From meats to green beans, there are plenty of wholesome foods that will do your baby’s mind and body a world of good.
Getting ready to start solids? The first year is all about introducing your baby to a variety of foods without stressing too much about nutrition, since he’s getting the bulk of it from breast milk or formula. Instead, your aim is to teach your child to eat a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates—or, to put it another way, meats, fruits and vegetables, and cereal, says Jatinder Bhatia, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition and the chair of neonatology at the University of Georgia Medical School. The ultimate goal, he adds: To get your cutie to the family table by the end of the first year so he’s eating the same healthy foods you are. So what should you start dishing up now? Foods that are rich in color, texture, smell, and taste—and which can boost your little one’s developing brain and body in a whole lot of tasty ways.
Carrots and sweet potatoes make particularly good first foods for babies, because they’re always in season, easy to make yourself, and newbie eaters tend to love their sweet taste, says Eileen Behan, R.D., author of the Baby Foods Bible. Another sweet yellow veggie to try: Butternut squash.
Benefits to baby: All yellow-orange veggies are known for their high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, an essential vitamin for keeping the skin, teeth, bones, and tissues healthy. Vitamin A also sharpens your little one’s eyes, and helps her see well in the dark. Carrots and sweet potatoes are particularly rich in beta-carotene, as well as fiber and vitamin C, says Behan.
Prep tips: Making your own veggie puree? Peel the carrot and sweet potato and cut them into cubes. Steam them and drain most of the cooking water, setting aside a little of it to use as you mash up the vegetables until they’ve got the same texture as mayonnaise, suggests Behan.
It’s important to start getting your baby used to greens, even though they tend not to be as sweet as the yellow-colored veggies. Don’t be put off if your munchkin makes a face or thrusts his tongue—it’s a normal reaction, says Dr. Bhatia. You need to keep offering the food at least five or six times, repeating your attempts often.
Benefits to baby: Leafy greens like spinach are high in folates and iron—and your baby’s iron stores start to deplete around four to six months, says Dr. Bhatia. Green beans, another green veggie that gets high marks from Behan for its baby-friendlier taste, also contains omega 3s and lutein, good for baby’s brain and eyes, as well as being rich in vitamin C and fiber.
Prep tips: If you’re serving your sweetie spinach, stick to the jarred or pouched kind, which has much lower levels of nitrates than homemade, says Dr. Bhatia. Too many nitrates aren’t good for babies younger than 1, since it puts them at risk for methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder that prevents blood cells from distributing oxygen.
Meat and Poultry
Most pediatricians now recommend introducing red meat, chicken and turkey from the get-go, since all contain zinc and iron, which babies need from around 4 to 6 months on, says Dr. Bhatia. Introduce it like any new food: Wait a few days after serving it before introducing new foods to check for allergies.
Benefits to baby: Zinc, which is especially good for low birth-weight babies, promotes healthy cell growth, boosts the immune system, and helps prevent diarrhea. And since your baby is growing at such a fast pace, she needs plenty of iron to carry oxygen to every cell in her body, including her brain.
Prep tips: Meatballs are an easy way to prepare ground beef, turkey, or chicken. Cook them in a low-sodium broth and mash them up for a younger baby, or serve them in pieces for an older one. Opt for dark-meat poultry, which contains more zinc and iron than white meat.
Like vegetables, fruits are excellent sources of a whole slew of nutrients, including vitamins A and C, potassium, and fiber. You can start your baby off with bananas or peaches, which are easy on your tot’s tender tummy, and don’t have to be cooked before you mash and serve.
Benefits to baby: Bananas are an excellent source of potassium, which some studies show is good for maintaining healthy bones as well as regulating blood pressure. Plus, bananas contain a prebiotic, a compound that nourishes probiotic, or good, bacteria in your baby’s stomach, helping regulate his digestion and ward off diarrhea and constipation. Peaches are rich in vitamins A and C, which can boost your baby’s developing immune system.
