dog?!
    Second; This topic is not my everyday choice to read, since I don’t have kids nor will have in the nearest future. But boy do I love this series. You write in such a good way, keep up the good job!

  • Ashley

    my little one is the same age as your adorbs wee waits, (one day apart to be exact!) and like you, I am a total salt addict! as you know, a good quality salt is essential, I use pink himalayan salt because it is full of minerals and absolutely healthy for you.

    My baby still nurses up a storm, and I am planning on nursing him until he decides to stop, but as soon as he could eat solids, he shunned all of the delish purees I was making for him. now, he eats what we do, mashed up veggies tossed with a bit of coconut oil and salt to taste :)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Jay – I know that in Kris Carr’s new book “Crazy Sexy Life” she outlines a 21-day cleanse. It’s high raw and she offers a complete guide for each day including meals. Kris is freaking AWESOME and I’m dying to read this book, and I’m sure that the cleanse is really good. I’m sure there’s other stuff out there too, I just don’t know of anything off hand. Luck!

    @ Jacquelyn – I’ve been thinking about you girl! We should talk, I’m going to email you soon (or email me!) Thanks for the salt advice! I think I *am* being overly paranoid, especially considering he’s almost a year old. And yes, iodine is very important! Luckily Waits really likes seaweed all of a sudden. =)

    @ Monika – Interesting! Yeah, I think Waits has already developed a taste for it too. The difference in his enthusiasm for the store-bought organic hummus versus my homemade ‘baby hummus’, well . . . yeah. It’s like night and day. Damn!

    @ Lisa – If you use full-fat canned coconut mik (I was using mostly almond in my experiments) you probably won’t have to add any sugar at all! It’s sweet enough for the cultures to grow off the natural sugars.

    Otherwise, I’ve had spotty success with agave. Maybe worth a try? Honey is an antibacterial so definitely don’t use it in fermented foods! =D

    @ Lauren – Hi! Welcome!

    @ Megan – Yes! But it’s also mostly straight sodium . . . so the trace minerals are good, but may be better gotten from other sources, especially for a little bug with fresh kidneys, ya know?

    @ Adrienne – That’s great input, thank you! Interesting hearing what your pedi had to say, and I agree that the processed baby foods are probably much more of a concern.

    @ RJ – That is . . . horrifying!

    @ Jane – Great reminder! I used to do that, then totally forgot. Maybe I’ll give it a go again.

    @ Pat – Unfortunately on this one, my guts is confused!! =D

    @ Ginger Baker – So true, so true. Thanks for the reality check. No rush . . .

    @ Fanny – Yay, that’s awesome to hear.

    @ Ashley – Hmm, I’m just not sure that added salt – even ‘healthy’ salt – is actually good for you. I just heard a huge panel of experts speak on their thoughts regarding nutrition, and they all disagreed on so much and all had such unique (and interesting, and informed) varying positions. BUT there were a few things that they ALL agreed on. One of those things was: added salt is no good. I was heartbroken, ha! =(

  • Ashley

    heartbreaking indeed :) on the flip side, real life…I have somehow managed to raise two INCREDIBLY picky eaters. One year in particular stands out, when my older son was about 2, he would only eat yogurt. and that was it. meal times were messy battles where we begged, pleaded, cried and threatened, yet neigh a veggie (or anything else for that matter) would pass those lips. I felt like such a failure! He is 5 and just now starting to branch out…I believe in quality of ingredients above all and if a taste of salt gets my child to eats some green, hallelujah!!!!

  • Annie

    I didn’t add salt or sweeteners (well, technically applesauce is sweet I guess), but I did play with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla bean, etc.
    I’m on the low sodium team.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Ashley – Totally! Everything is a balance and a cost/benefit analysis particular to each situation. I couldn’t agree more!

    @ Annie – I’ve used a few spices but I should branch out!

  • http://www.jaymadeit.blogspot.com Jay

    Thanks! I’ve got Crazy Sexy Diet on hold at the library – I’ll let you know how it goes ; )

  • Steph

    Awesome post, at a particularly good time. Vegan parents recently had there children taking away in my city since they were so badly malnourished and were in the hospital for weeks and arent sure how good there eyesight will be. Since this story I’ve been of the opinion that it’s probably impossible to raise a healthy child on a vegan diet. You seem to know what you’re doing and very knowledgeable with the issues of fats, proteins, and iron, and Waits looks healthy. :)Keep up the good work and please keep posting advice for other parents so there are no more sad stories of malnourished vegan children. :(

  • Meghan


    In the handful of cases that I have read about, the children weren’t malnourished because they were vegan, the children were malnourished because the parents just were not smart about feeding their kids. That can happen to any underinformed parent, vegan or no. The Swintons, for example, decided to forgo breastfeeding, and fed their newborn tea and juice. Not smart, but not a form of not smart that is restricted to vegans. If you do a google news search for malnourished child or baby or newborn or infant, you’ll find several cases just in the past few weeks, where, because the parent’s dietary choices aren’t mentioned, are presumably omnivores. The few vegan cases just got more media attention because it is easy to point the finger at our otherness.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Steph – Meghan said it beautifully. It’s so disappointing the way that the media portrays veganism, but it’s true that if you Google “baby malnourish” or some variation, you’ll see that these cases happen to omnivores all the time. It’s just that when the parents are vegan, the story becomes (unfairly) about veganism.

    If 1% of the population is vegan, then it follows that 1% of FRIGGIN’ IDIOTS are vegan, too. Unfortunate, but true. ;-)

  • Gretchen

    My baby’s first food was hummus! She is a very adventurous eater and loves almost everything. I think the only thing that she didn’t care too much for was kalamata tapenade, which I can understand as it is an acquired taste. We practice Baby Lead Weaning for the most part and I don’t fret too much about salt. Then again, we don’t use much salt in our food to begin with- just a dash of sea salt here and there.

    We have renamed nutritional yeast to yummy flakes! I am glad to see that it is appreciated in other households.

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  • http://iwannarockyourgypsysoul.blogspot.com tara

    you have GOT to write a cookbook

  • Rachael

    Hi Sayward!

    Thank you so much for all of your articles. I thoroughly enjoy reading them. You’ve become a household name in our family and you’ve helped us on our path to conscience living. Just wanted to say thank you for all that you do and we love you!

  • Lisa

    thanks for the yogourt help!
    i am now off to try it sans sweetener!
    have a great weekend!
    love your blog as always!

  • Ebby’s Mama

    Love these posts. I know your little one has grown past this phase but can you do a finger foods retro post :)