Many parents are excited to start solid foods with their babies, eager to see their messy faces as they stuff new foods into their mouths or get sloppy with spoon-fed purees. But the choices can be overwhelming… where to begin in this delicious solid foods journey??? In this post, I review my top 6 starter foods, whether following BLW or traditional spoon fed purees.
These foods I recommend to get started with infant feeding are listed in no particular order of importance.
Note: an * indicates higher-risk allergen foods. If there is a parental or family history of food allergies, follow your doctor or allergist’s advice on introducing these foods.
1. MEATS OR HIGH-IRON PLANT PROTEINS
Why?: Back in the day, it was suggested that babies couldn’t digest meats and should start with something simpler to break down (like infant cereal). And back in the day when the recommendation to start solids was 4 months, this was likely true. With recommendations now updated to begin solids at around 6 months, baby’s digestive system is significantly more developed and ready to break down the proteins in meats.
Baby’s iron requirements are much higher than that of an older child or even an adult (thanks to their incredibly rapid growth and brain development), so beginning the solidfoods journey with iron rich foods is recommended. Babies do have a store of iron at birth, which begins to deplete around 6 months of age. This doesn’t mean that babies suddenly have no iron stores when they turn 6 months, but they do need to start consuming iron rich items to maintain the iron level in their blood. The heme iron found in animal products is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron found in plant sources, which is why I recommend meats as a starter food. Plant-based iron sources, such as beans, lentils, peas, legumes, soy and seeds are still excellent foods as well (and are things I still recommend for babies too, particularly for those that will be raised vegetarian or vegan), but as far as absorption goes, heme iron wins the day. Pair your iron-rich meat or plant source with a Vitamin C-rich food (think red, orange and yellow fruits and veggies) for extra nutritional bang for your buck, as Vitamin C helps iron to absorb even more!
How to offer to baby:
- BLW: offer moist, well-cooked meats (no pink steaks for baby). Chicken drumsticks offer a built-in handle for baby to hold while they munch (just remove the thin pointy bone for safety). Try offering meats in finger-shaped strips, shredded, or meatballs cut in half or quarters. Worried that baby doesn’t have enough teeth to eat meats? You would be surprised what those strong gums can do! Even if baby is only able to suck and munch on their strip of meat, they will still get some iron-rich juices from their meal.
- Purees: simply cook your meats and blend with some low-sodium stock. Pureed meat on it’s own isn’t exactly the most tasty or appetizing thing, so pair it with complementary flavours such as chicken with butternut squash, pork with green beans and applesauce, and beef with carrots and peas.
2. SWEET POTATO
Why?: Sweet potato is a common first food for babies and used often in puree and spoon feeding. This veggie is not only tasty, it’s also a great source of Vitamin A, which is important for vision development and immune function. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of fibre (especially if the skin is left on), potassium, and Vitamin C.
How to offer to baby:
- BLW: chop sweet potatoes into finger-shaped sticks and try roasting with a little oil (olive, canola, coconut, whatever) at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes or until fork-tender. They should be firm enough to still be held in chubby fists, but soft enough to be able to easily press against the roof of your mouth. Try adding some flavouring with a sprinkle of cinnamon, cumin, rosemary, or chili powder.
- Purees: You can also offer sweet potatoes that have been flavoured with herbs and spices (they are easier to puree if cooked by steaming or boiling).
Why?: Another common first food, avocados are easy to mash and munch! This fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) is a very good source of fibre, potassium, several B vitamins, and monounsaturated fatty acids (or MUFAs). Many people have heard that avocados contain the “healthy kind” of fat which can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, among other benefits. Indeed, MUFAs have been shown in several studies to have cardiovascular benefits, and can be found in avocados, olives and olive oil, canola oil, nuts and nut butters. Avocados are particularly high in oleic acid, or omega 9, which are known to increase HDL (“good” cholesterol) and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
How to offer to baby:
- BLW: Peel and slice into finger-shaped spears. Try rolling the slices in infant cereal, crushed Cheerios, or unsweetened shredded coconut to make the pieces easier for baby to pick up! (These also add some extra nutritional value!)
- Purees: avocados are pretty easy to mash up. Try adding breastmilk or formula to make the puree a bit thinner for your beginner eater
Why?: Another new-ish recommendation, eggs are now encouraged by Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Association, Dietitians of Canada, and other health authorities as a first food offering. Previous recommendations were to offer only cooked egg yolk and not allow whole eggs until 12 months. Research has since shown that earlier introduction of whole eggs (and other common allergens, see the next food recommendation…) may actually help to reduce risk of food allergies.
