Once you know your baby is ready to try some foods, the question becomes, what is the best first food? (No, it’s probably not a smash cake)
(Not sure if your baby is ready for solids yet? Here are five signs that he or she is!)
Most pediatricians recommend iron-fortified rice cereal as the best first food, but Mama Natural ain’t buying it! First off, rice cereal is a highly processed food, which isn’t good for anyone. Secondly, the added synthetic vitamins and minerals may do more harm than good. Avoid rice cereal!
Here are my top suggestions for babies best first food
For most of us moms, we can’t wait till baby is 6 months old to introduce solids, at which point we may give baby pureed apples or avocado, or go the baby-led weaning route and give the baby a few pear slices to gnaw on.
Good nutritional choices, right? That’s what I thought with my first child until I heard a presentation from Sally Fallon Morrell at the Weston A. Price Conference. I realized then that babies have special nutritional needs that only animal fats and proteins can fill (and not kale and quinoa!).
Animal foods are superior in building-block nutrition
Despite popular opinion, fruits and vegetables are actually not the best choices for baby’s very first foods. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with most fruits and veggies (though some should be avoided at first, as you’ll read below), babies need the nutrients found so abundantly in animal fat and protein, giving their bodies the building blocks for their rapid brain, skeletal, and muscular growth and development.
Healthy carbohydrates are definitely needed too, but in balance with nourishing fats and protein. Keep in mind too, breast milk and/or baby formula provide a good amount of carbohydrates in the form of milk sugar (lactose).
Nutrients for baby
There’s a saying: “food before one is just for fun,” and while that may be true when it comes to fruits and veggies, since they’re just not that crucial to babies (that changes as time goes on!), there are some important nutrients that baby needs as he enters the second half of his first year.
According to Weston A. Price’s research (a dentist who spent 10 years researching the diets of different cultures to see what children most need nutritionally to develop optimally), nursing babies at around 6 months of age need:
- Vitamin E
- Magnesium and other trace minerals
- Omega 3 and omega 6 fats (in the proper balance)
At around 8 months, the baby also needs:
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, and K
Best first foods for baby
The foods we are about to discuss below are extremely nutrient-dense. Since baby’s digestive tracts are still very small and immature, s/he needs biggest nutritional bang for his or her buck!
Without further ado, here’s my list for the best first foods for baby.
1. Blended red meat
A 2016 study found that babies who eat along the lines of baby-led meaning are more likely to be deficient in iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, which are supercritical nutrients for your growing baby.
Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal foods, and the best sources of iron and zinc are found in red meat like grass-fed lamb or beef.
Keep in mind that breastmilk is low in iron (whereas formula is iron-fortified), so we must get it through diet. Plant sources of iron are poorly absorbed—especially for an immature digestive system that has a harder time converting plant-based iron to the kind we can use—so heme (red meat) iron is best.
To prepare: Once you cook the meat, be it ground meat, or a lamb chop or tender roast, put it into a blender with some filtered water or broth and blend it into a creamy puree to spoon feed to baby.
2. Egg yolk
Loaded with healthy fat, choline (great for baby’s brain and eyes!), and necessary cholesterol—it’s the building block for ALL of our hormones—pastured egg yolks are an easy first food for your baby. Sensing how nutrient-dense egg yolks are, babies often gobble them right up (once they get used to the texture and taste, that is!).
Egg yolks also contain important minerals that baby needs right now like calcium, zinc, selenium, phosphorus as well as vitamin E and vitamin B6.
To prepare: Be sure to soft cook the yolks as not to damage the nutritional profile. Either soft boil the egg and take out the undercooked yolk, lightly poach the egg or cook it over easy. It’s best to serve egg yolks with a bit of fat for optimal absorption of the nutrients, as well as for better digestion (and taste!). Coconut oil may be easiest if it’s in liquid form, but beef tallow or butter is great too. You can then sprinkle some shredded liver into it for an extra boost of nutrition.
