Breast milk is universally accepted as the perfect first food for your baby, but what about the perfect next food? This sparks much more debate and general confusion.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. They recommend breastfeeding for up to two years, and beyond if so desired, along with nutritious complementary foods. No matter how long you’re breastfeeding or using infant formula, nutritious complementary foods are key to infant development.
So, what are those nutritious complementary foods and what is the science behind why those foods are best?
- Best for mitigating nutrient deficiencies
- Best for neurological function
- Best for growth and development
- Best for the development of a robust immune system
- Best for the development of a healthy gut microbiome
That in mind, here are my top 5 picks for amazing and nourishing first foods to try with your little one:
1 BONE BROTH
Bone broth makes an excellent first food for babies. It helps support a developing digestive system because it contains gelatin. Gelatin stimulates and supports digestion, making it easier for baby to digest and absorb the nutrients from any food eaten with it. Bone broth is packed with minerals - especially calcium, magnesium, and potassium - in a bioavailable (highly absorbable) electrolyte form. The collagen in bone broth helps create healthy tissue throughout baby’s body for strong bones, tendons, and connective tissue. Baby can sip it, or you can mix it into other foods like scrambled eggs or any purée. Recommended for babies 6+ months.
Liver is hands-down the most nutrient-dense superfood - for babies and adults. It’s a powerhouse of nutrition packed with vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin K2, folate, betaine, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium, zinc, and iron. Zinc and iron are critical for healthy growth and development, particularly during infancy. At around six months, levels of zinc in breast milk naturally fall and baby’s iron stores deplete, so sources of these nutrients are especially important1. Liver also has brain-building choline, anti-inflammatory omega-3s, serotonin-making tryptophan, and is rich in antioxidants. It’s truly a whole-food daily multi-vitamin. Very little liver is needed for a super nutrition boost for babies. You can start with just ½ to 1 tsp. Due to the high quantity of vitamin A found in beef liver, I suggest 1 oz. (28g) of beef/calf liver every other day. For travel or on-the-go, desiccated beef liver in a powder form transports well and easily mixes into a paste with breastmilk or formula. The powder also mixes well with avocado, sweet potato, and other soft foods. Recommended for babies 6+ months.
3 SAUERKRAUT BRINE
Probiotic foods, beverages, and supplements help establish healthy gut flora to promote normal digestive function, protect against infection, regulate metabolism, and strengthen the immune system. More than 75% of the immune system is housed in the gut - so good health really does start with the gut! Both probiotic supplements and fermented foods are critical for a healthy gut. Fermented foods are beneficial because they contain good diversity of healthy bacteria from foods grown in different locations/soil, the organisms in the soil, etc. Probiotic supplements supply a high quantity of healthy bacteria yielding 20, 50, or 100+ billion CFUs (colony forming units) in a single capsule. A daily combination of both is ideal. The liquid/brine can be mixed into baby’s cool or room-temperature purées or sipped from a spoon. Recommended for babies 6+ months.
4 WILD SALMON
Cold water fatty fish like wild salmon are a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Salmon has the highest DHA content of any fish source, which is a critical nutrient for neurological development. Once baby moves beyond puréed salmon and on to finger foods, salmon roe (eggs) are a fun, fascinating, and nutrient-dense superfood to develop baby’s pincer grasp and self-feeding practice. Salmon roe is an even more concentrated source of DHA and EPA than salmon fish.2 Recommended for babies 6+ months.
5 EGG YOLKS
Egg yolks contain a powerhouse of nutrients, chief of which is choline. Choline is critical for the development of the brain, specifically the formation of connections between the neurons, called synapses3. Eggs are a rich source of cholesterol, an important nutrient for the brain, nervous system, and GI tract4. Additionally, egg yolks are packed with vitamins A, D, K2, and E, as well as folate, biotin, iron, zinc, and selenium. Just look at the deep, saturated yellow/orange color of organic, pastured eggs and you can see that the combination of sunlight and foraging increases their nutrient density, as compared to hens eating in a hen house. Egg yolks are introduced before egg whites because an allergic reaction is less likely to occur. Recommended for babies 8+ months.
Take heart if your little one doesn’t immediately take to these new foods. It’s fine! Just keep offering and your consistency will pay off. As with anything new, it takes time. Avoid forcing or pushing so your child has a positive experience and trust is maintained. Avoid being emotionally attached to the outcome, remember it takes many tries. Embrace where you are today, celebrate the small victories along the way, and always keep in mind that food should be fun and enjoyable!
Andrea Laine White, MNT Bio Andrea White is a Functional Nutrition Therapist with a clinical practice in Castle Rock, CO. Additionally, she is the in-house nutritionist and Chief Marketing Officer for http://www.babyfreshorganics.co. Follow @nutritionmovement.