Which food to offer when baby start to eat for real

 

We don’t often talk about single nutrients as we really prefer to talk about whole foods and meals (isn’t it what we eat after all?). But when it comes to feeding solid foods to baby, it is really important to stop and discuss iron needs.

 

But doesn’t breastmilk provide everything baby needs?

 

Correct, until about 6 months of age.

 

There are various reasons to start introducing solid foods around that age, including:

 

  1. Babies need iron-rich food, as their iron stores are running out.
  2. Babies become physiologically ready for food. They can safely start managing, “chewing”, and swallowing appropriate food items.

 

For babies 6-12 months of age, we often hear complimentary food or complimentary feeding, as a way to indicate that indeed, food is complementing milk feedings. So continue breastfeeding or formula feeding as you start introducing solid foods. The goal is that your child follows the family routine and eats family meals around 1 year of age.

 

Milk + iron-rich solid foods is what baby needs around 6 months of age

 

 

 

 

So back to it, what is iron?

 

Iron is a mineral that carries oxygen in your body, making sure all organs receive what they need to function normally. How does it happen? Iron is part of a bigger molecule called hemoglobin, found in your blood.

 

You can imagine hemoglobin as a car service: Iron is the driver, starting at your lungs, packing its hemoglobin-car with oxygen and driving around your body, dropping off their oxygen-passenger at different pit stops (hard working job as it goes on 24/7!) So you need enough iron to get enough oxygen, and function properly (and survive!). That is why people who lack iron in their diet have a health problem called “anemia” and feel tired and low on energy.

 

Iron is essential for oxygen supply. Babies grow fast, and need more iron at 6 months of age.

 

Why iron-rich foods first?

 

Whenever you judge that it is time for your baby to start solid foods, chose the method that fit your parenting style and start with iron-rich foods. Offer iron-rich foods 2 times a day to your baby.

 

Around 6 months of age, when babies starts to discover food, their appetite can still be little (and fluctuating from day to day). Offering iron-rich foods first maximizes the chances they will eat it. But don’t sweat it! Some days, they don’t eat a thing, and other days they ask for more. Look at your baby’s food intake on a weekly basis to avoid worrying too much at each meal. Yes, iron is important, but not to the point of forcing your baby to eat more. If you have concerns, it’s always a good idea to meet a dietitian or ask your doctor.

 

Growing babies need more nutrients, specifically iron.

 

Examples of iron rich foods

 

There are 2 types of iron found in our foods. An animal-based and a plant-based type, but remember that as always, a winning strategy is to offer various foods to baby. In addition to getting enough nutrients, baby will discover new tastes and textures!

 

Animal sources
Heme iron = very well absorbed by our body
  • meat: beef, veal, pork, liver
  • poultry: chicken, turkey
  • whole eggs
  • fish
  • seafood

 

Plant sources
Non-heme iron = absorbed less efficiently by our body
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • nut and seed butters
  • legumes and beans
  • infant cereals which are enriched in iron
  • whole grains products

 

Lots of sources of iron to choose from. Variety is always a good idea!

 

 

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Vitamin C is iron’s BFF

 

Vitamin C increases the absorption of non-heme iron. It is a good idea to pair iron-rich food with a source of vitamin C so that the absorption is maximal.

 

  • Fruits: citrus fruits, berries, kiwis, watermelons …
  • Veggies: peppers, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes …

 

No need to start worrying about food combinations! The best strategy and the most natural one is to adopt a baby version of the healthy plate. Having a source of protein that is rich in iron, a side veggie and a side of whole grains, as well as a fruit for dessert (+ milk on demand: breastmilk or formula) will ensure baby gets iron, vitamin C and all the other nutrients needed without you having to count, measure, or focus on too many things.

Around 1 year of age, baby should eat like the family – another good reason to adopt the healthy plate for everyone at the table.

 

Offering a healthy plate to baby ensure exposition to new flavours + all the nutrients needed.

 

Top 4 concerns parents have

 

#1 …But we are vegetarian…But we are vegan.

 

It is possible to raise a vegetarian or vegan baby. Depending on your family’s food choices, you can offer plant-based iron-rich foods that align with your values (tofu, seed and nut butters, legumes, beans, tempeh, infant cereals, etc.).

 

If you are unsure if your baby meets all his/her needs, ask for advice from your dietitian. There are some risks in cutting whole food groups from your baby’ diet, but with knowledge and smart moves in the kitchen, there are no reasons your kid won’t thrive!

 

Vegetarian and vegan babies can thrive when parents are well informed by a registered dietitian.

 

# 2 …but isn’t vegetables the best thing to give to babies learning to eat?

 

It would be logical to assume that adult recommendations can be transpose to kids, and that feeding them lots of veggies will necessary be a good thing. Yes, but.

 

Kids are not little adults. They are unique, and have their own growing needs (they double their size and height in less than a year! Remarkable!) They actually need energy-dense food and iron-rich food most and foremost. Of course, they need all the other good stuff your family is eating but these are the 2 elements to keep in mind: iron and fat.

 

Yes veggies are good for babies, but make sure to offer iron-rich and energy-dense foods first!

 

# 3 Should I go with an iron supplement for babies?

 

Unless your kid has specific needs or health conditions, or that your doctor or registered dietitian has suggested it, a healthy baby who eat well won’t need a supplement.

 

Food wise, it means: being offered 2 times a day proteins that are rich in iron, energy-dense food, veggies & fruits, grains products, and milk on demand.

 

It also mean your child doesn’t experience discomfort: having reflux, vomiting, having diarrhea, or any other symptoms that you feel are unusual or worrisome.

 

Healthy babies don’t need a supplement of iron if they eat well and have no specific conditions. Ask your health care practitioner if you have doubts.

 

#4 Won’t iron make my baby constipated?

 

It is expected that your baby’s stools will (dramatically) change when you start introducing food. It is normal. It will change in texture, odor, color, and frequency. As long as baby is not having hard, dry stool that are difficult to pass, continue to introduce solid foods and offer milk on demand.

 

If you think your baby is having problems and might be constipated, it is best to seek advice from your doctor to make sure there are no medical problems.

 

Expect changes in stool when introducing solid foods, but seek medical advice if you feel your baby is constipated.

 

References:

 

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