My little one is 5 months old now (Wow! How time flies!), has cut her first teeth, and is really interested in the food we eat! I had always said I would exclusively breast feed (EBF) until 6 months but I started to feel guilty that I wasn’t letting her have any solids when she was so obviously ready to start trying them. My mom’s favorite quote is:
“With the pitter patter of little feet come a thousand words you have to eat!”
So I ate my words and decided to start introducing her to food at 4 1/2 months old. Breast milk is still her primary sustenance and food is really just for her to start to get a taste of different foods that we eat in our home and start to learn about different textures so hopefully she will be as adventuresome an eater as me and her Daddy are! We’ve known since before we conceived that we really wanted to feed our children as wholesome, nutritious, and varied a diet as possible and really wanted to explore making our own food.
We have a Vitamix, which we love (well worth the investment) and we had always planned on making purees. But as I’ve done more research I’m leaning more towards a modified Baby Led Weaning (BLW) plan. I know so many adults that complain about not liking food because of the texture that when I read the concept of BLW and their observation that pureed foods may lead to texture aversion it just really resonated with me. If you follow BLW concepts strictly you pretty much throw all traditional weaning suggestions out the window and provide your child with small pieces of the food you eat so they can feed themselves. I say we follow a modified BLW plan because we still mash a lot of our foods up small and feed with a spoon a lot of the time, but we leave good size chunks so it’s not such a fine consistency as store-bought baby food. But we also let her eat other foods on her own, like eggs, so she learns to chew rather than just swallow.
Traditional weaning programs always suggest you start with rice cereal. Brands like Gerber would have you believe that starting your child on fortified cereals is necessary to ensure that your child gets the nutrients they need beginning at about 4 months of age. But lets examine this myth.
- Breastfed babies get all the nutrients they really need from their mother’s breast milk up until about 1 year of age. You will often hear the phrase “Food before 1 is just for fun” for this reason. Advocates of EBF often wait until 6 months of age or later before beginning to introduce their children to solids and do so slowly, relying on breast milk as the primary source of sustenance until 1 year old. Some will continue to breast feed to supplement their children’s diet until 2 years or older. I believe that we have to listen to our hearts and our children to make the best decision for our family about when to introduce solids and how long to continue breastfeeding.
- Not all mothers are fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed or feel that formula feeding is the best decision for their family for other reasons. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this if that is what they choose. Formula is already created with the necessary nutrients and is more filling than breastmilk, adding fortified rice cereal is largely unnecessary.
- Rice cereal is often recommended to be added to baby bottles prior to 4 months old to help fill them up or sleep better. But the research doesn’t back up these claims. Scientists at the Cleveland Clinic studied the effect of cereal on sleep and found that adding the cereal did nothing at all to speed up the age of sleeping through the night. That first uninterrupted 6-hour stretch of sleep came no earlier in those who took cereal early.
- In fact, starting rice cereal early may increase the likelihood of childhood obesity. Babies know how much they need to drink to feel full. By adding rice cereal to their bottles we are preventing them from learning how to self-regulate and may be contributing to the tendency to overeat in order to feel satiated.
- Rice cereal is empty calories. Rice is low in protein and high in carbohydrates with very little nutritional value. Therefor, feeding your baby rice cereal is like feeding your baby a spoonful of sugar.
- “Fortified” means they had to add nutrients back into the food because they were stripped out during processing. It’s pretty much just white rice with iron added. Current research suggests that unless your pediatrician has suggested that your baby needs extra iron in his/her diet, fortified cereal is unnecessary. Why not let healthy babies get their iron from real foods like green vegetables?
- Rice cereal and arsenic. Arsenic occurs naturally in the soil but people have contributed to the problem by using pesticides that contain arsenic or using manure from poultry that has been treated with arsenic compounds thus increasing the arsenic contamination in the soil in many areas. Arsenic can be present in many foods, including grains, fruits, and vegetables as a result. But rice seems to be especially susceptible and much attention has been given to arsenic contamination in rice in recent years. White and brown rice, especially those grown in the US, seem to be especially susceptible. Basmati rice and rice grown outside the US seem to be less likely to contain high levels of contamination.