Offal, or organ meats, are not really part of our culture anymore—but they should be! Organ meats are still an amazing food choice due to their high concentration of nutrients. The liver is also high in true vitamin A, which is extremely important to baby’s development. (Yes, carrots and other orange foods contain beta-carotene, but it doesn’t easily convert to true vitamin A, which is why many babies turn slightly orange when they eat beta-carotene rich foods!) The best source of true vitamin A is animal products, particularly liver.
The liver also contains vitamin D, all B vitamins, folate, zinc, and CoQ10. If you choose chicken liver, you get a good amount of iron as well, which is vital.
To prepare: Purchase high-quality, grass-fed beef, bison or lamb liver. Cook over medium heat in a frying pan in a little ghee or coconut oil. Once one side is brown (not browned or burnt), flip liver and brown the other side. (It cooks fast so keep your eye on it!) You can then add to blender with a little water or broth and serve as a puree. Or, you can let the liver cool and then grate over baby’s egg yolk or banana mash.
Avocado is a great first food. It contains lots of healthy fats, as well as the almighty mineral magnesium, which is so crucial to our health yet, is harder and harder to get enough of through our food these days.
Avocado also contains B vitamins including niacin, vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium, folate, and fiber.
To prepare: Cut a whole avocado in half lengthwise, and twist to open. Run a butter knife from top to bottom to make slices, and scoop out with a spoon. Likewise, you can mash or puree the avocado and spoon-feed it to your infant. It’s delicious mashed with ripe banana for a 1:1 ratio.
Some people believe that a baby’s first foods shouldn’t include any fruit because the baby will get a preference for the sweetness. Truth is, the baby already has a preference for sweetness thanks to breastmilk! So don’t worry about baby becoming a sugar bug because of fruit. Bananas are a great first carbohydrate source for babies because they contain amylase, an enzyme necessary for the digestion of carbohydrates (like bananas!).
Bananas are also a great source of important nutrients like vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, and potassium.
To prepare: Be sure to select bananas that are very ripe with brown spots as this is a sign that some of the banana’s starch has been converted to a simple sugar, making it easier for baby to digest. It will also be softer and easier to mash. Use a fork and mash by itself or with a little avocado, liver or egg yolk.
6. Butternut/acorn squash with butter
Another easy to digest carbohydrate source is well-cooked winter squash. It’s not as starchy as yams and isn’t high in nitrates (more on that below).
Squash is also high in vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and manganese.
To prepare: Cut open your acorn or butternut squash and remove seeds with a spoon. Put on a roasting pan with a little water and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees, or until the squash is soft and the skin easily separates from the fleshy part of the vegetable. Alternatively, you can put in your Instant Pot with 1 cup of broth or water and cook for 7 minutes. Let cool and scoop out the flesh. Add in some butter or ghee, which will help convert the beta-carotene into usable vitamin A. Mash well with fork or immersion blender. Serve room temperature.
7. Meat stock or bone broth
Homemade broth or stock contains gelatin, an easy to digest protein, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and sulphur.Broth or stock is particularly excellent at coating and soothing the digestive tract too, which can help strengthen it in preparation for eating harder-to-digest foods (like the difficult-to-digest proteins gluten and casein) later in life.
8. Fermented foods like traditional sauerkraut and whole yogurt
Once the baby is a little older, you can add in some sour tasting foods like traditional sauerkraut. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K, but in its raw or cooked state, it’s hard to digest. Fermented cabbage, i.e., sauerkraut, on the other hand, is amazing for digestion. The sour taste stimulates our digestive organs such as the gallbladder and liver. It’s naturally rich in health-promoting probiotics to help colonize baby’s gut with beneficial bacteria—crowding out the bad and building up the good.
Organic whole yogurt is another excellent food rich in easy to digest protein and fat and rich in calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus. It’s best to wait till 9-10 months before introducing dairy products (with the exception of eggs, butter or ghee). You can find great grass-fed yogurts at Whole Foods or prepare yourself at home.
