I recently started reading a wonderful book called “Real Food for Mother and Baby” By: Nina Planck (link to buy at the bottom of this post), and I highly recommend it for anyone who is pregnant or has a young child. A lot of it is stuff I already know and practice, but it is so nice to have found a book that is modern, easy to read and right on track with how I believe we should all eat and feed our children. A lot of my friends come to me for advice on first foods for their baby. We have been taught that babies have to eat certain “baby foods”. This really makes no sense. Babies are humans, and can eat human food, they do not need special “baby food”. Now sure, you want to use common sense here. You wouldn’t want to feed your baby a carne asada burrito as their first food, you wanna take it slow and start with foods that can be pureed to have a smooth texture and are nutritionally balanced. You want to feed your baby whole, unprocessed foods that are easy to digest.
In Planck’s book, she talks about a study that was done in the 1920’s and 1930’s by a pioneering midwestern pediatrician, Clara Davis. Davis and her team of nurses provided a group of babies with a huge selection of foods (including ground beef, lamb, chicken, liver, brains (yup!), kidneys, bone marrow, raw and poached eggs, steel-cut oats, ground whole wheat, cornmeal, rye crackers, raw apples, bananas, oranges, pineapple, peaches, steamed apples, baked banana, raw tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, peas, steamed beets, carrots, peas, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach and baked potatoes. The babies could drink water, whole milk, cultured milk, and sometimes fresh orange juice and each baby got his own small dish of sea salt) and let them eat whatever they wanted, every day for months. Now at this time, doctors were in charge of children’s nutrition, they had recommendations for a strict schedule of what foods babies should eat and when. Davis was unable to find any research to justify that diet and so set about collecting her own data about baby food. What she found was that the babies had varied and good appetites, although sometimes their choices were quite extreme. For days, some babies would eat the same few foods. At a meal, one baby would eat seven eggs and another four bananas, while one occasionally took handfuls of salt. But over time, all the babies ate a varied diet, including much more meat than doctors recommended, and despite these odd meals, the babies didn’t get stomach aches or otherwise suffer in any way. The lesson here is to offer your baby healthy options and you will have a healthy child. Remember that sometimes you need to offer something many, many times before your baby will like something. Don’t give up on the first try! Also, listen to your baby and don’t get discouraged if your baby loves broccoli for months and then one day won’t eat it for weeks. Babies and their nutritional needs change constantly and you can trust that as long as you are offering a balanced (protein, good fat, fruits and veggies) and unprocessed variety of foods, that your baby will get exactly what it needs. A word of advice that one of my favorite doctors told me was: don’t look at what your baby eats in a day, look at what your baby eats in a week. This really helped me not to stress if my son didn’t want his veggies one day, as long as he got enough in a week, I knew he was fine.
I always recommend avocado as the perfect first food for baby, it is full of healthy fat, protein and vitamin E. I strongly discourage friends from feeding their babies rice cereal, or any cereals for that matter. Cereal has very little to no nutritional value, and is starchy and constipating. Even the organic cereals are highly processed and usually contain sugar. Babies just do not need it. Babies don’t produce an enzyme called amylase, which breaks down starch, for the first year or two, so any carbohydrate must be easy to digest and prepared properly. Gluten, the protein in wheat, is especially hard to digest. Also, doctors say that an early emphasis on starch contributes to both a preference for white foods (white rice, pasta, potatoes, etc) and the acquisition of a sweet tooth later on. What I recommend, and what we did for my son, is not to start grains until your baby is 13-15 months old, and at that time gluten-free grains only. The best grain for babies is brown rice, but it should be soaked overnight in filtered water before cooking. The process of soaking breaks down the hard to digest components of the rice and jump starts the enzymes within it making it even easier to digest.
I think that most people would find it hard to believe that my 18 month old son has never had any cereals or puffed cereal snacks. They might be thinking, what does her son snack on if he doesn’t eat Cheerios, rice cakes, gold fish crackers?? The answer is simple: whole, organic, unprocessed foods. He snacks on cheese, yogurt, berries and other fruits, steamed veggies, humus and avocado. Because he has never been offered cereal, bread, crackers or sugar, he does not crave it or ask for it. That is why I think the key is to keep those things away from your baby as long as you can. It is obviously inevitable, my son will eat pizza at a birthday party one day and snack on chips at a friend’s house, and that is fine. But as long as he is still a baby and what he eats is in my control, I will continue to offer him the most nutrient rich foods I can and hope that when he can make his own dietary choices that this good start will influence his decisions.
So just remember, you want to give your baby whole, unprocessed, food. Stay away from white flour and sugar and leave out the empty calorie foods like cereal. Your baby and his/her body will thank you!!
For more information on feeding your baby, buy Nina Planck’s book, “Real Food for Mother and Baby” here: http://amzn.to/13GJZCA