From the moment the pregnancy test shows up positive, mothers-to-be begin to follow and track baby’s milestones. Milestones start off simple enough, like reaching the second trimester or learning that the baby can hear mama’s voice (usually at around 16-18 weeks in the womb). Once the baby is born, the milestone tracking only intensifies. Moms are comforted knowing that her baby is on track developmentally and physically; milestones are like little gauges to help assess how the baby is doing.
One milestone that is particularly exciting and frightening is when the baby is ready to start eating solid foods. Once the baby meets certain milestones (such as sitting up unassisted, showing interest in food, and losing the tongue thrust reflex), many parents decide to start introducing the baby to food.
But uh oh! That is a pretty hotly debated topic! Some parents try rice cereal in the bottles of two-month-olds (uh, please don’t do this), others are puree purists, and others are proponents of baby-led weaning.
Despite whatever “theory” of baby food you subscribe to, there are still a lot of decisions to be made. Like what is the actual food that you start with? Here are ten starter foods new moms need to try first and ten foods that are actually dangerous.
Safety first and all that jazz: we’re not your doctor! If you’ve got questions about allergies or starting foods, ask your doc!
20 Must Try: Avocado
Avocados aren’t just for guac! Avocados are a great choice as a first food for the baby. Avocados deliver some great nutrients to your babe, including a good dose of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Avocados can be offered as a first food around six months of age.
In addition to the nutrition, avocados have a great texture for that first food. As long as you are patient enough to let them ripen properly, they are oh so smooth and creamy. And a bonus for Mom? No steaming or cooking required!
Here’s a tip: grab a ripe avocado and mash it until it’s smooth and creamy. Add enough breast milk or formula until it’s the right consistency. Start out with a thinner consistency for younger babies. As your baby gets used to eating, you can make the consistency thicker if you want to.
19 Avoid: “Kid” Yogurt
Despite being labeled as a kid-friendly yogurt, the “kid” yogurts should not be given to babies, or even older kids for that matter. The kid yogurts have a few things going on. First, they most likely have a lot of added sugar, even in the form of “fruit on the bottom.” Think of that “fruit” as basically pie filling. Second, they usually are dyed artificially to appeal to kids’ love of fun colors. Third, many kid yogurts contain candy toppings, and candy obviously isn’t a good choice for a baby.
Having your baby (or older child) eat regular Greek yogurt is a much healthier choice. If you’re worried that it won’t be sweet enough, you can take matters into your hands at home. Add a drizzle of raw honey or some fresh fruit. Your babies don’t need the artificial colors and flavors of “kid” yogurt. Let them have the real stuff!
18 Must Try: Banana
Did you know that over 107 million tons of bananas were produced in 2013? Considering that bananas are the most popular fruit in the world and that the average person (in the UK) eats about 100 bananas per year, that huge number shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise.
Speaking of bananas, they are a great choice for a baby's first food. Like the avocado, there is no steaming or cooking required - simply mash, add in formula or breast milk, and you are ready to go. As the baby starts eating more, bananas are a good choice to make combo foods with - banana and sweet potato, banana and blueberry, banana and squash, etc. You can thank this yellow fruit for giving your baby a good dose of potassium and dietary fiber.
Hot tip: Speaking from experience, grab the ripe (aka sweeter) bananas. Using bananas that are too green don’t make the best baby food.
17 Avoid: Juice
Juice is practically marketed to kids, yet here it is on the “avoid” list. From juice boxes with cartoon characters on it to big jugs of juice labeled specifically for kids – what’s the deal? I have to admit that I love juice. A lot. Juice does count toward your daily fruit servings, but it is also really high in sugar.
Fresh fruit obviously contains sugar but in general, you’d only eat one orange in a sitting, so you’d get only so much sugar. Drinking juice, you don’t even realize how many oranges you would have consumed to drink a huge tumbler of OJ. Obviously, the main culprit here is the sugar content.
