Real Food for Babies

Modern American tradition is to start a baby with the first food of rice cereal. Then it’s followed with vegetables, fruit and eventually meat and dairy. There is little fat, at first, and no salt.  Sound familiar? That’s what we did with our eldest, but not with this baby!

Real Food for Babies

Since learning about how amazing real food is, we’ve been revamping our baby-food plans! We certainly don’t want to be feeding Babykins highly processed “food” when we could be giving her fresh, nutrient-dense foods! The other change we’re making (as you can see in the picture above), is that we’re dabbling in Baby-Led Solids (aka “Infant-Led Weaning”), but that’s another post.

What Baby Needs

A baby’s body is designed to digest fat and protein, for the most part. Let’s look at some of the components of breast-milk and a baby’s nutritional needs.

  • Fat: Breastmilk is full of saturated fat. Did you know that the human brain is made mostly of fat, and most of that fat is saturated?? Babies need plenty of saturated fat for healthy brain development. It makes no sense to feed a baby (or anybody!) a diet low in saturated fat. The brain also need plenty of Essential Fatty Acids, like the ones from cod liver oil and fish.
  • Cholesterol: Cholesterol is also vital for brain development. “Low-cholesterol” is actually terrible for all of us, but especially for babies since it’s the key time for their little brains to grow. Breastmilk is full of cholesterol, but most baby foods at the store (especially formula), is cholesterol-free. Not good.
  • Protein: Muscle-building requires protein. Until you get to more “advanced” store-bought baby food, there isn’t much protein.
  • Lactose: Milk sugar is important for baby’s energy.
  • Enzymes: Raw breast milk (and any raw milk, for that matter), is full of enzymes that help digest the milk. One of those enzymes is lactase, which digests the milk sugar for the baby.

What Does That Mean For Solids?

First of all, jarred baby food is no better for babies than highly processed food is for adults. Read my intro to “real” food to learn why nobody should live on a diet of jarred, canned and boxed “food”.  Babies, especially, need nutrient-dense, fresh foods to build their bodies and brains with.

Starting a baby on rice cereal is not a good plan. (Just to make sure you know, I’m not judging you- our first baby was started on rice cereal. What I’ve learned about babies since then, though, is quite different and I’m excited to share it with you! :-)) What “they” say (that’s the manufacturers and the pediatricians who, by the way, have little or no nutritional education!), is that rice cereal is easy to digest. It’s not! Grains require the enzyme amylase to be digested, but a baby doesn’t start producing enough amylase to digest grains until they are at least a year old. Many can’t digest grains until they are nearly two! What does that mean? Well, since the food isn’t being digested, it goes through the digestive tract whole. That can cause irritation. Constant irritation from the same source for along time *can* eventually cause allergies. Whether it eventually does or not, that constant low level of irritation is not healthy for their maturing immune systems.

What babies just starting solids are designed to digest are foods that either have their own enzymes (such as bananas), or foods that have composition similar to breastmilk. That means foods with fat, protein and cholesterol. An excellent choice is egg yolk. When you get eggs from free-range chickens at a local farm (check www.localharvest.org for farms near you!), the yolks are full of fabulous nutrients! This is literally brain-building food.

Meat is also easy for babies to digest. You can smash or puree it with a bit of homemade broth and some veggies for a simple baby “stew”. Beef, chicken, lamb, pork, fish and game are full of protein, which we’ve already learned baby needs and is able to digest. They grow so quickly and they use protein to do it!

Veggies have tons of antioxidants and minerals that are wonderful for all of us. They are harder to digest than animal products, but don’t worry. Just look for signs of problems when you introduce a new veggie. If your baby spits up more than usual, has diarrhea or lots of gas, or seems unusually fussy, just wait a month and try again. To absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, you need to always add a good source of fat. Be sure to put some real butter (from grass-fed cows is best!) or some coconut oil on all vegetables!

Fruit is wonderful, too, but try not to mix everything baby eats with fruit. I’ve known some parents who would add some pureed fruit to whatever the baby was eating so that it was sweet. Those babies often ended up refusing anything that didn’t please their “sweet tooth”. We want our little ones to enjoy all kinds of foods, so don’t condition them to prefer only sweet things. By the way, fruit has fat-soluble vitamins, too. Add some kind of fat to make sure they get all those vitamins! Maybe a bit of full-fat yogurt.

