Best foods for plant-based toddlers. What are some of the most versatile, healthy plant foods for kids? Here are some of our favorite foods to use to meet toddler nutrient needs on a plant-based diet.
One of the most common concerns among parents and caregivers is how to meet their baby’s nutrient needs as they move into different phases of childhood, like toddlerhood.
Societal misconceptions may trigger some additional concerns around nutrition if you’re raising predominantly plant-based children, but that doesn’t have to be the case. A well-planned plant-based diet can be nutritionally-adequate and appropriate for all stages of life, including toddlerhood.
In this post, we’re sharing our top 10 favorite foods for plant-based toddlers – all of which we use regularly in our own households to meet our babes’ needs. We think you’ll find these to be versatile and easy to use, and can take comfort in knowing they’re nutrient-rich.
1. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are an excellent source of several important nutrients. In just one tablespoon, you’ll find 66 mg of calcium (9% of the DV for toddlers), 1 mg of iron (14% DV for toddlers), and 3 grams of plant protein.
Chia seeds are crunchy and expand slightly when moistened. They can be sprinkled on top of oatmeal or yogurt, blended into homemade popsicles and smoothies, and used to make vegan chia “eggs” for baking (1 “egg” = 1 Tbsp chia seeds + 2 Tbsp water; let sit 5 minutes to gel).
Try using chia seeds in some of the recipes below:
Avocado is a super healthy source of omega-3 fats, necessary for a developing brain and body.
One half of an average avocado offers 2 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and is rich in micronutrients like potassium, vitamin K, folate, and carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin that are protective for the eyes.
Avocados make great first foods for new eaters. They can be sliced into chunks and eaten as-is or served mashed and pureed into recipes, including desserts.
Here are some of our favorite ways to offer avocado to our babes:
- Avocado Pesto Hummus
- White Bean Avocado Tomato Toast
- Vegan Chocolate Mousse (appropriate for kids 2+ years)
- Avocado Black Bean Salad
3. Soy foods
Tofu, and other soy foods like edamame, tempeh, and organic soy milk, are some of the best plant-based sources of choline.
Choline is required for liver and nervous system function, healthy brain development, muscle movement, and metabolism. It’s especially important during pregnancy as choline deficiency appears to increase the risk of preeclampsia, premature birth, low birth weight, and neural tube defects in unborn babies.
Soy foods are also rich in iron, omega-3 fats, and protein. Calcium-set tofu and fortified soy milk are also good sources of calcium. Fortified soy milk has around 300 mg of calcium per cup, which is over 1/3 of the DV for toddlers.
When considering how to introduce tofu to kids, try some of these recipes:
Oats are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, and are a nutritious and filling food for toddlers.
A half-cup serving of oats contains 5 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and a substantial amount of micronutrients like potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, zinc, and B vitamins.
Oats are especially rich in a type of soluble fiber called beta glucan, which has been linked to better heart health and lower inflammation.
Give some of these family-friendly recipes a try that use oats:
- Berry Almond Overnight Oats
- Strawberry Oat Smoothie Bowl
- Vegan Black Bean and Sweet Potato Oat Burgers
5. Legume pasta
You may have noticed that pasta made from legumes, instead of wheat, have become more popular lately.
This is a perfect way to offer beans, peas, and lentils to kids who won’t eat legumes in their typical form. Legume-based pastas are an excellent source of iron and protein, and are naturally gluten-free for families who need to avoid gluten.
While it can vary by brand, a 1 ounce serving of red lentil pasta contains 6.5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. The same serving size of edamame noodles contains 12 grams of protein and 6.5 grams of fiber.
Plus, these types of pastas are packed with the nutrients you would find in legumes, like iron, potassium, and B vitamins.
Here are some ways to incorporate legume pastas in your household meals:
- Red Lentil Pasta Primavera
- Substitute in our Vegan Tomato Basil Pasta
- Use in this Vegan Pesto Pasta Primavera
6. Sprouted grain bread
Sprouted grains are simply whole grains that have started to sprout, typically via soaking.
Sprouted grain breads are rich in protein as well as iron in a more bioavailable form, meaning that their iron content is better absorbed than many other plant-based iron sources.