Juices with added sugar cause even more issues with those pearly white baby teeth. What’s the takeaway here? Juice is okay for big kids, in moderation. But juice should never be given to a baby; he only needs breast milk or formula or small sips of water.
16 Must Try: Bone Broth
Bone broth may be a “trendy” food nowadays, but this food is anything but new. Bone broth isn’t the same thing as just opening up a box of chicken stock. Bone broth is made by simmering bones in water for hours, and it has been around for centuries.
Why should your baby try this food? First, it will help expand his palate. Breastmilk (and even some formulas) can be a little on the sweet side. Bone broth introduces new flavors and tastes. It also helps improve joint health, reduces the risk of allergies, and (here’s the best part) supports the baby’s developing immune system.
Tip: Never give baby hot broth, even if you like it hot! Serve it at the same temperature you would a bottle of formula or warmed up breast milk. For young babies, this should not replace a bottle. Remember, “food before one is just for fun.”
15 Avoid: Rice Cereal
The first food on the danger-do-not-feed-to-baby list is rice cereal, and this might seem odd, as rice cereal is marketed to be a baby’s first food. Rice cereal is suggested because it is fortified with iron (psst! Remember that cooked liver suggestion? Yep, that’s a great source of iron!).
When parents begin to dig into the research behind rice cereal, they are often surprised. So what gives? Is rice cereal good or is it bad? Over the past few years, the verdict on rice cereal is leaning heavily towards the “avoid” category. The first reason why rice cereal should be avoided is because it is found to be high in arsenic. Yikes! Second, it’s filled with synthetic vitamins. Real vitamins (or whole-food based ones) are better than synthetic vitamins, any day. Many of the "must try” foods listed above contain folate, while cereal contains the synthetic folic acid. Third, rice cereal just doesn’t taste that great.
14 Must Try: Cooked Liver
Okay, I know, I know. You’re reading this and you just said, “Eww, no way. I don’t even like liver!” But let’s just talk this out, shall we? Cooked liver actually makes a pretty decent starter food for babies. First, let’s talk about the why. Liver, like all organ meat, is really good for you; it’s rich in vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B and folate and zinc, all very good vitamins for growing babies!
Now let’s talk about the how. How do you get a baby to eat liver? Well, it comes down to how you cook it. Nutritionists recommend starting out with raw, organic liver. Boil the liver in bone broth. Add a dash of butter (omit this if your baby is sensitive to dairy). Simmer until the liver is cooked thoroughly (it won’t take too long), and then blend it up. You can add breast milk or formula if needed.
13 Avoid: Raw Fruits And Veg
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with good-for-you vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. So why are fruits and veggies on the avoid list? Specifically, raw fruits and vegetables should not be served up to babies. Can you imagine a toothless baby trying to gnaw on a carrot? Not only is that an impossible task, but raw fruits and vegetables can be major choking hazards. For ease of eating, fruits and veggies should be steamed/cooked and then pureed.
Here’s an exception: bananas and avocados do not need to be steamed first because they are already soft and easily mashable.
As baby gets older, the steamed/ baked/ roasted veggies can be given to the baby cut into long strips. This type of feeding would fall under the baby-led weaning category. Regardless of what method you choose to feed your baby, remember to follow safety guidelines to avoid potential choking hazards.
12 Must Try: Butternut Squash
You’ve probably seen tons of jars of yellow baby food at the grocery store, and there is a good reason for that. Yellow veggies are very easy on baby tummies. Squash is a good option for the baby (and for you) because it is rich in potassium, vitamin E, vitamin B, thiamin, folate, calcium, fiber, and magnesium. However, not all jarred foods taste stellar, so you might want to make your own. This is super easy and cost-effective.
Roast a butternut squash and toss it in a blender. You don’t need to add liquid, but you can always add breastmilk or formula if you need to thin it out. As the baby’s tastes progress, squash is a good veggie for making blends. It pairs well with boiled chicken, peaches, bananas, and carrots. Grab a reusable food pouch, add a squash-chicken-apple blend and you’ve got a meal to go!