Speaking of dairy, it is so important to stick to full-fat dairy. As we learned earlier, breastmilk is very high in fat and that’s a good thing. Babies need fat (so do the rest of us!), so don’t fall for the “low-fat is better” lie. For the first year, you also don’t want to overdo dairy, especially cow’s milk. Cow’s milk can be more difficult to digest. I highly recommend you find a source of raw milk, but if you can’t, then stick with cultured dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, real sour cream and buttermilk. When dairy is cultured, lactose is broken down and digestion is much easier. Also, goat’s milk yogurt (and other products) is delicious and even easier to digest than cow’s milk!

Eventually, you’ll want to try grains. As I mentioned, it’s best to wait at least until one year, but even at that age it might be too early. If you notice any physical or behavioral reaction, stop and wait a few months. Some children will have obvious digestive problems, but others might develop symptoms on the skin, such as eczema. Grains are not necessary, so don’t feel like it’s a problem to put them off. You can also try sourdoughs, which are partially broken down by the souring process. That makes them easier to digest. Soaked grains work well for some people, too.

The last thing I want to mention is salt. Table salt is bad for everybody, but even babies can benefit from a tiny pinch of real Celtic sea salt. It is full of minerals, which plays many important roles in the body. Please don’t go overboard, but a little pinch is a good thing. You can learn more about how wonderful Celtic sea salt is in my recent post.

Go Slowly and Be Patient

Babies really shouldn’t be fed anything other than breastmilk before the age of six months. At that point, you *can* begin to introduce egg yolks and meat, but that doesn’t mean you have to. It’s not a race. 🙂 Whatever age you start at, give each new food at least three days before starting the next one. That gives you time to notice any reaction. Once healthy “first foods” (such as egg yolk, meat, bananas and avocado) have been well-tolerated, you can add in more veggies and fruits.

It’s so much better to go slowly and postpone solids than to give solids before baby’s body can handle them. In our experience, it helps a ton to just be patient. I gave Babykins some banana when she was six months. She spent the entire night alternating between hick-ups and spitting up. Not a fun night. We waited five weeks and tried again. She’s been perfectly fine with bananas ever since. I gave her egg yolk at about six-and-a-half months. She burped and had a ton of gas. We tried again a few weeks later and she had no problems at all. If we had been unwilling to back off and let her system mature a little more, we could have caused a ton of stress on her body now and possibly caused long-term digestive issues.

 

Confused? Do you have any questions about what to feed your baby?

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37 comments to Real Food for Babies

  • Margo

    I was thankful to learn these things early on in my first child’s adventure in eating “real food”. It makes total sense. She did develop some allergies and we are working on clearing those out. You mentioned that you will be reading and reviewing some books, have you read Nourished Baby by Heather Dessinger? It has some great info and recipes are included. Thanks

    • Thanks for the comment, Margo! No, I haven’t read Heather’s book yet, but I have talked with her about doing a review/giveaway at some point. The info here is a combination of the Weston A. Price articles, my own common sense, and our desire to do as much baby-fed solids as possible (rather than purees). I know there are some good resources out there, which I’ll be getting into soon. I’m so glad we mamas have this info available to us, now. If only we could get all the doctors and nurses out there on the same page… 😉

  • Great timing! I have been thinking I need to start preparing for this – we’ll be starting soon!
    WE never did cereal. And after reading Breast to Bib I am even more so against it and grateful we didn’t do it.

  • i completely agree with you! my eldest did have rice cereal at first but homemade. i knew anything premade,packaged and sitting on a shelf is not that great. she also ate home made food but i pureed it. with my twins we completely skipped the cereal and purees have done baby led weaning. i could not be happier with it either.

  • I wish I had known this about 3 years ago! My oldest needed formula supplements in order to gain (I wish I had a homemade recipe back then for him!), and I put rice cereal in his bottle. With my 2nd, she was having issues with constipation, so I tried giving her oatmeal with molasses. I honestly think it made her issues worse! I started reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon at the beginning of the year, and a lot of things made so much sense! Now I am pregnant with #3 and look forward to starting him/her out on real food and waiting on the grains.

    • I know how you feel. We all do the best we can with what we know, and now we know better! 🙂 Congrats on your little one on the way- I’m sure you’ll have so much fun introducing him/her to real food, when it’s time. Thanks so much for the comment. I’ll be posting more on this topic as we introduce our little one to new foods, so I hope you enjoy following along with us!

