Starting to introduce solid food to your baby is a rite of passage that can be both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. While this rite of passage can certainly make for a cute Instagrammable pic when your little one has its face covered in pureed goodness, it can also cause some stress when parents are deciding which foods are safe choices.
As a pediatric registered dietitian, I have seen my fair share of parents who stick to the old-school pureed fruits and veggies as first foods out of fear of feeding babies “the wrong thing.” But there are so many foods that are safe (and recommended) to be a part of a baby’s early diet that offer a slew of health benefits.
No matter whether you are team baby led weaning, team puree, or you are somewhere in the middle, these five foods can be fantastic additions to your little one’s plate when they are being exposed to the wonderful world of food.
Feeding your baby chicken during its early years is one of the best things you can do for its overall health. Besides being an excellent source of high-quality protein that can help support baby’s growth and development, both dark and white meat chicken contains vitamin B12 and choline, which together may promote brain development in children and help the nervous system function properly.
Lean proteins like chicken are important first foods for infants and toddlers (0-2 years old) as sources of iron, zinc, protein, choline, and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Choline is a nutrient that pregnant or lactating women don’t get enough of but is critical for a child’s normal brain development—and chicken has it! In fact, choline plays a role in good health throughout the lifespan. Young children need choline for continued brain development and recent research is even shedding light on the role of choline in impacting mood and preserving cognitive function into adulthood.
To offer chicken to a baby, simply puree it with some liquid (something like no-salt-added chicken broth or even breast milk) or serve up soft pieces of the meat for the baby led weaning crowd.
Imagine no longer having to worry about a young child developing an allergy to peanuts. While there is no magic bullet to prevent peanut allergy in every child in the world, there is a simple step that caregivers can take to help significantly reduce the risk, and that is feeding the infant peanut foods early and often.
Yes, it may sound scary to give your child a food that is a common allergen. But data shows that those fed peanut products later in life have a 10-fold increase in peanut allergy prevalence when compared with those who eat peanut products early and often. Specifically, eating peanut foods early and regularly (2 grams three times per week) reduced the risk of peanut allergy by more than 80 percent, compared to peanut avoidance.
When feeding babies peanuts, choking hazards need to be monitored. Offering your baby a bowl of shelled whole peanuts is obviously a no-go. Instead, add peanut butter to pureed dishes or offer up a soft piece of toast with a thin shmear of creamy natural PB.
Since baby’s brain is continuing to grow and develop, offering up key nutrients that support this organ’s health is essential. And DHA omega-3 fatty acid is one nutrient that can have a profound impact on baby’s brain.
Feeding your baby salmon early will fuel it with this healthy fat in a natural way. Just watch out for the bones!
Babies should not drink cow’s milk until they are one year old. But dairy foods like yogurt can be a satisfying and yummy choice for little ones once they start eating solids. Yogurt will offer up some important nutrients like calcium and protein to support their growth in a natural way.
When considering which yogurts to feed your baby, skip the options that have added sugars and artificial colors. Instead, opt for plain, full-fat Greek yogurt, which is the most appropriate choice for this age group.
Guidance on whether eggs should be introduced to little ones has taken a 180-degree turn from old-school recommendations. Eggs are recommended as a first food for a slew of reasons. In fact, the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans specifically calls out eggs as an important first food for babies once they are developmentally ready to start eating solid foods.
First, similar to peanuts, eating eggs early (typically around 4-6 months of age) and often may reduce the risk of baby developing an egg allergy—good news for caregivers and babies alike.
In fact, a recent analysis showed that early introduction of eggs was effective in preventing the development of food allergy in specific groups of infants at high risk of developing food allergy. Plus, the early introduction of potentially allergenic foods into the diets of the non-high-risk infants was not associated with any increased risk of food allergy.
Plus, eggs provide eight essential nutrients and varying amounts of all the nutrients listed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as essential for brain development—including choline and high-quality protein.
Babies can enjoy eggs that are scrambled, pureed with some breast milk, or even cooked a-la an omelet and cut into easy-to-grab strips. Just make sure the eggs are fully cooked before they are enjoyed.
Starting Solids With Choices Beyond Fruits & Veggies
Feeding your baby should not be a cause for angst, and being armed with a list of foods that are “dietitian-approved” can help you navigate this exciting stage. Of course, feeding your baby old favorites like carrots and sweet potatoes that are packed with nutrients will be well-received by little palates and are a totally safe and smart choice. And along with the tried-and-true fruits and veggies, offering up these important first food choices can help your kiddo start out their feeding journey on the right foot.