There are few topics in motherhood, if any, that bring out more opinions than the question of what to feed a child, right? Breastfeeding, rice cereal in bottles, first foods for baby, store bought food, baby lead weaning, delaying allergenic foods…
Someone (everyone) has an opinion about each. And guess what: They ALL differ. So, what is a good-intentioned mama to do when it’s time for introducing solids?
Most importantly, don’t stress.
Weeding through the plethora of information is overwhelming. When it was time for introducing solids to my daughter, I picked one philosophy and stuck with it: Feed her real foods that meet her current nutritional needs.
I didn’t worry about what method we were doing. I didn’t stress about what my mom friends were feeding their kids. I focused on feeding my daughter nutrient dense real foods that were appropriate for her developing body.
First Foods for Baby: The Why
There are certain nutrients which your baby needs around the time of introducing solids. When babies don’t receive adequate amounts of these nutrients, they are at risk for becoming deficient in them.
A baby’s iron and zinc needs exceed what is provided by breastmilk (regardless of mom’s supplementation) and what the baby has in storage at around six months of age.  Iron plays key roles in brain function and is needed for oxygen to flow through the body and zinc plays a key role in digestive and immune health. Studies show significant behavioral effects of iron deficiency in infants and preschoolers. 
A 6-8 month old requires more iron (9x) and zinc (4x) per 100 calories of food than an adult male.  In fact, the RDA for iron for a 7-12 month old is more than the RDA for an adult male. Not per calorie, an infant needs more milligrams of iron per day than an adult male.  Adequate iron and zinc are crucial for a baby’s ability to develop properly.
Infants also require fat (specifically Omega-3s) and cholesterol to support brain and cell membrane development and to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Speaking of vitamin D, if your baby is breastfed and you have low vitamin D levels, it’s important to include vitamin D rich foods when introducing solids. This is also true for formula fed infants as the amount of formula they take begins to decrease.
Vitamin D is so important, that it’s actually recommended that both breastfed and formula babies receive supplementation from birth. Why? Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption, which is crucial for the development of the growing bones in a little human. It’s also important for immunity, and I don’t know a single mom who doesn’t want to do all she can to improve an infant’s immunity… because you know that cold is going to make it’s way to you, it’s just a matter of days.
If you are unsure about about the timing for introducing solids, review these developmental signs. Just like with adults, HOW we eat is nearly as important as what we eat. Forcing solids on a baby who is not ready for them is stressful, and proper digestion only happens when we are in a relaxed, parasympathetic state.
First Foods for Baby: The How
Nutrient requirements (outside of breastmilk or formula) can be met through real foods! The method you choose (purees, baby lead weaning, homemade, etc.) matters less than ensuring that the first foods for baby include foods that meet his or her nutrient requirements.Introducing solids is intimidating. Learn what foods provide nutrients your little one needs most! Click To Tweet
A recent study found that babies fed using the baby lead weaning method received the same calories as more traditional methods for introducing solids, but the make up of their diets had more fat and less iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. 
Does this mean baby lead weaning is bad? Of course not! If you choose to follow this method, just make sure to include foods rich in the nutrients a baby needs most.
First Foods for Baby: The What
Iron-rich whole foods, especially meats with heme iron, are the best way to ensure adequate iron and zinc. Seafoods provide Omega-3 fats to build healthy brains and vitamin D. While meat and seafoods are not common first foods these days, though traditionally they were, they are simply the best foods for meeting the unique requirements of an infant around the age of six months. 
- Liver: Liver is a nutrient powerhouse, with choline and cholesterol for the brain, tons of iron and zinc, as well as B vitamins that aren’t found in many foods. Look for organic or pasture raised poultry liver (chicken is great and easy to find). Serve pureed (simmered in bone broth and pureed in food processor) or made into pate.
- Ground meat: Not sure you can do liver? Ground meat (beef, lamb, chicken, etc.) is also a great source of iron and zinc. If possible, find grass-fed or pastured options to increase the amount of Omega-3 fats in the meat. If you are not comfortable serving ground meat, puree after cooking.
- Egg Yolk: Soft-boiled or scrambled egg yolks are a traditional first food around the world for good reason. They have choline and cholesterol to support brain development, and when they are from pasture-raised poultry they are a great source of vitamins A and D and folate. They do contain phosvitan, which binds to the iron in egg yolk, making it difficult for the body to absorb. Egg yolks shouldn’t be considered a great source of iron for this reason.
- Salmon: Wild caught salmon is a great source of vitamin D and Omega-3 fats. Bake and serve, or puree if you’d like.
- Fish Roe: Fish eggs are great for the brain (Omega 3 fatty acids) and full of vitamins (A, D, and K2) and minerals (zinc, selenium, and iodine). Buy fresh or frozen, and skip the shelf-stable caviar that include preservatives. Larger eggs, like salmon roe, are a fun finger food, and smaller eggs can be mixed with other foods or fed by spoon.
While animal proteins are going to provide the highest amounts of the most crucial nutrients infants need, there are other foods that are rich in nutrients and appropriate around six months.
- Sauerkraut is a probiotic food, a source of good bacteria that aids in gut health. It’s also a great source of Vitamin C, which helps to increases the amount of iron that is absorbed from non-meat iron sources. Make sure to only buy refrigerated sauerkraut; shelf-stable options are not living foods and, therefore, not a source of good bacteria. It’s also a great finger food!
- Root vegetables are a great way to introduce vegetables into a baby’s diet. To help aid in digestion, vegetables should be well cooked. For an extra nutrient punch, simmer in bone broth, so that the vegetables absorb nutrients from the broth. Make sure to serve with fat (coconut oil or butter are both great options), to ensure that the fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed during digestion.
- Avocado is full of fat (though not Omega-3s that support brain health), and is also a source of folate and iron. If a mashed avocado is too much for baby, try mixing with breastmilk or formula to thin a little.
- Banana is a good first fruit as it’s one of a few fruits that contain amylase, which is helpful for starch breakdown, as infants may not have adult levels of pancreatic amylase until around 16 months.
Plant based? There is a special need to ensure plant-based infants are receiving adequate amounts of these crucial nutrients. Many plant based foods are lower in iron and zinc, and the minerals they do have are less bioavailable (the body has decreased ability to absorb them). The RDA for both iron and zinc is increased for vegetarians, 1.8x times for iron and .5x for zinc. Read more about the ways to increase iron absorption from plant-based foods.
Spirulina (an algae) is the best source of plant-based iron, and also has zinc and some vitamin D. Spirulina also is one of the only non-meat sources of the Omega-3s DHA and EPA, which are the types of Omega-3 our body uses. Almost all plant-based sources of Omega-3 are ALA, which the body must convert to DHA and EPA. The body converts ALA at extremely low rates (like less than 5%). 
Looking for more on first foods for babies? Super Foods for Babies (available on Amazon here) and The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care (available on Amazon here) are both excellent, in depth books on returning to traditional foods for babies and toddlers.
Megan Garcia is an excellent source of evidence-based information on first foods for baby. She has both a free program and an exhaustive program for purchase, First Foods & Beyond. (I’m not an affiliate, I just love her work and learn a ton from her.)
And, if you’re looking to save money while feeding your little one a wholesome diet, read my article on ways to save on organic food for kids.
These are my suggestions for real foods to offer when introducing solids. What are your favorites?