First Foods: Beyond Rice Cereal

by Robert Barnett

First Foods: Beyond Rice Cereal

When your baby’s ready for her first food, you can make it almost anything  — even meat. The standard advice has been to start babies on iron-fortified cereal around 5 or 6 months and wait until 8 to 10 months before introducing meat, but “it should actually be in the mix of the earliest foods,” says Nancy Krebs, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.

Why the shift in recommendations? If you’ve been breastfeeding your baby exclusively, after about 6 months your milk will begin to be low not only in iron but also in zinc, research shows. Red meat and poultry are great sources of both minerals; beans and tofu are good vegetarian choices. (Any first food should be about the consistency of baby cereal and should have no added salt.)

Formula-fed babies aren’t as likely to face a zinc deficiency, but there’s no reason to hold back giving them meat. Five-month-olds accept pureed meat just as readily as rice cereal. If you’d still rather start with cereal, look for one that’s fortified with both iron and zinc.