Eggs have gotten a bad reputation in the past for their cholesterol content, and doctors recommending not to eat eggs in order to prevent serum cholesterol increases. We now know that dietary cholesterol has little role in serum cholesterol levels, and that the nutritional benefits of foods like eggs outweighs the risk of its dietary cholesterol value. One egg contains 6 grams of protein, and is a source of Vitamin D, Vitamin A, iron, lutein, folate, and Vitamin B12, among other nutrients. They are also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, essential fatty acids that are especially crucial for growing infants. The brain, retina and neurological tissues require polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for growth and development; omega-3’s are also needed for proper functioning of some cells and tissues. Omega-3’s, specifically DHA and EPA, are especially important for infant’s and children’s brain development. These are found in eggs, fatty fish, and in algae-based supplements (for vegans/vegetarians).
How to offer to baby:
- BLW: Your BLW baby can try eggs in any well-cooked format (that is, no runny yolks or undercooked whites). Omelettes cut into strips are an easy introduction to eggs, or big fluffy pieces of scrambled egg, or a slice of baked frittata. Try cooking eggs with a bit of cream, homogenized milk, breastmilk or formula for a more creamy texture. You can also offer hard boiled eggs sliced lengthwise in quarters (aim to have the yolk still be a bit soft; when eggs are overcooked the yolk tends to get dry and pasty, which is difficult for new eaters)!
- Purees: hard boil your eggs and mash well. Mix in some formula or breastmilk to make them easier to swallow and add extra nutritional value, or mash with avocado for extra creaminess.
5. NUT BUTTERS*
Why?: Similarly to eggs, peanut butter and other nuts were previously not recommended to start with early infant feeding. However, recent research has prompted a major change in our understanding of food allergies, and has caused recommendations to change significantly. We now understand that earlier introduction of high-risk allergen foods may actually help reduce risk of developing a food allergy. Recently, Food Allergy Canada released webinars for parents and health professionals explaining the new recommendations and research from the LEAP study that prompted this update.
How to offer to baby: Peanut and nut butters are very sticky, so it is NOT recommended to feed them to babies by simply giving it on a spoon. Whole nuts are a choking hazard and should not be given to babies or children until about age 4.
- BLW: Spread peanut butter or other nut butters thinly on toast or a cracker (Mum Mums and similar rice rusks are popular for this), or use in recipes (such as a peanut dipping sauce). You can also introduce tree nuts with their butters or by grinding them and mixing with foods – for example, ground almonds and pecans can be easily found in many bulk stores to sprinkle into cereal, pine nuts or walnuts can be ground and made into pesto sauces, and cashews can be blended up to add creaminess to alfredo or cheese-style sauces.
- Purees: Peanut butter or other nut butters can be melted into oatmeal. You can also use ground nuts (available in bulk stores, or grind yourself) or peanut flour to sprinkle into cereal or into other purees, such as mashed banana with ground peanut.
Why?: Oatmeal is a whole grain, and an excellent source of soluble fibre, the type that absorbs water to bulk up stools and move them through the bowel easily (that is, it helps you poop more efficiently!). Consumption of whole grains and soluble fibre has also been found to help reduce risk of heart disease and improve blood sugar control, so what’s good for baby is good for parents too! Oats are also a great source of iron, which baby needs in very high quantities.
There are many kinds of oats available on the market today, including steel cut, rolled oats, quick oats, instant, oat flour and oat bran, as well as oat infant cereal. Any of these is fine to serve to baby! Check out this article from EatRight Ontario to learn about different types of oats. Personally, I like rolled or quick oats for a fast and filling breakfast, but I do sometimes make steel cut oats in a big batch that I can serve over a few days, and use oats in my baking or cooking as well!
How to offer to baby:
- BLW: cook oatmeal thicker than you would for yourself (for example, instead of using a 2 parts liquid : 1 part oats recipe, use 1:1 or 1.5:1 to make it thick and globby). You can serve baby oatmeal “fingers” (baked oatmeal or really thick-cooked that can be cut into finger sized pieces), or in big blobs right on their tray or plate. Overnight oats are a popular choice, because they tend to be pretty thick in the morning! Oats can also be added to recipes, including meatloaf and muffins!
- Purees: Grind up oats in a food processor or a (well-cleaned) coffee grinder, or use oat flour or oat-based infant cereal to offer the heart- and bowel-healthy grain to your puree-fed baby. Mix with breastmilk or formula to the desired consistency for extra nutritional value. Mix up the flavours you offer with nutritious add-ins, like mashed or pureed fruits and veggies, cinnamon, ground flaxseed, nut butters or ground nuts.
What first food did you offer to your baby?