  • With my daughter, I gave her rice cereal and jarred baby food. She loved it :). That being said, I’ve always coveted a Baby Bullet so that next time (Lord willing) I can make my own baby food.

  • Amazing!!! So enlightening! I am WAY past the baby stage, but I sure wish I had this information as a new mom! I thank you for sharing your knowledge with others and helping them to feed the baby what is straight from the ground versus processed food! Thank you for sharing with us at Healthy 2Day Wednesday! Hope to see you again next week. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Carrie! I just love learning about and sharing about these kinds of things. Thank you for hosting the Healthy2Day link-up. It’s been such a great source for finding like-minded bloggers. 🙂

  • Nice article! I only have one child, and I’m so glad I listened to my mom’s advice to ignore “baby cereal” and start with veggies and fruits. He did not have constipation problems like my friends’ cereal-fed babies.

    About dairy: If you have a family history of dairy allergies, it’s wise to delay a little longer to avoid triggering the allergy. My brother was triggered at 6 months and was allergic to dairy (rash and stomachache) until about 4 years old. So I didn’t give my son any dairy until 11 months and then only active-culture yogurt (full fat!) for a month. It worked out fine.

    • Wonderful point, Becca! We’re actually putting off dairy due to avoid allergies, too, but not because of family history. It just seems like a wise thing to me. 🙂 When we do introduce it in a few months, we’ll stick with full-fat cultured dairy, too (yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sour cream- all homemade, so I know what is in them). Thanks so much for making that point!

  • Thanks for this helpful post. My baby is nearly 10 months, and I’m really unsure about what to feed her. She loves veggies, but I’m beginning to add egg yolks and other proteins (beans, garbanzos, lentils) to the mix. Summer Elizabeth is our first child, so my husband and I are practically clueless. I appreciate your tips!

    • You’re very welcome! Unless we’ve had a lot of babysitting or nieces and nephews, I think we’re all pretty clueless to start with. 😉 It sounds like you’re doing great! Just watch for any signs that she isn’t digesting food well (undigested pieces in the diaper, gas, fussing after a specific food every time she eats it) or signs that she has even a mild allergy (redness around the mouth or unusual rash/redness on her bottom, stuffy nose whenever she has specific foods, etc.). We tried peas the other day and Babykins didn’t digest them at all. I then remembered that they are a legume, not a vegetable, which I just learned can be harder for babies to digest. We’ll try the legume/bean family again later. No rush. 🙂 Thanks so much for the comment and enjoy your little sweetheart!

  • Hi Justyn,

    I’m pinning this post so I can find it when we start weening our little chickadee. She’s just two months so I have time to do some more research. I’ve also been reading a lot from the Weston A. Price Foundation. Although here in Indiana it’s illegal to sell raw milk, so we’ll forgo that part.

    I work in exchange for a share at the local CSA and we get pastured organic chicken, pork and beef through them as well as a ton of veggies. I just need to find a good source for fruit. Unfortunately I missed strawberries and blueberries this year because I was pregnant and then had a newborn. I guess there are always apples!

    We’re having our inaugural Eat Make Grow Blog Hop. We are looking for folks to link up who want to share what they have been eating with their families, growing in their gardens or making with all their creative impulses. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll hop on over and link up a couple of your posts. It’s a way for you to grow your readership and find other like minded mamas.

    Hope to see you there,

    Foy
    http://foyupdate.blogspot.com/2012/08/inaugural-eat-make-grow-blog-hop.html

    • Hi Foy,

      Thanks so much for the comment and the invite. I’ll check out the link-up in the morning (Yet again, I am up past my bedtime!). I always love a good link-up; so many great posts and lovely people!

      Congrats on your new little one! Sounds like you’ve got a great source of food through your local CSA. I believe that Indiana is the same as Ohio and you can buy herd-shares (rather than actually buying the milk), like we do. There appear to be a ton of sources for raw milk herdshares in your state, if you’re interested. Here’s the link: http://www.realmilk.com/where03.html#in

      We’ve got some berries in the back yard (raspberries and blackberries), but we’re very excited about going apple picking this fall, too!