Some brands of sprouted grain breads are made with a combination of sprouted wheat, barley, lentils, soybeans, and spelt, offering an even broader range of nutrients than whole wheat bread. They can be used in all of the same ways you would use other breads.
Note that these are often found in the frozen section and need to be kept in the fridge or freezer at home to best preserve them.
Some ways to enjoy sprouted grain breads include:
- As a base for our White Bean Tomato Avocado Toast
- To make a Cashew Cheese Veggie Sandwich
- For our Vegan Tofu Egg Sandwich or Vegan Egg Salad Sandwich
7. Nut or seed butters
Peanut butter may take the limelight most of the time – and we’re big fans – but there are also other nut and seed butters that offer a variety of healthy nutrients for toddlers.
Because raw nuts and seeds are a choking hazard for toddlers, we recommend incorporating butters instead. You can blend them into smoothies, spread them on toast or crackers, and even thin them with water if needed.
Butters made from cashews, almonds, and sunflower seeds are full of healthy fats. They’re also calorie-dense and a good source of micronutrients.
For instance, just 1 tablespoon of almond butter has 55 mg of calcium (8% DV for toddlers), 2 grams of fiber, and 3.5 grams of protein.
We think your kiddos will enjoy nut and seed butters in some of these ways:
- Peanut Butter Raspberry Power Balls
- Vegan Tropical Trail Mix Breakfast Cookies
- Blueberry Chickpea Cookie Dough Balls
Strawberries are a particularly good source of vitamin C, which can help boost iron absorption on a plant-based diet.
If your toddler doesn’t like strawberries, or otherwise can’t have them, other berries can be substituted – like blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries.
Berries are some of the most concentrated sources of antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation and protect cells from oxidative damage that can lead to chronic disease later on.
Try incorporating strawberries or other berries in these ways:
9. Sweet potatoes
Fun fact: sweet potatoes are a dietary staple for populations with historically long lifespans, like centenarians living in the Blue Zones around the world. So why not introduce them to our kiddos early on in life?
Sweet potatoes are a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for proper organ function, immunity, vision, and healthy reproduction.
Sweet potatoes can be roasted, mashed, pureed, or incorporated into a variety of favorite recipes.
Here are some of our favorite ways to offer our kids sweet potatoes:
- Sweet Potato Hummus Quesadillas
- Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas
- Roasted Red Pepper Sweet Potato Pasta
10. Hemp seeds
Hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, are an easy way to boost plant-based protein, offering 9 grams in just 3 tablespoons. This same serving size also contains 2 mg of iron (28% of DV for toddlers).
Hemp seeds have a mildly nutty flavor and subtle crunch. They can be sprinkled on top of toast, blended into smoothies or homemade sauces, and mixed into oatmeal and yogurt.
Try using hemp seeds in some of these ways:
If you’re looking for some of the best foods for plant-based toddlers, we think you’ll like using some of these healthy plant foods for kids. And we’re sure you can find more new ways to use these foods to help meet toddler nutrient needs on a plant-based diet.
Chime In: What are some of your toddler’s favorite plant-based foods that you would add to this list?
If you enjoyed this post, we think you’ll like some of these others:
- Feeding the Rainbow
- 10 Plant-Based Healthy Travel Foods for Kids
- Baby-Led Weaning Choking vs. Gagging
- Food for a Healthy Gut Microbiome
For more healthy and nutrient-dense recipes for plant-based families, grab your copy of our Ebooks below!
- The Plant-Based Juniors Batch Cook Ebook – 25+ easy, delicious recipes for the whole family!
- First Bites – The Definitive Guide to Baby-Led Weaning for Plant-Based Babies, including everything you need to know about baby-led weaning, how to incorporate key nutrients into a plant-based diet for new eaters, 20 recipes, and a meal planning/grocery guide.
- The Predominantly Plant-Based Pregnancy Guide – Covers everything you need for a healthy, thriving plant-based pregnancy. It’s 175+ pages of evidence-based advice that empowers you with the resources to make the best nutrition decisions for your growing family!