If youʼre focusing only on fruits and veggies for babyʼs first bites, your little one may be missing out on key nutrients. Hereʼs why and how beef should be included in babyʼs first foods when starting solids.
When it's time to start solids when their babies are around 6 months old, new parents often wonder which foods to offer first. Pediatricians usually advise parents to start in a traditional weaning style with baby cereal and to move on to vegetables, then fruits, adding in meats last. They're often skeptical of baby led weaning, and therefore will offer no advice on which foods to start with if you choose this approach for starting solids. But if you skip infant cereals altogether, which foods should you start with? (Spoiler alert: almost anything you want!)
While it's important to include a variety of foods (including plenty of fruits and veggies) in baby's diet from the very beginning, today Iʼm focusing on one key area where many infants are falling short when they first learn to eat solids - and thatʼs meat. In fact, less than 10% of infants consume meat in their first nine months.
Some parents may assume itʼs healthier to stick with fruit, vegetables, and grains as complementary foods for their 6 to 12 month olds starting solids. But thatʼs 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 babiesʼ diets.
Why Beef Should Be Included As a First Food for Babies
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. Every bite counts in getting babies the critical nutrients they need for growth and brain development. 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 breastfeeding 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.
Offering red meat, especially beef, as a first food for babies is one of the best ways to help 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 arenʼt 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 meat to your 6-month-old baby, there is nothing to fear! Babies can absolutely handle beef, as long as itʼs an appropriate shape and texture. Steak was actually one of both of my kids' very first foods! Here are a few ways you can safely offer beef to a 6-month-old:
- 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. This can be served to non-BLW babies too!
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!).
Be sure to read how to modify recipes for BLW and the safety guidelines for serving all foods to babies before beginning baby led weaning!
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