A baby’s palate is a blank slate at birth and taste buds and preferences are developed by exposure. Introducing a deep and wide variety of nutrient dense foods early and often will help shape taste buds and set a firm foundation for good health. I cringe every time I hear the phrase “food before one is just for fun.” I couldn’t disagree more. Food before age one sets the stage for a strong immunity, academic success, and physical strength. Here are some of my feeding practices I value for the sensitive period of time within the 6-9 month window:
1. Nutrient Density at the Forefront
Introduce solids with the most nutritiously-dense foods. Spoiler alert; that’s not refined white rice cereal! This study of US babies by Dr. Nancy Krebs shows babies fed meat as first foods grew faster and showed fewer nutrient deficiencies than babies who started on rice. Rice cereal has traditionally been recommended as a first food because it’s fortified with synthetic iron, a poorly absorbed form that can also cause constipation. Furthermore, babies don’t have sufficient pancreatic amylase, the enzyme needed to digest starch until around 2 years of age. Any starches consumed would be digested from small amounts of salivary amylase in the mouth, but what remains passes through the GI system undigested, where an underdeveloped gut lining remains leaky until 12-18 months until closure occurs. This leaky gut, nothing short of brilliant design, allows antibodies from mother’s milk to pass into the blood stream and develop the immune system. Rice has also been making the headlines for containing arsenic, causing unnecessary burden on little bodies. Human milk is the perfect food to sustain life for 6 months, and the second food should be equally as superior in nutrition, and that’s why I chose bone broth and organic chicken liver as super-star starters. This article from the Weston A. Price foundation says liver contains more nutrients, gram for gram, than any other food. Now THAT’S the nutrient density I’m talking about! Liver offers heme iron, which is a much more bio available form, along with vitamin A, choline, and zinc that are vital to a baby’s growth. I started with 3 days of spoon-fed bone broth liquid before including pureed chicken liver + bone broth. Quality and source are critical when it comes to selecting livers. I find grass fed organic liver at our local health food store and also the farmer’s market. I have offered both chicken and beef liver, and while both are nutrition superstars, chicken liver has a slight edge because of its milder taste and higher iron content. If cooking liver is new to you, follow my easy recipe for pureed chicken liver.
2. Nutritional Diversity from Vegetables
There are so many different vegetables waiting to be introduced that I have easily been able to offer a diverse variety of veggies without getting stuck on repeat or offering fruit. I plan to introduce fruit closer to 9-12 months and will avoid straight-up fruit purees. Palates can begin to favor a preference for sweet foods so quickly, and it’s often a fight to retrain them. Savory and bitter foods early help develop a preference for these foods as they grow.
Below is a spectrum of color, and also spectrum of nutrition for great first foods. These are easily pureed and frozen into mini-muffin tins for later use. Both of my babies have been big eaters and it’s not unusual to go through 3-4 of these discs a day. This stash disappears in a hurry!
3. Don’t Fear the Fat
Babies are born with about 15% body fat and it continues to pack on until around 9 months when it plateaus at around 25% fat. There’s a reason. Around 50-60% of a baby’s energy expenditure gets burned up in a quickly developing brain. Fat stores on the body help supply the brain with the nutrition it needs to learn at an escalating rate. There’s a reason breastmilk is considered whole milk and is the greatest source of DHA known to man! I vary the following fats into veggie purees to also help absorb the baby-loving fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K. (Note: 1/4 teaspoon Cod Liver Oil and 1 teaspoon of Pumpkin Seed Oil are given consistently at bedtime each night along with a baby probiotic)
Pictured left to right:
- Flax oil
- Unrefined cold-pressed virgin coconut oil
- Pumpkinseed oil
- Cod liver oil
- Organic Peanut Butter*
*This is a controversial debate, but one I feel strongly about introducing early and often to avoid potential peanut allergies. The AAP recently changed their stance on this too, recommending peanut butter as early as 4-6 months (more on that here).
Other foods not mentioned above that are offered regularly are:
- Soft boiled free-range egg yolk. Quality matters with everything, but I’m especially conscious when it comes to eggs. Free-range organic eggs are best. Egg whites are more allergenic, so try to avoid getting any white fragments in the mix. I fry eggs in ghee and spoon-feed the yolk.
- Sauerkraut juice. This is so rich in vitamin C and probiotics- the perfect immune booster!
- Hummus. Single serving store bought hummus cups are a super easy grab-and-go food.
- Mashed avocado. This is not something that I keep in my frozen stash because it’s so easy to mash fresh when I’m making avocado toast for my older kiddo.
- Spices! Don’t be shy on the flavor. You don’t like bland food- why would your baby?
Remember to introduce foods slowly, waiting 3-4 days at a time before introducing new foods to monitor for allergic reactions.