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By the time your baby is old enough to eat solid food, the decisions about which food to begin with seems monumental.

One friend advises you to use iron-fortified cereal, while another warns you to steer clear of any cereal at all.

It’s so confusing!

When you understand the magnitude of brain and body growth during the first year of life, you see why making first food decisions is so important.

Thankfully, there’s a first food that covers your baby’s need for iron and zinc, two of the most important nutrients in her first year of life.

That food is beef. Poultry with dark meat, like chicken thighs, is also a good first choice.

Beef isn’t a new food for baby, but there’s more love flowing for this nutrient-rich option than ever before. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has approved beef and other dark meats as first foods for your baby, suggesting parents should explore other sources of iron and zinc, such as red meat and dark meat poultry, particularly if breastfeeding.

Specifically, the AAP says:

“Since most breastfeeding babies’ iron stores begin to diminish at about six months, good first choices for solids are those rich in iron. Current recommendations are that meats, such as turkey, chicken, and beef, should be added as one of the first solids to the breastfed infant’s diet. Meats are good sources of high-quality protein, iron, and zinc and provide greater nutritional value than cereals, fruits, or vegetables.”

Animal sources of iron are easily absorbed and used in your baby’s body compared with plant sources of iron. Considering the higher needs of iron in the second half of the first year, an iron and zinc-rich first food makes sense.

How to Offer Meats

Depending on your preference, there are several ways to offer meat to your baby.

Purchase It From the Grocery Store 

Beef and other nutrient-rich meats (lamb, dark meat chicken, and turkey) have been a mainstay in the baby food aisle for years.

When shopping for pureed meat, there are a few things to look for:

  • Check the use by date and make sure it hasn’t expired.
  • The lid should have a depressed area in the center, which indicates freshness. If that depression has popped, do not purchase.
  • Look at the ingredients label and purchase baby food that has minimal, yet wholesome ingredients.
  • Purchase organic baby beef and poultry if you can, or grass-fed, if available.
  • Select beginner or Stage 1 puree (this is the smoothest puree). (Many commercial baby food options are Stage 2 and blended with vegetables.)

If you don’t want to give meat straight out of the jar, you can mix it with veggies or with a single grain cereal or with both, as long as your baby has tolerated these before.

Make Your Own Meat Puree

It’s easy to make your own pureed meats. Puree cooked ground beef; a soft, tender cut of beef or lamb (i.e., beef cooked in the slow cooker); or cooked dark meat turkey or chicken with water, broth, or breast milk/formula until it’s a smooth consistency.

As your baby gets used to eating solid food, you can build up the flavor of meat by adding herbs and spices and/or vegetables to the mix. Increasing the texture is also easy to do when you’re making it yourself.

Whole Pieces of Meat

If you’re choosing to use a self-feeding method, be sure to choose a very tender cut of meat.

All babies are relatively inexperienced with whole pieces of food, so watch for signs and symptoms of choking. Cut food into long, thin rectangles so your baby can hold it easily. Beef is the easiest meat to modify into a shape that baby can hold.

When using whole pieces of beef or other meat, adequate ingestion of iron and zinc may be hard to determine and may be inconsistent, so be sure to include a variety of iron- and zinc-containing foods.

Takeaways

  • First foods for baby should include iron- and zinc-rich sources, such as beef or dark meat types of poultry.
  • There are several ways to offer meats, from commercial pureed sources to making your own.

References

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Working Together: Breastfeeding and Solid Foods.
  2. The Journal of Nutrition. Dietary Zinc and Iron Sources, Physical Growth and Cognitive Development of Breastfed Infants.

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