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Nutritious Eating: Vegetarian Diets for Babies

Q. Once a baby starts to eat solids, can she get what she needs from a vegetarian diet?

A. Yes, as long as she eats a wide variety of foods, says Susan McQuillan, a registered dietitian in New York City. If you decide to raise your child vegetarian, tell your pediatrician and ask about any special considerations, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements. Depending on the type of vegetarian diet you follow, some specific rules apply:

STRICT VEGETARIANS, known as vegans, don't eat any animal products, including dairy foods and eggs. Babies under age 1 should be given soy-based formula (not soy milk) if they aren't breastfeeding.

Once you introduce solids, at around 4 to 6 months, make sure your child gets enough iron, B12, calcium, and protein. Offer iron-enriched grains and cereals (serve them with citrus fruits or other vitamin C-rich foods to help with absorption). Try calcium- and B12-fortified, protein-rich soy products, such as finely chopped soy hot dogs and tofu. And prepare macaroni and cheese and soups with soy cheese and soy milk. At 7 months, your baby can start eating pureed beans, lentils, and split peas for protein.

LACTO-VEGETARIANS include dairy foods, but not eggs, in their diet. Daily calcium and protein requirements are easier to meet, but lacto-vegetarians still need extra protein, iron, and B12.

LACTO-OVO VEGETARIANS eat dairy products as well as eggs, another source of iron. Once your child begins to eat solids, seek out protein-, iron-, and B12-rich foods, but don't serve egg whites until after age 1 to avoid her developing an allergy to eggs.

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