Prep tips: There’s not much you need to do to a banana before you mush it up, but Behan recommends peeling and cooking a peach if you’re giving it to a baby younger than 6 months. For older babies, a ripe mashed or chopped peach is fine. Not the season for this stone fruit? Buy frozen peaches, but read the label to make sure no sugar has been added, advises Behan. And go organic when you can, since peaches make the “dirty dozen” list.
Once your baby is eating finger foods, you can serve her up a handful of blueberries, fresh or frozen, says Behan.
Benefits to baby: Blueberries are especially rich in antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, responsible for giving these berries their deep blue color. They play a big role in your babe’s cognitive development, and studies have found they boost memory too.
Prep tips: Blueberries don’t tend to cook well (they get mushy) so it’s probably easiest to wait until your baby’s ready for finger foods before you serve them, says Behan. If you’re giving your baby frozen blueberries, let them thaw for a few minutes and put them in oatmeal or yogurt.
U is for Under the Sea!
Let your baby try seafood, like canned salmon. Open a can of salmon and drain. Stir 2 Tbsp. salmon into prepared mac n’ cheese, prepared pasta or a mashed and buttered sweet potato.
Eggs are super-cheap and super-nutritious for babies. Whereas doctors were wary of giving egg whites to babies under eight months because they were most allergenic part of the egg, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends parents give their child the whole egg from the get-go, says Dr. Bhatia.
Benefits to baby: One egg every day is all your baby needs to get his daily dose of choline. A member of the B-vitamin clan, choline is a nutrient that boosts cell, brain, and memory growth. It’s also a key component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that enables your baby’s nerves to send messages to her muscles, so he can start to perfect his large and fine-motor skills. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for protecting your little one’s vision.
Prep tips: Well-cooked eggs are better for babies then soft, runny ones, so stick to scrambled or hard-boiled.
Another cheap source of protein and B-vitamin goodness, beans can be mashed, pureed or served whole as a finger food, says Behan.
Benefits to baby: Bs are powerhouse vitamins that play a role in keeping your baby’s cells developing in a healthy way—from brain cells to skin cells. Vitamin B-12 helps regulate digestion and metabolism, and boosts energy, giving your little one the pep she needs to explore her world.
Prep tips: If you’re using canned beans, look for the low-sodium kind and rinse them before serving. No need to season them either—plain is the way to go, says Behan.
Rich in calories and healthy fats, avocados make an easy first food for babies—and a simple one to cube and serve up as a finger food too, says Behan.
Benefits for baby: Avocados contain vitamins A, C, and E as well as potassium and folate. Vitamin A is beneficial for your baby’s eye, the Vitamin E and fats helps keep his skin hydrated, and the vitamin C boosts his developing immune system.
Prep tips: No need to cook this dish: Mash it up with a little infant apple juice to prevent browning (it’s sweeter-tasting for tots than lemon juice), suggests Behan. You can also wrap up and freeze the half you don’t use.
Since whole grains are essential to your baby’s future health, you’ll want to start introducing her to the taste of brown rice, whole-wheat breads, barley, and oatmeal right away, says Behan.
Benefits to baby: Whole grains are good for your baby’s digestive system, and help regulate her blood sugar levels, important even at this young age. Whole grains are also rich in vitamins B and E, which are good for cell and skin growth.
Prep tips: If cereal is one of your baby’s first foods, feed her oatmeal, barley, or brown rice cereals. And try to find oatmeal O-shaped cereals (like Cheerios) that don’t come with salt, advises Behan.
J is for Jicama
Mix plain yogurt with mild salsa and use dip for jicama sticks.
Preparation tip: Peel jicama with paring knife from top to bottom. Once peeled, rinse and pat dry; then cut through the middle. Lay flat and cut into strips. Steam until tender (to avoid potential choking hazard for young Boddlers). For older Boddlers, it’s delicious raw. Tastes like sweet carrots.