What should you choose for your baby’s first solid foods?
Iron-fortified grain cereals are popular choices since baby’s iron stores may be getting low after 6 months. Rice cereals are easy to digest, and gluten-free. Store bought organic varieties can be mixed with breast milk to make a thin porridge that’s easy to serve with a mini-wooden spoon or your finger.
Some health experts declare that starting babies on carbohydrate rich cereal might lead to food sensitivities and obesity later in life, while other experts state that it actually prevents the same issues. Clearly the jury is still out. I look at cultures around the world, like Ethiopian teff, quinoa in South America, and rice throughout Asia, that have relied on whole grain porridge as first foods for toddlers, and don’t see obesity as a problem for their traditional cultures.
If you would rather use fresh whole foods for your growing child, try mashed organic fruits, cooked vegetables, beans and whole grains.
- Ripe, mashed avocado and banana (aka “Avo-banana”)
- Unsweetened applesauce mashed with cooked lentils
- Ground whole grains like millet
- Pureed chickpeas
- Mashed peas
- Steamed sweet potatoes
Buying baby food in jars or frozen containers is an option, but isn’t necessary. Before the mid-1800s “baby food” didn’t exist. Use the back of a fork or a baby food mill to puree whatever you’re eating.
Toddlers develop personalities and food habits quickly – and they’ll tell you what they don’t like without reservation. Toddlers have bursts of growth, and during the slow times can get by on very little food. Don’t worry if your kid doesn’t seem to be eating much, as long as they’re energetic, you don’t notice any changes with their diaper loads, and their attitudes haven’t changed much, they’re getting enough food.
Don’t give up on greens!
Most kids need a new food introduced 12 to 20 times before they’ll accept it. Keep cooking healthy foods, show your kids you enjoy them, and don’t force your child to eat something in the beginning. We have a “one taste” rule at our table – everyone takes 1 taste of each dish, and can have more if they choose.
Nutrient Rich Foods Are Key
- Vegans tend to eat more fiber than most people. This is great for adults, but vegan toddler food can fill kids up on fiber, crowding out other valuable nutrient-rich foods.
- Make sure your kids get enough protein, fat and nutrients by offering a variety of enriched plant milks, avocado, nut and seed butters, enriched whole-grain products and lentils.
- Use regular sprinkles of pulverized sea vegetables like Sea Seasonings from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables to ensure they’re getting good doses of minerals and iodine.
- Red Star Nutritional Yeast Flakes offer protein, zinc and B-12, and can be added to mashed grains, beans, and lentil soup.
- Unsweetened Coconut Kefir from So Delicious offers calcium and probiotics for a nice snack.
- Wildwood has a probiotic soy yogurt drink in blueberry, peach and pomegranate flavors.
- Tahini can be mixed into whole grains, beans and lentils for added protein, healthy fat and calcium.
- Homemade nut cheese is a great protein rich snack for spreading on crackers or whole grain bread.
What if you or your partner can’t eat gluten and you suspect your kid should avoid it as well?
No problem. You can avoid soy milk, tofu and other vegan soy staples by replacing them with enriched hemp milk or rice milk. Earth Balance has a good soy-free spread, and there are many good gluten-free pastas and crackers on the market these days. Just make sure you’re choosing the most nutrient dense foods for your kid and not filling them up on fiber.
While toddlers are notorious for swinging appetites, here is a sample day that can help get you started. Keep in mind that most pediatricians will tell you to look at the quality and quantity of food they’re eating over a week rather than stressing about what they eat in a day. If they only eat a banana and 1 bit of avocado today, chances are they’ll down a cup of lentil soup and 2 pieces of whole grain bread tomorrow!
Sample Day Menu:
¼ avocado mashed together with ½ ripe banana
½ cup unsweetened soy yogurt (Wildwood is a great brand)
* I like to mix in 1 teaspoon of Udo’s 3-6-9 Omega blend oil or a few drops of Dr. Fuhrman’s DHA oil
¼ cup cooked lentils sprinkled with 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast flakes
1 piece whole grain bread (Food For Life Ezekiel brand is excellent) toasted with 1 tablespoon apple butter spread and 1 tablespoon almond butter
steamed green beans, peas or broccoli