I met Tanya last year, when Gemma was only weeks old at a mom blogger event and was immediately captivated. Not only is she the mother of three amazing boys, but also a well respected pediatrician in Los Angeles who also on the Today Show and on many other shows dolling out advice and incredibly useful knowledge to moms like myself. As Gemma is just beginning to eat and appears to have several food allergies, I've been keeping Dr Tanya's new book, What to Feed Your Baby, on my bedside table and reading it over and over again. I'm grateful that she's sharing her 11 Foundation Foods to Raise Healthy Eating Kids on the site today. If you have any questions leave them in the comments below so Tanya can try to answer them. Here's some great advice from her to get you started:
What parent doesn’t want to raise a healthy, nutrition-loving child who will eat everything put in front of him, then place his napkin in his lap and say “thank you” with a big smile? Well, I can’t make any promises about the manners, but I will say that if offered early and often, my 11 foundation foods will guarantee healthy, veggie-loving, no-fuss kids.
Let’s take a look at what makes each foundation food so special. For specifics on what age to introduce, how to prepare, and how much to feed at each age, check out What to Feed Your Baby: A Pediatrician’s Guide to the 11 Essential Foods to Guarantee a Veggie-Loving, No-Fuss, Healthy-Eating Kid.
Eggs are the perfect one-ingredient food. Easy to prepare, they are a convenient and healthy source of protein, fat, and other nutrients such as biotin and iron, which are important for growth and a healthy body. Eggs are a top source of protein for children, so introduce them early and frequently to your infant’s diet. Research shows that eating a protein-rich breakfast can help older children too. Kids who eat protein in the morning learn and behave better during the day.
Yes, you can feed your infant a whole egg (or rather, some portion of an egg that contains yolk plus white) starting around six months. If you introduce eggs early and serve them often, your child will like them. Then you’ll always have a very healthy morning (or anytime) option. Involve your older child in the kitchen by letting her crack or whisk eggs in a big bowl.
Prunes are fun fiber fruits that help prevent and treat constipation. Prunes also have tons of important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—all this in a tiny, tasty, low-calorie package. An apple a day is important, but a prune a day works wonders to prevent constipation and keep young bodies healthy in the first place.
Offer infants pureed prunes regularly on their own or mixed into oatmeal and other foods. Older toddlers and children can try whole prunes (also called dried plums), but cut them into small pieces. Teach older toddlers that prunes (or dried plums) are yummy giant raisins—kids love that! Look for the prunes sold in cute single-serve packages so fingers won’t get sticky.
Did you know that avocados are actually fruits? They are high in potassium, fiber, and healthy monounsaturated fat, which is good for hearts of all ages. Don’t be discouraged if your infant doesn’t immediately take to mashed avocado. Some foods must be introduced a dozen times before a child will like them. Take photos of that funny face as your infant spits the avocado out—and then keep trying. Most infants and kids will eventually enjoy avocados.
Many health-conscious moms offer avocado as their baby’s first food. Whether you introduce it first or farther down the line, puree or fork-mash it for lumpier texture. As your infant grows, she will find small pieces of avocado fun to pick up and smash, and preschoolers can join their parents in enjoying guacamole.
Fish is a great natural source of protein. It also contains vitamin D—a vitamin that most kids (and adults too!) need more of. Vitamin D is important for building bones, preventing illness, and lowering the risk of certain diseases, including cancer. The oils in fatty fish such as salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, which are great for brain and eye development and thus are especially important for pregnant women, infants, and young children.
Some adults dislike fish because, having never had it when they were little, they are unfamiliar with its taste and smell. Being introduced to fish early (any time after six months of age, and remembering to check that there are no bones), your children will grow to enjoy fish and the important nutrition it provides throughout their life.
Dairy products are healthy for children and packed with a powerful punch of nine essential nutrients that most kids don’t get enough of—calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and niacin. In fact, milk is the best source of vitamin D for kids.
Although babies under one year of age should not drink regular cow’s milk, yogurt and cheese can and should be introduced around six months of age. Greek yogurt is a great choice at any age because it is packed with more protein per serving than regular yogurt.
After one year, offer whole or reduced-fat cow’s milk; toddlers need the nutrients and fat for brain development. Even if you are still nursing, offer sips of cow’s milk to get your toddler used to the taste. For young ones over age two, nonfat or low-fat milk is best, since these offer the same nutrition but with less fat (milk fat being something that even skinny kids no longer need).
Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts and nut butter are delicious, healthy, and convenient. Nutrient-wise, they offer vegetarian protein, vitamin E, and healthy monounsaturated fats. Nuts and nut butter are an easy way to add healthy protein to any meal, even breakfast!