11 Avoid: Berries
Walk down the baby food aisle and you will see some baby food purees with berries, so why are berries on the danger list? Berries, especially blueberries, might seem like the perfect finger food to help your baby work on his pincer grasp. After all, they are about the same size as Cheerios. But berries don’t dissolve quite the same way a Cheerio does, which makes berries major choking hazards.
When you do introduce fresh berries, slice and dice until you’ve got super small pieces. And yep, I was the mom that cut blueberries – even the small ones – in half when my son started eating them.
But what about purees? Eventually, you can work your way up to including berries in a puree, but you shouldn’t start off with them. Berries can trigger eczema flair ups so tread cautiously if your babe has bouts of eczema.
10 Must Try: Greek Yogurt
I must admit that I was oddly super excited when my oldest starting sharing my Chobani yogurts with me. As it turns out, I was ahead of the game: Greek yogurt is an excellent food for babies. Not only does Greek yogurt have double the protein of regular yogurt, but it also can boost baby’s gut health thanks to a healthy dose of live cultures. Even though Greek yogurt is a dairy product, it is easy for the baby to digest, because it has less whey than regular dairy products.
Tips: buy plain yogurt and mix in your own fruit (or even veggies!). This will lower the sugar content. Always buy full-fat yogurt for babies. You can start feeding your babies Greek yogurt at around 6-8 months of age. And if you’re wondering if babies really do like Greek yogurt, my youngest son still eats plain yogurt and uses it as a “dip” for everything from chicken to grapes.
9 Avoid: Whole Eggs
Once you’ve ditched the rice cereal, you are going to want to look for other sources of iron for baby. Egg yolks are a good choice, but what’s the deal with whole eggs? What’s so bad about a scrambled egg?
Whole eggs cause problems because of the whites; remember the yolks are fine for babies! It’s interesting that people with egg allergies are actually usually only allergic to the whites – not the yolks. And eggs happen to be on the list of top allergens. Because of this, doctors recommend introducing only the egg yolk to babies. Hold off on the whites until closer to one year of age. If egg allergies run in your family, it’s best to hold off on egg whites all together, until you get allergy testing done.
8 Must Try: Lamb (Or Grass Fed Beef)
Lamb might sound like a super fancy food, but it does make a good starter food for a baby. We tend to think that veggies have to be the only purees that a baby can eat, but meat really does make a good choice for babies. It’s filled with iron and protein, two very important nutrients for babies. Studies are showing that iron-rich meat is extremely crucial for breastfed babies.
There are many ways to make pureed meat. You can brown the meat or you can boil it, but either way, you’ll end up blending it with liquid (again, breast milk or formula) until you get a good consistency for the baby. You don’t want to go overboard on the meat, however, so keep your portions sensible. Peas or sweet potatoes work well with either of these two red meats.
7 Avoid: Oatmeal
Oatmeal is a great breakfast food; it is filling, it is filled with fiber, and it can help reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Oatmeal is really good for weight-loss diets because it fills you up without adding a ton of calories. But it shouldn’t be the breakfast choice for babies. At least not at first.
Oatmeal, unlike the rice cereal, is filled with many good nutritional benefits. But studies show that really tiny babies (4-6 months old) have digestive systems that just aren’t quite ready for grains. Babies can absolutely eat oatmeal, but it should not be the first food they eat. Fruits and veggies, and even meat, are easier on little digestive systems than grains are.
Don’t worry; you’ll have plenty of time to make lots of yummy bowls of oatmeal for your kids!
6 Must Try: Egg Yolks
Eggs are a super popular food; they are yummy, they are cheap – what’s not to love? Luckily for the baby, he can start lovin’ on some eggs. Although, because egg whites can be an allergen, experts recommend starting with only the egg yolk. Introduce the egg whites closer to 8 -12 months.
