This is the final post in our three part series on when, how and what food to introduce to baby. We’ve talked about the best time to introduce food and how best to introduce it and now it’s time to explore what solids to feed to baby first. There are many different theories out there about which foods to feed infants first. Some recommend vegetables before fruit to avoid spoiling the taste buds with sweet flavors. Some suggest starting with foods that taste similar to breastmilk while others warn against adding herbs and spices to baby food. Let’s see what foods we should be introducing to our little ones and why.
The conventional advice of starting baby on a cereal with a little breastmilk or formula leaves much to be desired. Processed foods offer so little nutrition and so many more chemical additives compared to unprocessed foods that we should be avoiding processed foods with baby all together. While making your own baby food can be fun and rewarding, it is not necessary to make special food just for the baby. Baby can be fed mashed up or cut up portions of adult food. Don’t be afraid to let your baby experience a full range of spices and herbs. Spices and herbs contain an incredible amount of nutrition with antioxidants and a multitude of phytochemicals that promote overall health, making them a perfect addition to your baby’s diet. Fat is another ingredient not to shy away from. Fat is essential for your baby’s development and can easily added to foods. Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and quality organic butter and lard are great additions to your little one’s diet. Let your baby join in your meal. Shared mealtimes let your little one learn your eating habits and can be fun opportunities for bonding.
Here are some of my favorite foods to introduce to baby and why:
• Avocado – This was both of my babies’ first food. Avocados contain B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin E, potassium, folate, and fiber as well as a multitude of beneficial phytochemicals– making avocados a nutrient-rich option for your growing baby. Avocados are one of the only fruits that contain monounsaturated fats which are essential for your baby’s development. They are a super convenient, super nutrient rich food that is a perfect introductory solid for baby.
• Cold water fish – Cold-water fish are full of healthy polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, and monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs which are essential for baby’s development. They are particularly high in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, also known as EHA and DHA, are omega-3s unique to cold-water fish. Cold water fish is also a good source of vitamin D3, selenium and phosphorus, and a very good source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Wild caught salmon, sardines and anchovies are great choices that are also low in the mercury that bigger fish contain.
• Green veggies – Green veggies like kale and broccoli are such nutritional powerhouses they make ideal first foods for baby. Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that help ward off cancer and help the body’s detoxification pathways. Conventional advice goes with the sweet potato and squash which are fine choices for baby’s first food, I just choose to go with the most nutrient dense foods. Steamed or roasted with a little added fat of your choosing should have baby reaching for more of these green superfoods.
• Stewed meat – Rich in iron and zinc, easy to eat stewed meats make a great introductory food for baby. Iron deficiency has such negative effects on an infant’s development and has become increasingly more common. Iron supplements are routinely recommended at well baby visits to help boost baby’s iron levels and introducing iron rich foods are also a great way to keep levels where they belong. There are other factors that go into iron deficiency in infants such as cord clamping time (check out last month’s blog about delayed cord clamping) and the ability of the body to absorb the iron in breastmilk more efficiently than from food.
• Whole grains – Barley or whole rice cereal with breast milk or grains like quinoa or millet cooked in bone broths make wonderful introductory foods for baby. Packed with nutrition properly prepared whole grains are a great food to introduce to baby.
• Eggs – Eggs are loaded with protein, all the B vitamins, choline, biotin, vitamin A, D, E and K as well as selenium, manganese and omega 3 fatty acids which are all important for baby’s development and health. They are easy to make and eat which makes these nutritional powerhouses an ideal introductory food for baby.
• Beans and lentils – Beans and lentils are a superb source of protein, iron, folate, zinc and manganese for little ones. Be sure to make beans and lentils baby-friendly by soaking them for a few hours or overnight, drain, rinse and cook until very soft. Whether cooked to a puree with some added spices and fat or whole beans used for finger foods, beans and lentils make a great choice to introduce to baby.
• Mushrooms – Powdered, diced or sliced, mushrooms are powerful modulators of immune system. They contain potassium, copper, selenium, niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. They also hold powerful antioxidants and beta glucans which are vital for immune function and health. While not a conventionally suggested food, mushrooms are a wonderful nutrient rich option when introducing solids to baby.
With the current guidelines promoting the introduction of possible allergens in the baby’s diet at 4-6 months there really isn’t a food that is off limits to introduce. One exception to this is honey as it can harbor a bacteria that can be fatal to infants so it should not be introduced until baby is one year old or older. As long as you are giving foods properly prepared for baby so as not to risk choking, follow your gut about which foods to introduce first. I simply chose the above foods due their nutritional content and nutrient density. With all of the research showing how important nutrition in early life is to overall development and lifelong health, I lean towards foods that give you more bang for your health buck. If you are concerned about food allergens or have a family history of severe food allergies, wait 3-4 days in between new food introductions so you can see if they cause an allergic reaction like hives, swelling, gi distress or a rash. And remember that the bulk of baby’s nutrition should still come from breastmilk. Food introduction is just that- a way to gently, slowly introduce baby to a variety of different foods. When, how and what food did you introduce to your baby first?
– Dr. Catherine Clinton