Starting around six months of age, you can mix one teaspoon of creamy peanut butter into one ounce of baby oatmeal and add more liquid to thin the consistency. Offer older infants and toddlers a super-thin layer of creamy nut butter to lick off your finger or on whole-grain bread. Eventually your preschooler will be better able to handle chewing crunchy nut butters and small pieces of raw nuts—a great snack or portable protein to carry with you anywhere.
Some parents worry that kids will become allergic if they eat nuts too early, but research has shown that introducing nut products early does not put your child at risk of becoming allergic. In fact, early and frequent introduction may decrease the chances of later developing an allergy, so I recommend that parents introduce this important food early on.
Chicken and/or Beans/Lentils (Vegetarian Option)
Chicken and beans are healthy sources of protein and easy finger food for older infants and toddlers. The key is getting your children used to eating plain chicken at a young age. Countless children will consume chicken only if it’s breaded, fried, and in a familiar nugget shape. Chicken can taste great on its own, so get your kids used to grilled, baked, broiled, barbecued, poached, and sautéed preparations.
Infants need a source of iron and zinc around six months of age, and chicken is a great one. It can be pureed with a veggie to make a nutritious baby food, or cut into tiny pieces for little fingers to self-feed. At restaurants, just order a side of grilled chicken from the adult menu and cut a small portion into tiny pieces for your child.
For a vegetarian alternative or to add variety to your child’s protein intake, introduce beans or lentils—basically, anything in the legume family. High in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, legumes are versatile and inexpensive. You can play counting games with all sorts of beans, too!
Summer Berries/Winter Citrus
All fruits are great, but seasonal berries and citrus in particular are packed with nutrition. Both are high in fiber and contain vitamins and minerals your body needs to function normally and stay healthy. In addition to fiber, berries contain loads of vitamin C and other antioxidants important for vision and brain development, as well as nutrients that may help protect against disease later on in life. Offer berries plain, in a smoothie, or as dessert. Buy berries fresh in the summer season, when you can. In the winter, when berries aren’t in season, buy frozen! They have the same nutritional value and you can easily add them to pancakes, yogurt, or smoothies.
During winter, when your immune system needs them most, citrus fruits are in season. Oranges and other citrus fruits are a fantastic source of many vitamins; they are high in vitamin C, folate, and fiber, all of which many kids need more of. Clementines (a cross between oranges and tangerines) are super easy for kids to peel, are seedless, and can easily be packed in school lunches. Best of all, kids (and moms) love to eat them!
We all remember our parents telling us to eat our veggies, but I’ll say it again. Attention parents: if you do not eat green vegetables, your children won’t eat them either! But don’t do it just for the kids. People who eat more green veggies are linked with lower disease rates and a healthier weight. Green vegetables have almost every vitamin and mineral you can think of. Offer your children green veggies in any form—steamed, roasted, sautéed, raw, and in soups and salads (prepared in an age-appropriate consistency). Calorie for calorie, leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard, and spinach pack more nutrition than any other food.
Green vegetables are a great first food for babies, and they’re easy to cook and then puree or fork-mash to the desired consistency. Add breast milk or water to thin the puree if needed. Try mixing pureed green vegetables with pureed chicken or orange vegetables (such as sweet potato or carrot) for a variety of flavors and colors. Some green veggies may take multiple tries for your infant to accept, but that’s okay. Try consistently for two weeks and, your baby will take to them.
As your infant gets older, offer cut-up pieces of soft-cooked (steamed or boiled) vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, carrots, and sweet potatoes as finger foods—a variety of colors is great. Some toddlers will become picky, even after starting off liking veggies, and may go on a green veggie strike for a bit, but if you keep serving vegetables, those same toddlers will grow to accept and enjoy vegetables for life.
Walk through the center aisles of the grocery store and you will see thousands of highly processed grain products. Most have very little fiber, very long ingredient lists, and added color. Try to make all of your grains, both for your children and for you, “whole”—meaning that the first ingredient listed should be “100 percent whole-grain wheat” (or another whole grain such as oats or quinoa).
Banning grains may be popular with some dieting adults, but grains are delicious and nutritious for children. You should include them in a child’s diet. Even if your child has a food allergy, you can choose from many alternative grains. Whole grains are a great source of energy, provide fiber to help prevent and treat constipated kids, and feed the healthy bacteria in our intestines. Look for at least three grams of fiber per serving for most grain-based foods.
Most people should be drinking primarily water, and infants can start working toward that goal as soon as they start solid food. Even though breast milk is still providing most of your child’s liquid and nutrition at six months, offering small sips of water is a great way to get your infant used to the taste of plain water. Infants who like plain water grow into toddlers and young children who like plain water, and eventually into adults who like plain water.
This is important: no juice! Even diluted juice only gets kids used to the taste of sweet beverages. Start them off well now and drinking water is a lifelong healthy habit!
There are many healthy foods, but starting early with these 11 foundation foods will establish healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.