Alternatives to rice cereal for Baby’s first foods:
- Whole grains – Oatmeal, barley or quinoa are good alternatives to rice to make baby cereal from scratch because they contain more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients than rice. Quinoa is good gluten free alternative if your family has a history of Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
- Avocados – Healthy fats are necessary for brain development. Plus avocados are really yummy and easy to digest. For little babies just smash them up with a fork. As they get bigger you can just cut the avocado slices into small chunks and let your baby feed themselves!
- Cooked Vegetables – Veggies contain iron and other important nutrients and minerals that are part of a healthy diet. Try cooking them in homemade bone broth, which contains natural gelatin that helps aid digestion and calcium for healthy tooth and bone development!
- Raw Fruits – Fruits contain lots of healthy nutrients and help teach your kiddo about natural sugar fixes rather than sugary sweets or candy! Bananas are an especially good first fruit to try because they are easy to eat, just like avocados, and also contain an enzyme called amylase, which helps aid digestion. Some recommend waiting to introduce fruits until after veggies because your child may prefer fruits since they are naturally sweeter. We’ve been introducing both at the same time with pretty good luck so far.
- Yogurt – Yogurt contains healthy probiotics which can help your baby build up healthy bacteria in his/her gut and aid in digestion of other solids as you begin to introduce them.
- Eggs – You will see many, many people that recommend waiting until 1 or even 2 years old before giving your children eggs. While a common recommendation its actually based on a misconception that feeding your children eggs too early may lead to egg allergies. In fact, the current evidence suggests that exposure to foods like eggs, milk, and peanuts while young may reduce the risk of developing allergies. Some also suggest that egg whites contain a protein that can be difficult for babies to digest. But Dr. Greene says there is no reason to avoid egg whites either. That stated, if you have a family history of egg allergies, it may be best to wait. Always discuss with your pediatrician first. And if you give your little one the complete egg and it seems to upset their tummy, try just the yolk. The yolk contains vitamins, minerals, and cholesterol which are good for mental development.
In my quest for the right baby foods to introduce to our little one as we began solids I turned to Pinterest to find recipe ideas. I stumbled upon a video for how to make a homemade quinoa baby cereal. I tried it out this weekend and was really impressed. I’ll share the steps below. For the original YouTube video, click here.
Homemade Organic Quinoa Baby Cereal:
- 1/4 cup organic Quinoa
- 1/2 cup water
- Breastmilk or formula, to thin cereal for smaller babies (optional)
- pinch of spices, such as cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)
- Bananas or homemade applesauce (optional)
- Use food processor or spice grinder (we used our Vitamix dry blade attachment) and pulse to grind Quinoa to a flour like consistency. Usually about 30 seconds to 1 minute. I did 1 cup of quinoa so I had some already prepared for future use.
- Bring 1/2 cup water to boil.
- Add 1/4 cup quinoa to water and stir constantly until a gummy consistency.
- For younger babies, thin with breastmilk or formula until a consistency that you are satisfied with.
- Optional: add pinch of spices for flavor, such as cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Optional serving suggestion: add mashed up banana or homemade applesauce to sweeten the mixture. My little was undecided about quinoa when we tried it plain the first time. I added some mashed up nanners and she loved it!
Have you tried to make your own baby cereal? How did it turn out? Share your story below to keep the conversation going!
I was greatly influenced by pediatrician and author Dr. Greene’s perspective on starting solids and healthy nutrition. Check out his White Out Campaign to learn more about his thoughts on why to avoid starting your child off with white rice as their first food. For more information about weaning your baby, check out his book Feeding Baby Green.
Check out the Baby Led Weaning website for more information about this specific approach.