You’ve been waiting months for this (hopefully 6 months) and now the time has come! It’s time to introduce your baby to their first food. You open your baby manual and flip to the feeding section. Right in front of you lies the answer to what that magical first food should be: rice cereal. Of course! You quickly remember rice cereal being the traditional first complementary food and excitedly run to the pantry to get the feeding underway.
Rice cereal has been used as a baby’s first complementary food for generations. It is a cultural tradition that has been handed down by parents and discussed in pregnancy circles nationwide. Iron-fortified rice cereal has a low likelihood of causing an allergic reaction and babies require an additional iron source around the 6th month mark. So iron-fortified rice cereal is a choice that makes perfect sense. Or does it?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “for most babies it does not matter what the first solid foods are. By tradition, single-grain cereals are usually introduced first.” Your recollection about rice cereal was correct; however, it is not your only choice, or best choice for that matter.
Does Canada know more than we do?
Health Canada released new guidelines on complementary feeding for babies six-months-old and older. Parents are instructed to feed their infants iron containing foods, including meat, fish, poultry, or meat alternatives two or more times each day. This will ensure that the infant meets their iron requirements. While iron-fortified infant cereals are mentioned in the guidelines, it should be known that there is a notable difference between the bioavailability of iron in cereals versus iron in meat. Consumption does not mean the same thing as absorption. This is especially important in Canada as research has shown that 30 percent of Canadian children in the early years have problems with low iron. Iron deficiency is also common in children in the United States. Since this deficiency has consequences on health and development, we all need to understand how we can prevent this problem. Supplementing breast milk with the most absorbable iron-rich foods, such as meat, seems like a smart choice to me!
What benefits does meat have?
- It is a more readily absorbed form of iron
- It is a complete source of protein
- It is a good source of zinc and B vitamins which are often in short supply
But don’t just take my word for it. According to Dr. Frank R. Greer, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Committee on Nutrition, “Complementary foods introduced to infants should be based on their nutrient requirements and the nutrient density of foods, not on traditional practices that have no scientific basis.” I agree, Dr. Greer, I agree.
So what are some options for your infant?
Organic liver–grated frozen and added to egg yolk
Pureed meats–lamb, turkey, beef, chicken, liver and fish
Soft meats–wild-caught salmon or chicken
Large strips of meat that baby can gnaw on such as lamb chops and steak
Healthy fats — butter, ghee, coconut oil, egg yolks, nut butter (thinned out), pastured/grass-fed animal fat
Soup broth–(chicken, beef, lamb, fish) added to pureed meats and vegetables
Fermented foods–small amounts of yoghurt, kefir, if desired
Raw mashed fruits–banana, melon, mangoes, papaya, avocado
Cooked fruits–organic apricot, peaches, pears, apples, cherries, berries
Cooked vegetables–zucchini, squash, sweet potato, carrots, beets, with butter or coconut oil
Continue to add variety and texture (increase thickness and lumpiness) of the foods already given
Over 1 Year
Grains and legumes–properly soaked and cooked
Raw salad vegetables
Cow’s milk or other form of milk, if desired
Foods to avoid
Up to 1 year: Because infants do not produce strong enough stomach acid to deactivate potential spores, infants should refrain from eating honey. Cow’s milk and other forms of milk should also be avoided to encourage consumption of breastmilk, formula, and solids.
Other foods that are choking risks (such as nuts, hot dogs, and grapes) should be avoided or cut into the appropriate size.
While the choice is yours regarding what to feed your baby, it’s always good to keep up with the latest news and research. Choosing the most nutrient-dense foods will always be your best bet.