The Role of First Foods and Your Baby’s Health
Introducing first foods is a big deal. You may be dreaming of all the foods your child will eventually eat: broccoli, turkey at Thanksgiving, spicy avocado toast, and sushi. But before you get too far down the road, it’s important to understand the role of first foods to your baby’s overall development and health.
During the first year (and beyond), the brain is laying the “information highway” – building connections that will allow your baby to learn, speak, and remember. The bones are hardening and lengthening, readying your child for climbing, carrying, and playing. Your baby is growing at a pace unlike any other time in childhood.
Food and its nutrients are the foundation of this growth. Choose foods that provide an array of nutrients including iron, zinc, healthy fats, calcium, and more.
See the image above for my quick guide to nutrients.
A baby’s preference for food starts in the womb. What they eat in early childhood informs their food preferences for a lifetime. Offer food from all the different food groups, explore international cuisines, and avoid sugary foods and beverages in the first two years.
At six months, babies still consume all their nutrition from a liquid diet. The first exposure to texture comes with the first bite of solid food. As your baby masters one texture, they graduate to the next until they're eating the family food.
For example, many babies start with a soupy consistency of fortified cereal mixed with breast milk or infant formula, pureed meats, and smooth purees of vegetables and fruit. They move on to lumpy purees, then meltable finger foods, and then chopped table food. Other babies follow a baby-led weaning approach and experience textures using hand-held strips and melt-in-your-mouth foods. These texture transitions engage the senses and help your baby learn to eat.
Food Allergy Prevention
Early introduction of food allergens such as peanuts, eggs, and seafood has been shown to prevent the development of food allergies in children. Between six months and a year, offer developmentally appropriate food allergens including milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. For example, peanut butter mixed into baby cereal, Bamba puffs (peanut), mini-muffins (milk and egg), french toast (egg and milk), whole wheat crackers (wheat), or poached salmon.
Socialization and Satisfaction
Starting solids and learning to eat food isn’t just about consuming nutrients and a variety of flavors. It’s also socializing your baby. From the cadence of communication to the feedback of delicious food and physical satisfaction, eating is an important and enjoyable aspect of your baby’s day.