Something fishy is going on in the world of baby food. Spurred by studies that show babies lose out on omega-3 fatty acids as they transition from breast milk or fortified formula to solid food, a University of Illinois food science professor has developed an omega-3-rich baby food for toddlers made from pureed salmon. In a report on the new baby food released August 24, 2010, before publication in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Food Science, baby food creator Susan Brewer, a registered dietitian, explained why eating fish is a good idea for young eaters.
"First, babies need a lot of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish for brain, nerve, and eye development, and … second, children's food preferences are largely developed by the time they're 5, so I urge parents to help their kids develop a taste for seafood early," says Brewer.
Using wild-caught salmon from Alaskan waters, she experimented with both pink and red salmon, finding that nutrients in red salmon survives the baby food production process better. And, to boost nutrition, in separate experiments she added bone meal and pureed salmon roe (eggs) to her entrees. The first ingredient (made by grinding the bones in the salmon into a powder) provides calcium in a form that is readily available for bone building in children. The second provides high-quality protein and contains significant quantities of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Brewer knows her recommendations might meet with some resistance. "When we started working on salmon baby food, I thought, Ewwwh! But the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is solidly behind the idea, and fish-based baby foods, common in Asian markets, have been marketed successfully in the United Kingdom and Italy." In the US, at least one baby food manufacturer already offers pureed salmon, but Brewer touts the high omega-3 and DHA content of this new formulation.
Sounds good, but what does salmon baby food taste like? According to Brewer, "Salmon is very mild, and the toddler dinners, which are 27 percent meat or fish, don't taste or smell fishy at all. They remind me of that salmon and cream cheese dip you have during the holidays."
Brewer's concoction has yet to make to store shelves, but what about a DIY version? Though fish is considered an allergenic food, the AAP finds no evidence that introducing fish after 4 to 6 months determines whether your baby will develop an allergy. According to AAP guidelines, if you do try pureed fish, wait at least two to three days before giving it again and watch for any allergic reactions such as diarrhea, rash, or vomiting. If any of these occur, stop offering fish and consult with your child's doctor.