Starting Solids - The Meat Question?
How to introduce meat to babies is something that I see a lot of parents unsure about and there is not a lot of information on why this is really important.
In my previous blog on starting solids, I discussed some crucial reasons why I do not recommend starting babies on baby rice (or variation of infant cereal). I also spoke about starting off on a staple vegetable such as pumpkin or kumara, quickly followed by a meat source.
The key reason for this is due to babies iron levels. Breast milk contains only low (or little levels) of iron, and to compensate babies are born with sufficient iron stores to last up until approximately six months of age, after which it drastically drops off. This is why the recommendation is for babies to start complimentary feeding at six months of age.
Adding to the current whirlpool of information we are seeing some research to suggest (as well as guidelines from some health care providers) starting babies at four months on solids. Babies develop at different times, so there will be some variation on when they are ready. I personally recommend the World Health Organisation Guidelines of around six months of age, however I believe what is a more important concern is what they start on.
Iron, is crucial for the production of hemoglobin in our blood, which carries oxygen around our body. In addition iron plays an important role in keeping our immune systems strong. It is primarily absorbed in the upper intestine which means if the gut is irritated, there is a risk the maximum amount of iron will not be absorbed.
The reason that introducing meat early on is important is because it is a haem source of iron – the most easily absorbed source of iron AND all meat sources are significantly higher in iron than plant based sources. In addition, it will also provide important sources of dietary fat (babies need high amounts of fat) and B-vitamins. While you do get iron from other sources than meat, it is not as high as you can see in some examples below.
Babies require approximately 10-11mg or iron/day. This is more than a grown male adult who requires 8mg/day. This is due to the huge growth babies experience in the first year. This also includes their significant brain development for which iron plays a very critical role. Some examples of haem iron sources are and beef, lamb, fish, chicken and liver. Examples of non-haem sources for infants are nuts, tofu and spinach. The first two here are classified as high allergens which is a consideration for those considering a plant based diet. I would highly recommend getting some indvidualised advice before embarking on a plant based diet for a baby as there is some important considerations.
Exactly How to Introduce Meat?
You can introduce meat in two ways:
1. A more ‘baby-led weaning’ approach,
2. Through a puree.
3. Do both!
Baby led weaning has existed for generations and done safety can contribute to the feeding experience. You can give a baby a nice firm piece of meat to suck on - which you can do either free-form or in a food feeder. I would suggest just watching them as they do this. While babies are not ‘eating’ this meat they are still absorbing the all nutrients through sucking.
Option two is to include meat into a vegetable puree which I find easiest done as part of the family meal. You will find that meat adds a lot of flavour and texture to food which will become increasingly important and babies get older (even more so with a fussy toddler!)
Giving your baby both a puree AND letting them explore meat in a baby-led weaning approach is option three. This I recommend the most as you get the best of both and allows your baby to choose what they like while still getting in some nutrients with the help of co-feeding together.
I have many baby food recipe ideas! You can find these on my blog, some starter ones in The Nourished Baby and loads in both my full cook books - including my Baby and Toddler Cookbook. Above is a photo of my high-iron Mexican baby food recipe here.
To make life even easier through Dr Julie's Kitchen we now have a range of baby-friendly slow cooker mixes. Above is my high-iron beef casserole. These contain absolutely no additives, artificial flavours, numbers or sugar! They are completely fine for babies starting solids.
xxx Dr Julie