Egg yolks make a good choice because they are rich in folate and vitamin B12. When compared to the whites, egg yolks also contain way more choline, a micronutrient that the body needs for proper liver, muscle, nerve, and brain functions. Boil an egg, remove the white, and mash the yolk with some breast milk or formula. When the baby is older and ready for finger foods, soaking strips of whole wheat bread in eggs and then cooking it makes a good finger-food.
5 Avoid: Tomato Sauce
Being a fruit, you would think that tomatoes would be a good item to incorporate into a baby’s diet, but tomatoes are definitely a rotten choice for a starter food. Tomatoes are acidic, and while we can handle them with no problem, babies’ sensitive tummies can be upset by tomatoes, even ones cooked down into a spaghetti sauce.
The acidic nature of tomatoes or even tomato sauce can cause irritations around the baby's mouth, gas, and the most likely of all symptoms, a nasty diaper rash. Some breastfeeding moms even have to avoid tomatoes because of the digestive problems it can cause the babies.
So when can baby indulge in his big bowl of spaghetti? Try to hold off on tomatoes until closer to 10+ months.
4 Must Try: Pumpkin
Pumpkins are more than just for decorating your doorstep during Halloween or filling your pies with around Thanksgiving. Pumpkins are a superfood indeed, and they make a good option for the baby’s first foods. Pumpkins are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.
If they’re in season, choose a “pie pumpkin” as they have the best flavor for eating. Prepare it like you would the butternut squash. If pumpkin isn’t in season, you can buy canned pumpkin – just make sure you don’t accidentally buy the canned pumpkin for pies (with spices already added). Warm up the pumpkin, add some milk, and you’ve got some yummy pumpkin puree!
Looking to make a combo puree? Pumpkin pairs well with banana, or make it a complete meal by mixing in some pureed chicken or beef.
3 Avoid: Swordfish
Okay, I know what you are thinking. What baby eats swordfish?! To be fair, this entry is more than just about swordfish; it is about avoiding a whole category of fish that contains a lot of mercury. Too much mercury can cause problems for the nervous system. In fact, babies (and probably moms and dads too) should steer clear of all high-mercury fishes. Fish that are high in mercury include shark, albacore tuna, swordfish, ahi tuna, orange roughy, and king mackerel. While we're talking about the don'ts - don't feed your baby shellfish either.
We already established that fish is good for babies (and us) so swapping out certain fish is a relatively simple fix. Fish low in mercury includes salmon, Pollock, and cod. These types of fish are pretty easy to find in the grocery store and are easy to cook for baby. Here's a bonus: if you’re pregnant, sardines are a really good source of Omega 3’s.
2 Must Try: Peaches
Remember when I said that orange veggies make a good starter food for the baby? Well, orange and yellow fruits are also good choices for the baby’s food. Peaches, delicious and juicy, are a good option. Why should you reach for that fuzzy peach? Peaches, while also high in vitamins, are rich in antioxidants. A study from Texas A&M revealed that peaches can help fight off cancer-causing free radicals, reduce the risk of obesity, and improve overall skin health. Not too shabby!
Don’t reach for the canned peaches, however. They are loaded with sugar! If fresh peaches are not in season, opt for frozen. You can stew them in water, drain them, and then blend with a bit of formula or breastmilk until you reach the desired consistency.
Another hot tip: If the baby is teething, pop a frozen peach slice into a mesh teether and let the baby sooth her gums.
1 Avoid: Chicken Nuggets
We’ve already covered how important it is for babies to have some real meat in their diets via pureed meat. Going through the motions of boiling a chicken and blending it into a baby food can seem tedious. You might be tempted to buy some precooked chicken (or even chicken nuggets) and turn those into a puree for baby… but don’t do it!
Most chicken nuggets contain fillers and artificial flavors – nothing that you would actually want to give a baby. You could spring for organic chicken nuggets but the cost to make a batch of pureed food from it would be astronomical. Your best bet is to make a big batch at once (when you have the time) with fresh chicken and freeze mini portions in silicone trays.
References: bananalink.org.uk, medicalnewstoday.com, wholesomebabyfood.momtasic.com, mamanatural.com, thebump.com