To prepare: Make your own sauerkraut, follow this recipe. If DIY isn’t your thing, you can also buy traditionally fermented sauerkraut in health food stores like Whole Foods. Make sure you find it in the refrigerated section and that there is no vinegar on the ingredient list. Vinegar is often added to mimic the taste of natural fermentation—even if the product is not actually fermented (thus not containing any beneficial bacteria). Offer baby a small amount of the sauerkraut juice to get him used to the sour taste. Soon, he’ll love it!
Foods to Avoid
There are a few foods that parents believe are healthy for the baby that turns out to actually not be healthy for them at all.
1. High-nitrate foods – Root and leafy vegetables such as spinach, celery, lettuce, radishes, beets, turnips, and collard greens are all very high in nitrates. Nitrates can turn into nitrites, which then turn into nitrosamines (a known carcinogen) in the stomach. Waiting until 6–8 months for root vegetables, and a year for leafy greens is best for baby’s health. It’s also helpful to serve these foods with vitamin C-rich foods to avoid this nitrate->nitrite->nitrosamine conversion.
2. Acidic foods – Tomatoes and citrus can be irritating to the digestive tract. They are also more likely to cause allergies so should be avoided until at least 9 months.
3. Processed & conventional foods – It’s best to completely avoid processed foods, conventional dairy products (especially low-fat ones), excess sugar (especially from non-natural sources), soy products, and highly processed grains (more on grains below). Organic is always preferred. Natural sugars such as honey, maple syrup or blackstrap molasses may be introduced after baby’s first birthday in very small doses. (Raw honey can be very dangerous if offered to the baby before 1 year old!) You can also sweeten things using fruit (date, banana, applesauce, etc.).
What about grains?
There is a lot of talk about whether grains should be introduced early on, later, or not at all. Some studies show that introducing grains (particularly wheat) around 6 months of age is best for avoiding intolerances. However, these studies don’t start with absolutely healthy people (only about 1 in 20 of us are!). If 19 out of 20 of us are dealing with some kind of underlying issue like leaky gut (which we pass on to our children), it’s not fair to say that grains are OK for normal healthy babies without acknowledging that most of the population is not healthy. On the topic of introducing gluten in particular, other studies show that introducing gluten, later on, around 12 months instead of 6, delayed a celiac diagnosis for those at high risk of developing it.
Many parents choose to forgo grains until at least 1–2 years of age. Some believe that babies don’t make enough pancreatic amylase to digest grains until this time. Amylase is needed to digest all kinds of starches (including those in squash, bananas, and sweet potatoes). It’s true that newborns have almost no pancreatic amylase, but babies actually make plenty of salivary amylase by 6 months and also get a lot from breastmilk.
Does that mean you shouldn’t avoid grains? Not necessarily.
Our children inherit our gut health, so if you had a lot of antibiotics or packaged food growing up, you may want to be careful about giving foods to your baby that are hard on the digestive tract. Grains contain disaccharides, which are not digested without optimal, fully functioning enterocytes. Those of us with weakened digestive linings (most of us) don’t have these optimal enterocytes, and can’t digest disaccharides as well.
If you do choose to offer grains, make sure they are properly prepared by soaking to make them easier to digest. There’s also not much nutritional value (especially if they aren’t being digested fully) that you can’t get in easier-to-digest forms (like iron from red meat), so holding off on grains don’t seem to be a bad idea.
A final word on baby’s first foods
What we’re generally told about baby’s first foods is that fruits and veggies are top priority. We think, if a salad or green smoothie is “healthy” for me as an adult, getting some kale into my little one is the best choice for them too, right? The truth is that while fruits and veggies are generally healthy, they are not the most important foods for baby and should not be the priority—at least at first.
Ideally, you should focus on getting baby the most important nutrients first (which come from animal products like red meat, liver and egg yolks), and then offer fruits and veggies as he shows interest and has the appetite for more—beyond those critical basics. Following this way of doing things will help your baby to have the necessary building blocks for excellent growth and optimal development. Not to mention a brighter mood, healthy immune system, and more. Getting things off to a great start now will help to ensure lifelong health for your little one!