Breast milk or formula is the only food your baby needs for the first months. It’s not only nutritionally complete, it’s also the easiest food for babies to swallow and digest.
The age at which babies begin to eat solid food can differ, depending on their interest and ability. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solid food at around six months, usually starting with single grain iron-fortified baby cereal then slowly introducing pureed vegetables and soft fruits. Between eight and 10 months, most babies can handle finely chopped foods such as fruit, vegetables, pasta, cheese, dry cereal and thoroughly cooked meat.
Some foods don’t belong in a baby’s diet. Some foods are too difficult for babies to safely chew, while others offer little nutrition and contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle.
Here’s the rundown of some of the worst foods for babies.
- Foods that are choking hazards
Without the full complement of teeth to chew food, babies and toddlers are at a higher risk of choking on food. For safety’s sake, some healthy foods are off the menu until they are older. For example, popcorn is not an unhealthy snack, if it’s not loaded with fat and salt, but it is a choking hazard for babies and toddlers, as are nuts, whole grapes, raisins, large chunks of raw apples or carrots and whole hot dogs. Once baby develops sufficient teeth, usually around 12 months, parents can offer small pieces of soft fruit or cooked veggies, bread, pasta, scrambled eggs and avocado chunks. Hold off on the hot dogs, popcorn and nuts until your child can chew well, usually around age 4.
- Foods that are loaded with salt
Feeding baby salty foods can promote a preference for a high sodium diet, which is a risk factor in developing high blood pressure later on. Potato chips may be an obvious choice to avoid but they are not the only foods loaded with sodium. Processed and pre-cooked foods such as frozen chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and mozzarella sticks have loads of salt, fat and preservatives, more than your baby needs or should have. Save these foods for an occasional treat when your child is older.
- Foods that are loaded with sugar
While children may naturally prefer sweet foods, consuming a steady diet can lead to tooth decay and unhealthy weight gain. Babies don’t need candy, cake, sugary cereals or cookies. Candy and lollipops are especially bad for the enamel on baby teeth. If you do want to give your child a food treat, substitute fruit, breadsticks, or rice crackers.
When it comes to quenching thirst, skip the soft drinks. A bottle of cola can, for example, have as many as 39 grams of sugar. Regular consumption of fruit juice is not recommended either. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of one not be given any fruit juice and that children, ages 1 to 3, consume no more than four ounces of fruit juice a day. The healthiest thirst quencher for babies and toddlers is water.
Honey might seem like a safe alternative sweetener since it’s rich in antioxidants, but doctors do not recommend giving honey to babies until they are at least a year old and suggest using it sparingly after that. Honey contains a bacteria that can cause a rare but severe type of food poisoning known as listeriosis. Babies under a year don’t have a mature enough digestive system to deal with that bacteria.
- Foods that have nutritive value but come with some cautions
While meat can be a reliable source of protein, cured meat products such as sausages, bacon, and cold cuts are not only high in fat but contain preservatives and salt, which a baby’s kidneys may not be able to efficiently process. If you do feed toddlers a hot dog, choose a variety made without nitrates, and cut the hot dog into very small, easily chewable, pieces.
Cheese is also a good source of protein and vitamin D, but avoid the soft mold-ripened kinds as they have also been associated with listeriosis. Opt to feed your toddler small chunks of cheeses such as cheddar or mozzarella. Fish can be a good source of healthy omega 3 oils but some fish, such as shark, swordfish, and fresh tuna may have high levels of mercury. Safer varieties include wild salmon, tilapia, flounder and trout.
- Caffeinated drinks
You may not consider serving your one year old coffee in a bottle but soda also has a lot of caffeine. One 12 oz. bottle of cola may contain 28 mg of caffeine, which is a lot for a small body to process.
- Foods that are likely to cause an allergy
Eggs, milk, and peanuts are the most common causes of food allergies in children, but recent research suggests that early introduction of such foods may reduce the risk of developing an allergy rather than promoting one. Nuts do pose a choking hazard, but small amounts of peanut and other nut butters may be fine. If you suspect your child is at risk of developing a peanut allergy, because your family has a history of allergies or your child has eczema, discuss the introduction of peanut butter with a pediatrician, who may recommend allergy testing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends introducing other potentially allergenic foods such as wheat, citrus fruits, tomatoes and strawberries between 4 and 11 months.