One of the first foods that is commonly recommended for babies starting solids is fortified baby cereal. Babies have very high iron requirements from 6-12 months, making this fortified cereal an easy way to get iron into babies being spoon fed. But what about parents who choose to start solids with baby led weaning? Or, what about those spoon-fed babies who are starting to transition to finger foods? Believe it or not, that baby cereal can be used in a lot of creative ways to support your growing baby all the way through to toddlerhood.
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Now this post is not going to be a debate about using baby cereal or not, that’s going to be a topic for another day. I’ve posted previously about the Top 6 Foods for BLW including lots of iron rich options; in my professional opinion, it IS possible to meet baby’s iron needs through whole foods alone, but it requires cautious meal planning and monitoring of baby’s intake. I recommend working with a Registered Dietitian (like me!) to make sure that baby is getting everything they need. And, there’s the whole business of rice cereal and recent concerns about arsenic – again, a whole discussion for another post, but in the meantime, consider looking at other baby cereals like oat cereal, multigrain, kamut or spelt.
Let’s get to the recipes! These are some of my favourite ways to use baby cereal to amp up the nutritional value of foods to help babies meet their iron requirements.
When offering fruits in spears to BLW babies, it can sometimes be hard for those little hands to get a good grip on slippery foods, like mangoes, bananas, and avocados. To add some grip and extra iron to these fruits, simply dip or roll them in iron fortified baby cereal. Boom! The cereal is tasteless on it’s own, but adds just enough texture to allow babies to pick them up.
Iron Fortified Baby Pancakes
One of the easiest batch-cooking BLW recipes I make is iron fortified baby pancakes. I simply used storebought pancake mix (or if you’ve really got it together, make your own favourite pancake recipe), and added a couple of heaping scoops of iron fortified baby cereal. Depending on how much cereal that you add, you may need to add a bit more liquid to the pancake mix to get back to the right batter consistency (I suggest using a nutritious liquid or highly fluid add-in, such as breastmilk, homo milk, full fat yogurt, or pureed fruit or veggies). Then, cook the pancakes in smaller dollops than you might for an adult (about half the size of a regular pancake) as usual. These pancakes freeze well, so make a big batch and keep the extras in the freezer for a quick BLW-friendly breakfast or snack.
Baby Friendly Muffins
Similar to pancakes, you can replace some of the flour in muffin batter for iron fortified baby cereal! Look for low added sugar recipes (that includes natural sugars, like maple syrup, agave, and honey which is a no no before age 1). This website includes a great BLW friendly mini-muffin recipe using 1 cup of iron fortified baby cereal. These are also freezer friendly, and a great on-the-go option for your baby led weaner.
Iron Fortified Oatmeal
One of my daughter’s favourite breakfasts as a baby was oatmeal (as in, the same kind of oatmeal I ate – rolled oats or steel cut usually). I experimented with oatmeal fingers, baked oatmeal, and thick-cooked lumps of oatmeal that she could pick up with her hands. But regardless of how her oatmeal was served, I always included a good scoop of iron fortified baby cereal in her oats to amp up the nutritional content of her breakfast. Mix in some mashed fruit like raspberries, bananas, or even puree pouches for some extra yummy flavour!
Teething Biscuits or Baby Cookies
Commercially available teething biscuits (like Mum Mums) are often used as an introduction to finger foods, however they’re pretty nutritionally void. Don’t be fooled by the pretty pictures of apples and spinach and kale and whatever on the box, the amount of these fruits and veggies actually used is minimal (pretty much just for colour) and some versions also include added salt (which needs to be minimized for babies). You can make your own teething biscuits or cookies yourself, including whole foods like sweet potatoes, oats, fruits, and spices and seasonings for more flavour exposure and variety. While you’re at it, add that fortified baby cereal to boost the iron content even further. In my quick Pinterest search for recipes that included baby cereal, I found these spiced pear teething biscuits and healthy baby cookies (though I’d reduce or remove the baking soda in the cookies, as this is also a source of sodium), which are great options to start with!.
Offer Pre-Loaded Spoons
Just because your baby is a baby led weenie doesn’t mean that they can’t eat things with a spoon. After all, puree is a texture like any other – WE eat purees! (applesauce, yogurt, hummus, blended soups… SURPRISE! ALL PUREES!). This is again a topic for a whole other post but I can promise you right now that your baby CAN eat pureed foods even when doing baby led weaning, and they’re not gonna forget how to eat, you’re not ruining their life, and you aren’t increasing their choking risk.
Yes, your baby can take pureed foods in a baby-led way, such as using a loaded spoon! Simply make the baby cereal as directed, maybe mix in some cinnamon, vanilla extract, and mashed fruit to add some more yum and nutritional value (particularly Vitamin C to help improve absorption of that iron!), and serve on a spoon placed on your baby’s tray or directly in their hand. It’s going to be messy. And not all of it is going to get into your baby’s mouth. That’s ok, it’s part of practicing and learning!
I liked using these Munchkin Soft-Tip Infant Spoons, which worked well for Baby V when first starting out because of their long handles (those little hands with little dexterity aren’t so good with grabbing smaller spoons!). When she got a little more practiced, these ChooMee Baby Starter Spoons allowed her to dip the spoon herself into a small bowl and pick up the pureed foods by herself.
You can also mix a heaping spoonful of baby cereal to other pureed or mashed foods and offer to baby on loaded spoons, such as mashed potatoes, congee, khichdi, rice pudding, applesauce or other pureed fruits and veggies.
How do you use fortified baby cereal for your baby led weaner? Leave me a comment!