Because of their tiny tummies, babies don’t eat much. That’s why it’s important to make sure the foods they do eat contain lots of nutrients. Learn how you can make the most of mealtime with your little one with this quick guide to age-appropriate power foods that pack a big nutritional punch.
Super Food Timing
In general, the power foods in our guide are appropriate for babies 6 months and older, when prepared according to your baby’s eating skills. But talk with your pediatrician before serving eggs, fish, citrus, and yogurt if your baby is less than a year old because these foods can cause an allergic reaction. Certain foods, such as meat, fruit, and vegetable purees, may be gradually introduced earlier than 6 months if your baby is ready for them. Just remember that solid foods of any kind should not be introduced before 4 months of age.
Since babies develop at different rates, ask your pediatrician if you’re not sure when to introduce certain foods or which foods are best for your baby.
Bananas are full of carbohydrates, which provide sustained energy, as well as fiber to support a healthy digestive tract. They’re a perfectly portable baby food, as they come in their own easy-to-peel packaging. When serving bananas to young babies, make sure they are ripe and thoroughly mashed. Older babies can eat chopped bananas as finger food, but they should also be ripe so they’re easy for young eaters to mash and chew.
Sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber and an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps prevent certain types of cancer and mops up free radicals. Most babies prefer sweet potatoes over other vegetables because of their naturally sweet taste. When cooked and mashed, sweet potatoes make a smooth puree that’s easy to eat, even for babies who are just starting the to transition to solid foods.
Avocados are sometimes thought of as a vegetable, but they are actually a fruit! They also contain more nutrients than any of their food-group kin. Avocados have the highest protein content of any fruit and are rich in monounsaturated fat — the “good” type of fat that helps prevent heart disease. Make sure you only serve Baby ripe avocados. Wash the outside, then remove the peel and mash well. Since they’re high in fat, avocados can quickly make your baby feel full, so just serve a little on the side with other foods, such as meat or chicken purees.
Eggs are packed with goodness. Egg whites are mainly protein and the yolks provide zinc and vitamins A, D, E, and B12. The yolk also has choline, which research is showing is crucial for brain health and development. Traditionally, pediatricians have advised parents to not serve eggs — especially egg whites — until after the first year because of the potential for allergic reactions. But that advice is now changing, and some experts believe that eggs should be delayed only in families that have a history of allergies. Since eggs are an excellent source of protein and other nutrients, talk to your pediatrician once your baby starts eating solid foods to see when it’s OK to introduce them.
Carrots have large amounts of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives them their orange color. Beta-carotene converts into vitamin A in the body and plays a role in growth and healthy vision. Cooking carrots brings out their natural sweetness, which makes them appealing to babies, who are born with a preference for sweet flavors. When making carrots for your little one, make sure they are cooked until very soft. Then puree them or, if your baby is eating finger foods with more texture, you can give her well-cooked diced carrots.
Yogurt gives your baby calcium, protein, and phosphorus, which are important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Yogurt also has probiotics, a type of good bacteria that helps aid digestion and supports the immune system. Babies need fat in their diets, so choose whole-milk yogurt over low-fat or fat-free varieties. Also avoid flavored yogurts, which are high in sugar. If you want to add flavor, you can stir in a little fruit puree. Babies less than a year old may have a reaction to the milk proteins in yogurt, so talk to your pediatrician before serving it to younger babies.
Iron-fortified infant cereals give your baby the iron she needs for proper growth and development. Babies are born with a supply of iron, but it starts to run out around 5-6 months. Breastmilk does not contain adequate amounts of iron, making iron-rich foods important. If your baby is just starting to eat solids, experts recommend iron-fortified rice cereal as the first food for babies since it’s less likely than other grains to cause an allergic reaction. As your baby grows older, you can mix infant cereal with fruit. It’s a good thickener for runny purees like pear, peach, and plum.
