When it comes to feeding your baby, there's no top 10 list of super foods for moms to print out, stick on the fridge and stick to. (Sorry!) But experts agree that limiting your little one to a few "best" foods in her first year (or any year, for that matter) would actually do her a disservice.
"The first year of life is when the palate is trained," says Tina Ruggiero, coauthor of The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet. "The three rules I tell my clients to follow are: Go for color, think fresh and introduce new flavors and different textures at age-appropriate stages. Following these guidelines, parents will find more than 10 fruits, more than 10 vegetables and more than 10 proteins to try."
And while you'll also want to talk with baby's pediatrician for guidance, adding the following great options to your baby's diet — and avoiding a few first-year no-no foods — will get her off to a healthy start.
We've all heard (and heard, and heard) that breast is best. But just because your baby is ready to move beyond the boob doesn't mean you should stop nursing. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of four months (and preferably six months). But the organization also recommends that breastfeeding continue until baby is 12 months old — or longer, if it works for both mom and baby. "The very best food for the first year is breast milk," says Dr. Loraine Stern, coauthor of the book Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know.
• Best age for breast milk: Birth and older
Your baby is born with a natural supply of iron (yay, baby!), but it'll be depleted by the time she's around 6 months old, Stern says, so introducing iron-rich foods is essential. One that fits the bill: iron-fortified cereal. It doesn't have to be the traditional first food of rice cereal — oatmeal and barley are good options, too — just make sure you start with a single-grain formula.
• Best age for iron-fortified cereal: 4 to 6 months
Avocados are a great first fruit to offer your baby, because they're loaded with monounsaturated fats (that's the good kind) and have a mild taste and smooth consistency. They're super-easy to prepare, too: Simply mash a very ripe avocado with a little breast milk or formula until it reaches a pureed consistency.
• Best Age for Avocados: 6 months and older
OK, so there's no baby super food — but sweet potatoes come pretty close. According to The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet, they're one of the most nutritious foods for your baby. Why? They're rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A — and that's "important for good vision, healthy skin, normal growth and protection from infections." Plus, many babies like the soft, pudding-like texture of pureed sweet potatoes, says Susan Casey, a pediatric clinical dietitian at Seattle Children's Hospital.
• Best age for sweet potatoes: 6 months and older
Meat — like chicken, lamb or beef — is an excellent source of protein, as well as iron, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and zinc. Just make sure it's pureed to a smooth texture. (According to Nutrition, for infants, "even finely chopped meat may be hard to handle and cause choking.") Try mixing the pureed meat with breast milk and a favorite veggie puree if you're preparing it yourself, or buy plain pureed jarred meats.
• Best age for meat: 7 to 10 months and older
"Beets are an extraordinary nutrient source," says Ruggiero. "They're a good source of folic acid, high in potassium and beta-carotene, and they're a sweet veggie — which babies take a liking to quickly." Roast or steam them until they're super-soft; then mash them.
• Best age for beets: 11 months and older
Plain (not vanilla) whole-milk yogurt is another protein-rich option for baby — plus, it contains calcium and beneficial live active cultures. (Confused as to why yogurt made with cow's milk is OK for babies, but actual cow's milk isn't? "Very simply, lactose is already broken down with the culturing of the yogurt, and milk proteins are either removed or limited, so it's easy for baby to digest," says Ruggiero.)
• Best age for yogurt: 9 months and older
Believe it or not, many experts love good old-fashioned Cheerios. The little O's in the yellow box are an excellent finger food and a good source of fiber. "I don't think childhood would exist without Cheerios," says Stern.
• Best age for Cheerios: 9 months and older
First Year No-Nos
- Honey Tempted to sweeten up your babe's bland pear sauce with a touch of honey? Don't. According to Nutrition, "Honey is linked to infant botulism, an illness that can be fatal." The tummies of babies under the age of 1 simply can't deactivate the botulism spores that might be in honey, Stern says. So avoid this food until your little one has passed her first birthday.
- Nuts and Peanuts You can introduce small amounts of creamy — not chunky — peanut butter when your child is a year old (try spreading a thin layer on a cracker), but avoid nuts in whole form until age 4 to prevent choking.
- Cow's Milk Babies just can't easily digest cow's milk, which is one reason why experts recommend waiting until the one-year mark before offering it.