Good nutrition is essential for raising healthy kids, but where do you begin? Today, Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician and mother of three, is here to share her top first foods for baby, plus tips for developing lasting healthy eating habits. Her expert advice is paired with real-life experience, so it’s practical for all parents.
Every day I talk to parents who are concerned that their toddler refuses veggies or their preschooler only eats beige food or their older child is at an unhealthy weight. More and more evidence points to the fact that healthy eating patterns begin in infancy. If you are reading this article (or my entire book) you are already ahead of the game since what you feed your baby is key to raising a nutrition-loving, non-picky, healthy weight child for life.
Let’s get right to which foods are best when your baby begins to eat solid food. Here are my recommendations for the best first foods for your baby:
Avocados are now a popular first food for baby. Besides being trendy, they are also extremely healthy. High in potassium, fiber and healthy monounsaturated fat, avocados are good for hearts of all ages.
Although some babies can handle fork-mashed avocado around 6 months of age, other babies require a bit of pureeing. You can add a little water or breast milk to thin the avocado for the first few weeks of starting solids. Be ready for a funny avocado face to post on Facebook, as it may take a few tries for your baby to take to avocado. You will be able to advance to fork-mashed avocado fairly quickly, then small pieces for her to pick up, smash and self-feed. I always ordered a side of avocado for my babies we went out to eat. My now 15-month-old son loves pieces of avocado with scrambled eggs for breakfast.
Speaking of eggs, they are a perfect single-ingredient food. Super easy to prepare, they are a convenient and healthy source of protein, fat and other nutrients, all important for babies and kids. Yes, you can feed your six month old the entire egg (both yolk and white). Serve a small portion (maybe a tablespoon) of hard-boiled egg that is either pureed or fork-mashed with extra liquid if needed. Also try scrambled eggs, again pureed or mashed. Scrambled egg pieces are a fantastic finger food for eight to twelve month-olds. Parents often tell me they don’t have time to make eggs in the morning before work or school. My trick? I make eggs at night and just reheat them in the microwave for a fast and easy breakfast option for all ages.
I talk to many kids and adults who dislike fish, simply because they didn’t get used to eating it as an infant. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are extremely important for brain and eye development. Wild salmon is the healthiest fish for babies (and older kids and adults too!). It’s also low in mercury (compared to other fish). Fish is a great natural source of protein and contains vitamin D — a vitamin that most people need more of.
Initially, puree the fish and later advance to fork-mashing. You can add a little moisture with water, breast milk, or organic chicken or vegetable broth, if needed. You can also mix it with pureed vegetables. My youngest son loved his salmon mixed with pureed sweet potatoes. It’s also okay to lightly season the fish, as you would prepare it for the rest of our family. As your infant begins self-feeding, simply break the salmon into tiny pieces and let him self-feed. Be careful to ensure there are no hidden fish bones, as even a tiny bone can be a potentially dangerous choking hazard for an infant.
We now know that early introduction of nut products can decrease your child’s chance of becoming allergic later on in life. Nut butters are delicious, healthy and convenient. Nutrient-wise they offer vegetarian protein, vitamin E and healthy monounsaturated fats. In Israel, a baby’s first snack food is a peanut puff called Bamba and a similar product, Cheeky Monkey, is an organic version now sold in the U.S. Peanut puffs are a healthier alternative to teething biscuits or rice biscuits, which are generally low-nutrient low-fiber filler foods.
With my most recent baby, I melted one teaspoon of healthy creamy peanut butter into one ounce of baby whole-grain oatmeal (not rice cereal, but oatmeal as a first cereal). I added water to make sure the mixture wasn’t too sticky and thick. He loved it! Around eight months you can offer creamy nut butter on your finger for your baby lick off. Once your baby is self-feeding, you can spread a very thin layer on thinly sliced whole-grain bread, cut into tiny pieces, and observe as he picks them up and self-feeds. Sticky and fun! I recommend offering peanut products three times a week as the famous LEAP study did to decrease risk of peanut allergies in your child.
Green veggies have tons of vitamins and minerals. People who eat green vegetables have lower disease rates and a healthier weight. Dark greens such as kale, Swiss chard, and spinach pack the most nutrition, but all green veggies are healthy for babies and kids. Peas, green beans, zucchini, spinach, broccoli and asparagus are especially easy to steam (or boil or sauté) and then puree, fork-mash or cut into tiny pieces. For a toddler or older child who loves green veggies, follow these three steps: eat green veggies in front of your kids; introduce green veggies around six months of age; continue offering them regularly. Don’t stop offering a vegetable just because your baby doesn’t take to it immediately, eventually they will grow to like them.
By no means are these the only healthy foods you can and should feed your little one, but starting with these five and eventually including all 11 of my essential foundation foods, you will be on the right path to raising a veggie-loving, no-fuss, healthy-eating child.
~Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP and Beth Saltz, MPH, RD, authors of What to Feed Your Baby, A Pediatricians’ Guide to the 11 Essential Foods to Guarantee Veggie-Loving, No-Fuss, Healthy-Eating Kids