      Blessings,
      Justyn

  • Sarah

    Hi, I have some questions I love this post and its been so helpful! My baby is almost 10 months and been formula fed since about two months old. Ever since he was born even while breast fed, he was consitpated and gassy. Right now he gets eggs, yogurt, avacado, banana, apple/pear sauce, carrots, sweet potatos and either chicken, beef or pork most every day. Hes been eating more and I would like to start giving him something else but would like to know whats best next? I am worried about something that would make him to gassy. And because the one year mark is coming up soon I would like more infomation on giving him milk of some kind?

    • Hi Sarah!

      You’re doing a great job on his solids! 🙂

      It sounds like he’s a bit sensitive to something. It would be something that is both in breastmilk and formula, so possibly dairy, if you consumed dairy while nursing him. It could also be gluten or something else, though. I had to avoid anything with soy lecithin for months (even most chocolates!) because it made our baby gassy and have diarrhea. You could try switching to a homemade formula using goat’s milk, which is a lot easier to digest than cow’s milk. (In this article, you’ll see a homemade raw milk formula recipe with a goat’s milk variation underneath it. http://www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/recipes-for-homemade-baby-formula#vgmf ) When you’re ready to start giving him just milk, try the goat’s milk first, then try cow’s milk. See if there is any difference. Also, you could try switching to goat’s milk yogurt (possibly the most delicious thing on earth, in my opinion!!!) to see if it helps.

      I’d also do only the yolk of the egg, since the whites can cause digestion and allergy problems. Whites can be added after the one-year mark. Just watch for any reactions.

      If he really doesn’t improve after removing all cow’s milk dairy, you might need to remove everything except homemade formula and then add things back in one at a time to see what the problem is. If you decide to do that, most people recommend three days between new foods, so that you notice the reaction. Start with egg yolks, then meat, yogurt, avocado, banana (my daughter didn’t do well with bananas at first), then other fruits and veggies.

      For adding more in, you can share a bit of anything you’re eating, as long as there aren’t any grains and as long as he doesn’t show any symptoms of digestive problems. Stick with real, unprocessed foods to avoid food additives and to make sure that what he eats is nutrient-dense. Your list above really is excellent for his age, so all I can really suggest is to introduce in-season produce as it becomes available. In our area, we have some delicious grapes and will be getting apples, soon. Our nine-month-old has had some stone-fruit (nectarines, peaches, cherries) and we’ll be introducing her to one of our new favorites, acorn squash, soon! You could also include some pureed greens (Swiss chard and spinach are very nutrient dense), but be sure to cook them and add a bit of fat, such as butter. This can be mixed with homemade broth and some shredded meat for a yummy soup, or used as a dip for meat. Raw lettuces and greens can be very hard to digest (and a choking hazard), so wait on those. Wait on legumes (peas, beans) until after a year and watch for reactions, but you can add in veggies, such as green beans, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower. Cook them with some butter or coconut oil and celtic sea salt.

      I hope these ideas help! Let me know if you have anymore questions. 🙂

  • Thanks for posting! My daughter (7 mo) is starting on solids now, and I’ve been wondering what is best to give her. Some of it I know is good, like the eggs and avocado (that one I’ll have to figure out… my only experience with it is guacamole- blech!).

    I’ll see if I can get some good eggs, but the dairy thing concerns me. I have found it absolutely impossible to get full-fat yogurts, cottage cheese, etc. The stores DON’T have it! (We don’t have a Whole Foods or anything like that here) I’m on WIC, so I’m not allowed to get full-fat milk, either, if I were to make my own (ridiculous, but you just go with it). What are some other fatty options I could do??

    • I’ve noticed that it’s very hard to find full-fat yogurt and other dairy around here (South Dakota), too! Crazy!! If you can get regular old heavy cream on WIC, you could stir that into the low-fat milk and then make yogurt. I’m not sure if that’s an option, though.

      Let’s see… Adding lots of butter (or ghee, if she doesn’t do well with the butter) to pretty much anything. Veggies, meats, even fruit can have some butter, tallow or lard melted on or stirred in. When she’s at least a year, coconut oil and other coconut products would be great, as well as other nuts. Be sure to use full-fat meat, when you can, instead of lean.

      • Thanks! I’ve been looking at getting REAL butter, so I’ll try that when I go shopping in a few days. Sad thing is, it’s more than twice as expensive! >_< We go through a lot of butter, so I might have to just settle for a compromise… a little bit of both. I never buy lean meat, so that's a good thing. Even if I were inclined to do so, my husband would rebel. 😉 LOL

        How would I give her nuts? She obviously can't chew it, and spreads like peanut butter (thank goodness they finally added NATURAL peanut butter to WIC) seem too thick.

