The following article was written by animal rights activist, vegan mother, and former PETA staffer Lauren Rainbow.
When I went vegan almost four years ago, I wasn't overly concerned about the mythological nutritional deficiencies that many people assume go along with a vegan diet. I knew about the importance of vitamin B12, calcium, and iron and knew where I could get them. In fact, it was easier than I thought it would be. When I became pregnant with my son, I was excited and firm in my conviction to raise a vegan child from conception through adolescence. Although I was always confident in my own nutrition-rich diet, I have to admit that I was slightly concerned when it came to providing my son, Danny, with everything that he would need, especially in his first five years. Looking back on my initial reservations, I now realize that I just didn't know anything about babies—although I was pretty sure that I couldn't blend up a veggie burger, put it in a bottle, and feed it to an infant.
Well, I got wise to the game and did my research. I soon learned that nearly all baby food is vegan. Most babies start out on rice cereal, bananas, apples, yams, and simple grains. Animal-derived products start to creep into most children's diets at the age of 6 months. One book I read stated that veal is a perfect first meat for a baby. Veal? Why on Earth would I want to feed my baby another baby? Even my omnivore friends balked at that one.
When Danny hit the one-year mark, the pediatrician brought up his vegan diet and began gently probing me for details about what he ate. There was no doubt that he was growing just fine; he weighed close to 24 pounds, which put him in the "sumo baby" category. I explained that he gets vitamin B12 from nutritional yeast sprinkled on toast and gets calcium from leafy greens in homemade soups. Iron is abundant in beans, which most babies love to eat with their hands. Power foods, such as fortified cereals and soy milk or yogurt, give Danny just about everything he needs in one go. While I think the pediatrician was impressed by my knowledge of nutrition, she suggested that we do a blood test to make sure that Danny was getting everything he needed. I was all for it because I wanted to be absolutely certain about something as important as his diet.
The tests showed that Danny had ample amounts of iron and B12 in his body. (I was beaming.) I wanted to know about his calcium levels but found out that there isn't a test for the calcium that builds strong bones, only for blood calcium, which is a whole different story. She said that based on the variety in his diet and his other nutritional levels, she wasn't concerned about it. So I guess I did it—I managed to get Danny through his first year without any dents, dings, or deficiencies. It's not like this was a difficult task by any stretch of the imagination, but getting through that first year of infancy can be daunting in and of itself, especially since I was assuming the responsibility of providing Danny with a healthy dietrather than relying on food schedules that are suggested in books or on bottles of Gerber baby food. It was good to know that all was well—in fact, very well.
Here is a soup recipe that is a staple in our house. It's loaded with protein, iron, calcium, and everything that's good for babies and parents. As with most homemade soups, the quantities are approximations.
2 quarts vegetable stock or water
1/2 cup dry lentils
1/2 cup dry beans (any kind)
1/2 cup dry quinoa
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 gloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. Spike seasoning
3-4 cups of your favorite chopped vegetables (yams, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, etc.)
Pour the vegetable stock or water in a large soup pot and bring to a boil.
Add all the ingredients to the mixture.
Simmer for about an hour or until all the beans are cooked and soft. (More veggie broth or water may be added at any time.)
Blend the soup in a blender until smooth.
Set aside a generous amount of soup for your baby and season the "adult portion" with salt and pepper, to taste.