Hello! My name is Min, and I am a registered dietitian and a mom to my 12-month-old baby boy, Caleb. As a first time mom, I can remember feeling both excited as well as incredibly anxious when it came time to introduce solid foods to my baby.
He was born 5 weeks early, so I waited until he was 6 months adjusted age to start solids. While your baby may start showing developmental signs of readiness earlier, such as sitting up without support or exhibiting great interest in food, studies show that it is best to wait until baby is at least 6 months old before offering solid foods. This ensures that the baby’s digestive tract is mature enough to process these foods.
You may have heard the rhyme “food before one is JUST for fun” and that breast milk alone is enough to nourish the baby. I agree 100% that food SHOULD be a fun experience for our babies. However, I like to say that “food before one is MAINLY for fun” because after around 6 months or so, babies will gradually need more nutrients that breast milk alone can’t provide.
Keep in mind, however, that the amount of milk feedings should be kept the same when solid foods are first introduced. Breast milk or infant formula should continue to be the main source of nutrition through one year of age.
The priority nutrients during the first year of life include:
It is true that iron in breast milk is highly bioavailable, or gets readily absorbed into the baby’s blood stream. However, due to their rapid growth within those first twelve months, babies are going to require an additional source of iron besides breast milk and/or formula.
Studies show that iron from animal sources are absorbed 2-3 times more readily than from plant sources. Some of the best animal sources of iron include:
- lean beef
Variety is key, though, and plant sources definitely have a place on your baby’s plate. These include:
- beans and lentils
- dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale)
- baked potatoes
And remember, adding a source of vitamin C, such as tomatoes, bell pepper, broccoli, kiwi, will increase the absorption of iron in baby’s body!
Zinc is an important mineral that helps the immune system work properly and is essential for growth and development. It can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, whole grain products, beans, seeds, and nuts. You’ll notice that food sources of zinc coincide with sources of iron!
3. Vitamin D
Otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin, I personally think this is the most fascinating nutrient as our skin is able to make the vitamin when exposed to the sun. As little as 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight can generate nearly 10,000 IU of vitamin D! While it is best known for its role in bone health, emerging research reveals its beneficial role in fighting infections, preventing diabetes, and reducing heart disease, to name a few. Unfortunately, with the use of sunscreen and limitations on sun exposure, many people are deficient in this vital nutrient.
I always recommend food over supplements whenever possible. However, only a handful of foods naturally contain substantial amounts of vitamin D. These include egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon, sardines, and tuna. Therefore, infants who are completely or partially breastfed should receive a daily supplement until two years of age, as breast milk is a poor source of vitamin D. On the contrary, those being given infant formula or drinking cow’s milk (after 12 months of age) need no supplementation as vitamin D is already added.
Here are some quick & easy, healthy, and delicious finger-friendly recipes and good snacks for toddlers to help get these key nutrients into growing bellies!
Baked quinoa and mushroom meatballs
Broccoli Barley Casserole Cups (w/sardines)
Next month, I’ll share a couple more key nutrients to focus on as well as some helpful tips on how to easily incorporate them to family meals.