        I can't get cream on WIC (it's crazy how specific they are… they even tell me what kind of baby food I can get!), but I'll see if I can get some when I go shopping. I'd love to get goat's milk, but I haven't seen it in the stores at all, and coconut milk is spendy! (about as much for a quart, or smaller, as it is for a full gallon of milk!)

        Sorry about bugging you with all this all the time… I really have no idea about any of this stuff, and I don't know anyone who does!

        • Wow! It sounds like WIC really doesn’t make it easy! Is there a website where I could look at a list of what is allowed?

          The nuts would be nut butters, but most parents choose to wait until there children are at least a year to prevent/avoid allergic reactions.
          Here are a few posts about eating healthy on WIC:
          Eating Local and Organic on Food Stamps
          Farmers Market WIC Program
          Real Food On A Budget
          How to Afford Real Food

          Hmm, I was just thinking… would it fit into your budget to go ahead and get the WIC low-fat yogurt and then buy some real cream? You could stir a spoonful or two of cream into the yogurt to make it full-fat!

          • Thanks for the links, I’ll have to look into them. They’ll at least be good to go on the series I’m doing. 😉

            I knew you could get Farmer’s Market checks on WIC, but the one in my town only does it on Sundays- by the time I get there after church, they’re packing up! 🙁 But I finally found one in the next town over on a different day, so I’ll try that when they open up again.

            Thanks for the idea about the cream, I’ll look into that! I’d certainly love it if I could! 😀

            And I just remembered…. I probably shouldn’t be trying nuts anyway. Nut allergies HIGHLY run in my family. >_<

        • Oh, and I love getting these questions! My blog is here to share what I’ve learned in the hopes of blessing others! 🙂

  • I’m so glad you mentioned that your baby had gas/spitting up and other digestive symptoms after introducing solids. Mine did too (and still does with some foods–he’s a year) and I couldn’t find ANYBODY else whose child had experienced that! One thing that’s different though, is that my son seems to have trouble with high-protein things like meat, well-cooked beans, and egg white. (He also has trouble when I have dairy–hard time digesting the cow’s milk protein.) We’ve been sticking with egg yolk, fruits, and well-cooked veggies. Do you think slightly pureeing the meat would help with digestion? I think babies’ digestion isn’t designed to handle large pieces of food either, since they don’t have teeth to being the digestive process. Just curious what you think 🙂

    • I would try pureeing, maybe with some homemade broth. I always shred the meat really well, since she can’t really chew it completely. You might try some probiotics for your little guy. I usually use goat’s milk yogurt (so much easier to digest) for baby girl, but I also shred up little bits of homemade sauerkraut or kimchi for her. Getting a little bit of good bacteria every time she eats really helps her digest things better. She is 13 months now, and she absolutely can’t digest potatoes, still.

      Try several things an go with what works for your little guy. The beans and egg whites are a problem for lots of little ones, so maybe hold off on them awhile. The meat is important, so if pureeing it and stirring in a dollop of goat’s milk yogurt or the juice from real (fermented) sauerkraut helps, that’s what I’d do. 🙂

  • Alice

    Thank you for the post! I recently started feeding my 8 month old baby egg yolk and was wondering how often do I feed her that? Every day? How many times a day? I was feeding her baby cereal, congee, meats, veggies and fruits and now I’m going to eliminate the cereal and add egg yolk and liver but just can’t find any info on how often to feed her these foods. I would appreciate it if you could let me know. THanks!!

    • Hi Alice! Sounds like you’re doing great!! We did the egg yolk once or twice a day, most of the time. Sometimes it would be every other day with yogurt or cheese on the off days. Most people say a tiny bit of liver (pea-sized) once a day is good, but there is no set amount, really.

      Keep up the great work, mama!! 🙂

  • Thanks for stopping by the Tuesday Baby link up a few weeks ago. It took me forever to get over here and say hi. I did baby led weaning with my son and loved it. It was so easy to just give him healthy foods that we were eating and not have to specially prepare things just for him! Avocado was his first food!

    • That is so wonderful to hear! With my first, the thought never occurred to me, so I’m thrilled to be able to share what I’ve learned. Thanks so much for hosting the link-up and commenting, Melissa. 🙂

  • Awesome advice! Thanks! :). Have a great one!

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