Starting solids is such a fun experience for parents and caregivers. There’s nothing quite like being able to share your favorite foods with your little one. Many foods can be safely adapted to be served to baby. But, it is important we are serving the right foods (and combinations of foods) to give baby the key nutrients they need to support their rapid growth and development.

What are the Key Nutrients Needed when Starting Solids?

There are many nutrients that are important when starting solids, but there are a few that I like to prioritize. These include iron, energy dense/high fat foods, vitamin C, and zinc.

Iron

Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body. This oxygen fuels their growing bodies and brains and supports energy levels. During the final weeks of pregnancy, baby’s iron stores are built up. But, these stores last for about 6 months, but are eventually depleted and an additional source of iron is needed. Cue complementary foods (solids).

Iron is found in a variety of foods and comes in two main forms: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is absorbed and utilized best by our bodies. Non-heme iron is not absorbed quite as well, but can be optimized by pairing with vitamin C.

Heme Iron Foods for Baby:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Organ meats
  • Fish
  • & more

NonHeme Iron Foods for Baby:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Potatoes
  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Whole grains (ex: oats)
  • Fortified foods (ex: cereals)
  • & more

Energy Dense/High Fat Foods

Fat is the most energy dense (high calorie) nutrient. Infants and young children have high energy needs for growth. By serving high fat foods we help to support their energy needs in a concentrated amount of food. Fat is also extremely important for brain growth and neurodevelopment. It should not be restricted in infants and young children.

Babies and young children often do not eat large quantities of food, so when we include a high fat/energy dense food at their meals we are able to increase their calorie and nutrient intake.

Energy Dense Foods to Serve Baby

  • Avocado
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Whole Milk Yogurt (plain)
  • Cream Cheese
  • Hummus
  • Eggs (including yolk)
  • Salmon
  • Nut butters
  • & more

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is well known for its role in boosting the immune system. But, did you know vitamin C also helps our bodies to better absorb non-heme iron? That’s the iron found in plants like spinach, lentils, nuts, seeds, and beans. When you serve a vitamin C containing food with an iron rich food you are helping your baby’s body absorb the iron so it can be put to use!

Vitamin C foods to Serve Baby

  • Oranges
  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • & more

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that is also very important for growth and development. It is found in breast milk, but zinc levels begin to decrease over the first 6 months of life. It is important to serve baby foods that are good sources of zinc to ensure their nutrient needs are met. If baby does not have enough zinc their growth can be negatively impacted.

Good Sources of Zinc for Baby

  • Red meat (beef, pork)
  • Poultry (chicken and turkey)
  • Dairy Products (ex: whole milk yogurt, cheese, etc.)
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Whole Grains (ex: oatmeal)
  • & more

Let’s put it to practice!

Now, if you’re feeling overwhelmed about how you are going to get all thee nutrients in your baby’s diet- don’t be! Did you notice many of the foods that are a good source of iron are also a good source of zinc? Two for one. When you’re planning meals for your family I encourage you to think about what foods are the iron (and likely zinc) source. This is typically the protein source at the meal.

Now, what are we serving on the side? By including a vegetable and/or fruit you are likely able to check the vitamin C box. Maybe it’s broccoli with dinner or strawberries with breakfast. Now double check we have a high fat/energy dense food. Maybe it’s extra butter or olive oil on the vegetable or whole milk yogurt on the side, or a spread of cream cheese on toast.

Final Thoughts

I hope you’re feeling more prepared with ideas on foods to serve your baby that will help to optimize their growth and development. While it’s not necessarily hard, it does take some thought and preparation. But, it is well worth the effort. If you feel like you need some personalized guidance and support on your starting solids journey I would love to support you. I offer a variety of nutrition coaching services found here.