Like many parents, feeding my children consumes my thoughts. Even as I sit here writing this article, I am also planning what I will make for dinner tonight. Looking back I am thankful I was able to exclusively breastfeed my children and for the first 6 months I didn’t have to think about what I was going to make and how long it would take. Well those first 6 months are long gone, and quickly the task of feeding my children started.
Six-months is the recommended age to start solids because iron stores your baby received throughout pregnancy start to decline at this point. Even more so if mom was deficient when pregnant or did not consume enough iron while breastfeeding, you can discuss this further with your healthcare provider.
The Role of Iron in the Body
Iron plays a major role in energy production. Low iron means less oxygen is delivered to the body’s cells. Iron is part of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen into the body’s tissues. Oxygenated blood is a dark, rich red colour. Every day your body uses hemoglobin, which is your readily available iron, and that iron is drawn from your stored iron, ferritin. If we do not eat enough iron-containing foods and fill up our ferritin stores then our daily supply of iron slowly drops, leading to many health conditions associated with low iron levels.
Why Are First Foods so Important
First foods are very important; they are the foundation that starts our children on a healthy eating journey. I see the introduction of first foods as another activity for our little ones to explore their senses—touch, smell and taste. When my kids were at this stage they made a big mess and very little food was actually eaten.
There are key nutrients that babies, infants, toddlers and school-aged children need for proper growth and development and that is why certain foods are recommended at various ages. Ensuring our little ones get the fuel they need from the foods they eat is essential in staying healthy.
Move Over Infant Cereal
One of the first foods recommended is processed rice or oatmeal cereals. Baby cereals became a popular way to add iron into the diet. Sadly, they were also encouraged for young babies as a way to ‘fill them up’ so they would sleep longer. Babies do not need commercial rice or grains as a first food, they are filler foods and also lack key nutrients. Commercial grain cereals are milled, which removes the key nutrients making manufacturers fortify or add the nutrients back in. You can skip the processed rice cereals and simply choose whole foods.
Three Key Nutrients for Baby
1. Iron-Rich Foods
Babies and children need iron for their brains to develop normally. When babies don’t get enough iron, they may show signs of slow weight gain, pale skin, no appetite and can be irritabile (cranky, fussy). There are two types of iron in food: heme and non-heme. Heme is found in flesh food (meat) and are easily absorbed. Non-heme iron is found in plant sources, which the body has a hard time absorbing. Both types are in a balanced diet but if you need to increase your iron it is more easily done with heme iron sources.
Iron-rich foods you can give your 6-month old include:
- Lentils and beans
- Dark green vegetables (ex. Spinach and broccoli)
- Red meat and poultry
- Sweet potatoes
2. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats are one of the easiest solid foods to start with. Most babies love them, making it an easy win. In this category, we are working to build healthy fatty brains, eye health, nervous systems and a bonus makes for smooth skin.
Yummy healthy fats include:
- Wild salmon
- Coconut oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Chia seeds
- Full fat yogurt 3.5% or higher (plain is best for babies)
Protein is a bodybuilding nutrient; it is an important component of every cell. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein and your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Infants need approximately 11 grams a day and toddlers need 13 grams. Here are some ideas you can start with.
Here are some protein ideas you can start with:
- Black beans (mashed and mixed with other foods or soft cooked as finger foods)
- Broccoli (steamed with a little butter)
- Chickpea (think hummus dips or soft cooked as finger foods)
- Wild salmon
- Red meat and poultry (organic ground beef is easy since it is already small)
- Plain organic Greek yogurt (Great as a dip, my girls like dipping chicken in yogurt—YUM)
Babies should be able to sit up unassisted to avoid choking, and be supervised while eating – as my girls say, safety first! Avoid hard round foods or sticky items these can become choking hazards. If you have a family history of anaphylaxis reaction to foods speak with your healthcare provider before your child is 6 months of age.
How to Start Baby’s First Foods
I never followed one system or philosophy on how to feed my babies. I believe parents have great instincts and we should trust them when it comes to feeding our little ones. I did my best to avoid stressing out and followed my little ones lead. I used this first stage of feeding your little one as a play phase. Introducing new textures and tastes. I didn’t worry when they shook their head no. I had my little ones eat what I was eating. If I made something I knew was too spicy, I just set a portion of food aside before I added seasoning or sauce.
With my first daughter, I waited until she was watching us eat and grabbing items off our plates at meal time. I didn’t start introducing foods until she was almost 8-months old. We let her lead the way. Breast milk was her main food source until she was about one year old.
Is Your Six-Month Old Just Not Interested in Solid Foods?
Don’t worry if your baby is not interested in solid foods. Six-months is not a magical age where all kids take to solids. I believe that there is no hard and fast rule on when to introduce solid foods, nor do all babies start reducing their intake of breast milk or formula at this age. Regardless of what age you start to introduce foods, breast milk or formula remain the biggest nutrient contributor and the main calorie source until around 1 year old.
This is just a first step to a long life of eating three plus meals a day. Some kids are just picky eaters and others want to explore everything. You will not know which one you have until you start. Have fun with the process and make food fun!
MOM TIP: If you have a tendency to overthink and worry about foods allergies it is okay. As parents, we worry a lot about big things and about little insignificant things. But when we can do something simple to stop those worries just do it. Our healthcare provider told me that if I was worried about trying a priority food allergen (eggs, peanuts, etc.) to park in your Children’s Hospital Emergency parking lot. This way I would be within seconds of help if there was a reaction. Parents are allowed to worry and if this helps ease your food allergy worries then do it!