What should you feed your baby? There are plenty of different possible answers to that question, but research suggests that variety is one of the things you should aim for. A varied diet in babies’ early years can reduce
- food allergies
- food sensitivity
Breast milk or formula is your baby’s first food, and the AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of your baby’s life.
Your first choice for baby foods should be veggies. Offer your baby a variety of vegetables, since different vegetables provide different nutrition:
- green vegetables like green beans and spinach
- orange vegetables like carrots and squash
- starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and corn
- beans and peas
- other vegetables, like cucumbers and mushrooms
All vegetables are appropriate for babies. Introducing a variety not only helps your baby get all needed nutrients, but also develops the healthy habit of enjoying vegetables.
Babies usually enjoy fruits of all kinds. Commercial baby foods also often mix fruits and vegetables together, with choices like apples and spinach or pear and zucchini.
As with vegetables, different fruits provide different nutrients, so offer your baby a wide variety.
The new USDA guidelines for babies focus on nutrient-dense foods for babies. Grains should therefore be whole grains like oat cereal, not cookies or snack cakes. Babies should not have added-sugar foods before the age of two, according to the new guidelines.
Dairy and alternatives
The USDA recommends that babies learn to enjoy milk, yogurt (without added sugar) and cheese, as well as calcium-rich alternatives.
Cream, sour cream, cream cheese, and sugary dairy products are not recommended. Cream, sour cream, and cream cheese are low in calcium.
Cow’s milk as a beverage should be introduced at 12 months or later.
Lean protein foods like eggs, fish, chicken, lean meat, and nuts are important for babies.
You may be surprised to hear that you should feel your baby nuts. At one time, nuts — especially peanuts — were not suggested for young children, because of the possibility of allergies. Now, the USDA says, “Introduce infants to potentially allergenic foods along with other complementary foods.”
Whole peanuts can be a choking hazard, but peanut butter on an apple slice is a great way to introduce peanuts to your baby.
Other protein foods, such as soy and dairy products, are on the list of potentially allergenic foods, but introducing these foods earlier does not increase the chance of allergic reactions, and it may actually decrease that chance.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may want to avoid animal fats for your baby, but there is evidence that strict vegan diets can limit infant brain development. Discuss this concern with your pediatrician before making a decision.
Healthy fats, like those in avocados and salmon, should also be on your baby’s menu.
Variety in foods
As your baby starts to eat at the table with your family, you might find that it’s harder to get the same level of variety.
But varied foods, while they seem to be especially important for babies, are good for all of us. Most Americans eat just about half the amount of vegetables recommended for health, and most of those veggies are actually in the form of French fries and pizza sauce.
The whole family will benefit from adding bok choy and rhubarb to the menu. Think about letting the kids help pick out a new kind of produce at the supermarket every week.