If you’re focusing only on fruits and veggies for baby’s first bites, your little one may be missing out on key nutrients. Here’s why and how Beef should be included in baby’s first foods when starting solids.
This post is sponsored by Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. As always, all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep Lively Table running!
When you begin feeding your infant solids around 6 months, which foods do you offer? Your pediatrician may have advised you to start in a traditional weaning style with baby cereal and to move on to vegetables, then fruits, adding in meats last. But if you choose baby led weaning, you may skip infant cereals altogether. So which foods should you start with?
If you missed it, I have a whole post on first foods for baby led weaning, but today I’m focusing on one key area where many infants are falling short when they first learn to eat solids - and that’s meat. With the growing popularity in plant-based diets, some parents may assume it’s healthier to stick with fruit, vegetables, and grains as complementary foods for their 6 to 12 month olds starting solids. But that’s not necessarily the case. In such a critical time of growth and development, animal foods like meat, and particularly beef, are a key part of babies’ diets.
Every Bite Counts
The period from birth to 2 years is a critical time for the growing bodies and brains of little ones. Their nutrient needs are very high to support this growth, but their tummies are small. In order to nourish the proper growth and development of little ones, we must provide them adequate amounts of essential nutrients like protein, fat, iron, zinc, and B vitamins once they start solids around 6 months of age. Since they eat such a small amount when first starting solids, it’s up to us as parents to provide the right foods from the very beginning to meet those nutrient needs that breast milk or formula can no longer fully provide from ages 6 months to 2 years. That means choosing very nutrient-dense foods so that every bite baby takes is as beneficial as possible.
Critical Nutrients For Brain Development
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all nutrients are necessary for brain growth, but particular key nutrients that support proper brain development include protein; zinc; iron; choline; folate; iodine; vitamins A, D, B6, and B12; and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Failure to provide key nutrients during this critical period of brain development, especially iron, may result in lifelong deficits in brain function.
With an increase in mothers breast feeding for longer periods of time (which is great!) and the popularity of baby led weaning that typically excludes the use of baby cereal, research indicates that many infants are NOT meeting iron needs, since both formula and fortified baby cereal have traditionally been the main sources of iron for infants.In addition, less than 10% of infants consume meat in their first nine months.
Why Beef Should Be Included As a First Food
If babies are not receiving iron from infant cereal or formula fortified with iron, how can they get iron in their diets once they start solids? The answer is animal proteins, especially red meat. Offering beef as a first food for babies is one of the best ways to meet iron needs for babies. The iron in beef is highly absorbable, and a good source of iron, making beef an ideal first food for 7-12 month olds. While there are many plant sources of iron, they just aren’t very well absorbed by our bodies, so baby would have to eat A LOT of these foods to get enough iron.
Beef also provides well-absorbed zinc, choline, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, all of which are critical for brain development. So much nutrition packed into a small amount makes beef an ideal food to serve to babies!
How To Serve Beef To Babies with Baby Led Weaning
While it may be intimidating to give beef to your 6 month old baby, there’s nothing to fear! Babies can absolutely handle beef, as long as it’s an appropriate shape and texture. Steak was actually one of Little M’s very first foods! Here are a few ways you can safely offer beef to your little one:
- Strips of tender steak the length of your finger. This way, baby can pick the meat up and suck the juices.
- Soft-cooked finger-shaped meatballs.
- Other moist ground beef dishes, like meatloaf or hamburger steak, cut into finger-shaped pieces.
- Strips of tender beef roast made in a slow cooker.
- Cooked beef pureed in low sodium broth, water or breast milk on a pre-loaded spoon.
- Once baby has developed a pincer grasp (usually around 8-10 months), tender cooked beef can be cut into very small pieces that she can pick up with fingers and chew (whether she has teeth or not!).
If you have little ones, I‘d love to know when and how you first served Beef to them!
*If you have questions about starting solid foods, consult a physician or health care provider.