If your cutie is ready for those first spoonfuls of solids, you might want to shelve the rice cereal — many of the recommendations you may have followed for your first kid have since been updated with new research. The upshot: Babies can eat a wider variety of tastier foods than previously thought. Here, experts share the latest advice for raising a healthy eater from the get-go:
Rice cereal is best
Rice cereal has been the traditional first food because it’s unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. Plus, it’s fortified with iron, which is especially important for breast-fed babies, says Steven Abrams, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s committee on nutrition. But, really, you can start with whatever you’d like. “I suggest parents skip white rice cereal and go for foods that can be found in the produce aisle,” says Alan Greene, M.D., author of Feeding Baby Green and a pediatrician in Silicon Valley, CA. Mash an avocado or cooked sweet potato, mix it with a bit of breast milk or formula, and spoon it into your little one’s mouth. Or consider pureed meat. In addition to zinc and protein, red meat is naturally rich in a form of iron that’s easily absorbed by your baby’s body.
No need to force veggies on a fussy eater
Spoon them up early and often
Babyhood is the best time to introduce a variety of produce, before taste buds get set in their ways. Dish out a veggie at least once a day and keep serving it up even if your child spits it out the first 10 times. Here’s why: Kids are more than twice as likely to be picky about eating produce if they ate fruits and vegetables less than once a day as babies, according to a study in Pediatrics. To make the green or yellow stuff more enticing after the first few servings, jazz up that jarred spinach with a sprinkle of basil or the pureed squash with some cinnamon.
Avoid giving your child eggs, wheat, nut butter, and dairy until after age 1
Offer these allergenic foods carefully at 6 months
With some food allergies almost doubling between 1997 and 2011, pediatricians thought that delaying the introduction of allergenic foods would help keep these numbers down. Wrong, says Dr. Greene: “When a baby is starting solids, his immune system is being programmed to figure out what’s normal. Holding off on such foods can actually make allergies worse.” Add in dairy, eggs, and wheat after your baby’s been eating fruits, veggies, and meats regularly. Continue to serve foods one at a time and wait at least three days before you give the next one. While you should avoid offering whole nuts (babies can choke!), spreading a thin layer of nut butter on a bite-sized piece of bread is perfectly okay.
Babies shouldn’t eat seafood because of pollutants
Fish is full of brain-building omega-3 fatty acids, says Dr. Abrams. Stick to cooked, skinless fillets and mash them up to catch all the bones. Best bets are salmon, cod, canned light tuna, and pollock. When possible, opt for wild-caught, which is lower in toxins. Avoid high-mercury swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel. Also limit canned white albacore tuna to a few flakes every week.
Bottled water is best
H2O from your faucet is just fine
“There’s no evidence that bottled water is better for babies,” says Dr. Abrams. In addition to being expensive, bottled water also lacks fluoride, a mineral that is added to drinking water in most communities to help prevent tooth decay (something to think about even before the first pearly white pops out). No need to boil it either, unless you get your water from a well.