According to the recent guidelines from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, potentially allergenic foods like nuts are safe to introduce to babies as young as 6 months of age, once they have had exposure to a few typical first foods like cereals, fruit and vegetables. This is great news because nuts and nut butters like peanut, cashew, and almond are nutrition powerhouses, providing protein, beneficial fatty acids, vitamin E and minerals like manganese, potassium and iron. Lumps of nut butters are a choking hazard for small babies so try mixing a small amount into a cereal or puree or spread a thin layer over a long strip of toast to serve as a finger food.
If your family has a strong history of food allergies or your baby suffers food allergies or severe eczema, you may need to talk to your allergist before introducing these foods.
Eggs are a nearly perfect first food. They are easily digestible, and they offer the important nutrition your baby needs--iron, folate and choline, high-quality protein, plus vitamins A, D and E. And, happily for busy moms, eggs are a cinch to prepare. Just hard-cook an egg, mash the yolk and thin it with breast milk, formula or water to the consistency your baby can handle. Hard-boiled and chopped egg white is a perfect finger food, as are scrambled eggs or omelets cut into thin strips.
Don't be afraid of fat. Because of their role in brain and nervous system development, saturated fat and cholesterol should not be restricted in children under age two according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Besides, fat helps babies meet their caloric needs, contributes to satiety, and helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins. And it makes food taste good! So once your baby has experienced the flavor of single-ingredient purees, feel free to add a little bit of butter to purees and cereals to make them more palatable and boost their nutrition. Choose an organic brand whenever possible to reduce your baby's exposure to pesticides and herbicides. And, make sure to include other sources of fat in your child's diet like avocado, olive oil, full-fat yogurt and cheese.
No matter what food your baby is eating, make your life simpler by preparing it in bulk. Catherine McCord of Weelicious shows you how to store it for easy feeding down the road.
Fish used to be a no-no for small babies because of allergy concerns, but not anymore. So if cold-water fish like salmon, herring, canned tuna or sardines are not on your baby's menu yet, make sure to include these outstanding sources of DHA in the meal plan. DHA plays a crucial role in retinal and brain development and is especially important for children in the first two years of life.
Introducing fish to your baby is simple. Just bake or steam a boneless fillet, puree it and thin it to a desired consistency using breast milk, formula or water.
Although not a conventional choice in the U.S., beans and lentils are a stellar source of protein, iron, folate, zinc and manganese for the whole family, including baby. To make beans and lentils baby-friendly, soak them for a few hours or overnight, drain, rinse and cook until very soft. Red lentils do not require soaking as they cook very fast. Puree the boiled legumes or leave some texture for older babies. Add beans or lentils to soups and stews once the baby is ready for mixed dishes.
The ultimate goal of transitioning your baby to solids is to help him "graduate" to family food by the age of 12 months. So adding a dash of the herbs and spices your family enjoys to baby's food will not only boost antioxidants but also help expand your little one's palate and make for a smooth transition to table foods. Plus, studies show that children who are exposed to a variety of flavors early in life are more adventurous eaters as they grow up. Avoid adding too much and, of course, be cautious with hot spices like chili because babies and small children have sensitive palates that are easily overwhelmed.
Not sure where to start? Go for classic combos: apple sauce with cinnamon, cauliflower with nutmeg, meat sauce with cumin or oregano, vegetables or chicken with thyme, avocado with cilantro, or fish with parsley and lemon.
Doctors used to advise parents to delay serving tofu, a potentially allergenic food, until after baby's first birthday. But not anymore. Not surprisingly, it is a popular ingredient of balanced diets for vegan babies.
But even if you are raising an omnivore child, tofu is a sure-fire way to boost iron, zinc, protein and fat, all crucial nutrients for small children. Bonus: tofu is easy to chew and most kids enjoy its mild flavor.
You can serve regular or firm tofu right from the box or marinate and bake it for more texture. Silken tofu is great in smoothies and puddings.
Some parents limit gluten in their baby's diet hoping to reduce her risk for development of celiac disease later in life. But although more research is needed on how to prevent celiac disease, there is some evidence that keeping wheat away from babies is not helpful and may even increase their risk for this autoimmune disorder.
Is your baby ready to handle finger foods? Offer him whole wheat crackers or a whole wheat toast cut into long strips. Just starting on purees? Try wheat cereal like farina, Cream of Wheat, or a mix of different grains including wheat.
With the dairy aisle packed with dozens of varieties of flavored yogurt marketed to parents of small children, it seems counterintuitive to go for a plain variety. But choosing a non-flavored yogurt makes a lot of sense. Not only does it save your child literally spoonfuls of sugar (a typical 6 oz. container of flavored yogurt may have up to 4 teaspoons of added sugar!), but it also allows her to develop a palate for it. While sugary yogurts are easy to like, learning to enjoy the flavor of plain yogurt is a process that is best started when children are more open-minded about foods, before the age of 18 months. Just make sure to pick a full-fat yogurt because babies and small children need about 50% of the calories in their diet to come from fat.
Steak as a first food? Why not! Traditionally, iron-fortified, single-grain cereals were the preferred first food for infants. Current advice offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests exploring other iron- and zinc-rich foods such as dark poultry and red meat, especially if you are breastfeeding. These foods provide the type of iron that is better-absorbed than the type found in plant sources. To improve absorption even further, combine iron-rich foods with those high in vitamin C, like fruit and vegetables. Meatballs and tomato sauce were meant to be together!
For younger babies, steam or simmer meat or dark poultry, puree and thin it with breast milk, formula or water to the desired consistency.
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