Cheese is a good source of protein — an essential nutrient for growth — and calcium for building strong bones and teeth. Cheese also contains a healthy dose of riboflavin (vitamin B2), which helps convert protein, fat, and carbohydrates into energy. Swiss cheese in particular has a slightly sweet taste that appeals to babies. Since cheese can be a choking hazard, cut it into small diced pieces. It’s best for older babies who are eating finger foods and are used to different textures.
Chicken is packed with protein and is a source of vitamin B6, which is used to help the body extract energy from food. It’s important that babies start regularly eating foods containing adequate amounts of protein to support their rapid growth. If your baby doesn’t like the taste of chicken on its own, mix it with his favorite fruit or vegetable.
Citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, are a good source of vitamin C, which helps make the collagen that’s found in muscles, bones, and other body tissues. Vitamin C also heals cuts and assists with the absorption of iron from other foods. Citrus fruits also have potassium, a mineral that helps muscles contract and plays a role in maintaining a healthy fluid balance in the body. Often too acidic for young babies, hold off on serving citrus fruits until after Baby’s first birthday.
Red meat provides an easily absorbed form of iron for your baby. Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen to cells throughout the body and is important for brain development. Unfortunately, iron deficiency — which over time can cause learning and behavior problems — is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in children. That’s why it’s important to make sure your baby gets iron, from red meat and other sources, in his diet. For younger babies, serve meat purees, such as the Beef and Carrot Puree recipe, pictured here. Older babies who are able to chew can have well-cooked, finely diced meats.
Butternut squash is appealing to babies because they love its sweet taste. It’s a good source of the antioxidant beta-carotene and also has vitamin C, potassium, fiber, folate, B-vitamins, and even some omega-3 fatty acids. It’s easy to make at home if you buy the prepeeled, precut squash sold in the produce section. Just steam or boil until tender, then puree until smooth. Make a big batch because it makes a healthy and delicious side dish for the whole family.
White fish, such as haddock and cod, is an excellent source of protein, which babies need for growth and development. Fatty fish, such as salmon, provides fat-soluble vitamins as well as essential fats, such as DHA, that support brain and eye development and a healthy immune system. Fish can cause an allergic reaction, so talk to your pediatrician before introducing it to your baby. Once you have the OK, the American Heart Association recommends that parents serve up to two meals a week of low-mercury fish to children because of its many health benefits.
Tomatoes are high in lycopene, the red pigment in tomatoes that acts as an antioxidant to help prevent cancer and heart disease. Lycopene can be absorbed more efficiently by the body if the tomatoes have been cooked with a fat. So make a tomato sauce for pasta by cooking tomatoes with a little olive oil. Puree until smooth for beginner eaters. Homemade sauce is much lower in sugar and salt than purchased sauce, so it’s great for the whole family. Don’t have fresh tomatoes? Canned tomatoes will work as well.
Peas are bursting with vitamin K, a nutrient that works alongside calcium to help build healthy bones. Peas are also a source of the antioxidant vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid and B vitamins. And adding peas to your baby’s plate will boost the fiber in her diet, which is important because research shows that almost all babies, as well as older children, do not get enough fiber. Pureed baby food peas are easy to make. Try this recipe for Green Pea Delight Baby Food.
Broccoli is a true super food, as it is a great source of vitamin C and also contains beta-carotene, folic acid, iron, potassium, and fiber. Boiling broccoli in water cuts its vitamin C content in half, so it’s best to steam or microwave it. If your baby isn’t keen on the taste of broccoli, mix it with a sweet-tasting vegetable, such as sweet potato or butternut squash.
Pasta is full of carbohydrates, which are broken down to supply the body with energy. And its mild flavor and variety of fun shapes makes it appealing to kids of all ages. Most pasta is enriched with vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid, iron, and B-vitamins. Multigrain and whole wheat pastas also provide fiber, but their texture may be too firm for younger babies. Pasta in small shapes that’s cooked until very tender makes a great finger food for older babies and toddlers.