Stepping Outside of the Box
There are other healthy foods that are good for babies and provide variety and beneficial nutrients, says Peggy O'Shea, a Boston-based nutritionist and former president of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. "For example, by around 8 months of age, beans are a good option to add to Baby's diet (prior to that they can present challenges with digestion)."
Also at around 8 to 12 months, soft lentils can be a good option. "Make sure to cook them until soft and create a good texture of mashed lentils—also try mixing them with some of Baby's favorite vegetables such as carrots or cauliflower," O'Shea says. "Other foods to try at this age include brown rice, which can also be a healthy addition to a baby's diet, as can other less common foods such as tofu, avocado, barley, kamut, quinoa, flax, and wheat germ."
Christina Pirello, author of Cooking the Whole Foods Way, says lentils are a great source of iron for children, but agrees that they need to be cooked until very soft and then pureed because the high fiber content can be hard for some babies to digest. She also suggests cooking the lentils, and even beans, with a bay leaf, which makes them easier on tiny tummies.
"Rice is very often used because it hardly ever promotes any allergies, so it is always a good choice," Pirello says. She suggests brown rice as well, and adding some calcium into the mix by cooking tan sesame seeds along with the rice. "They get pureed with the rice, and it makes it even more nutritious," she says.
O'Shea reminds parents not to skip over the rice and oatmeal cereals, and common fruits and vegetables for Baby's first foods, but these "creative options are a great way to expand baby's nutrient intake and taste palate after a couple of months," she says.
Foods like tofu, beans, lentils, and quinoa, once introduced, can be combined with other favorites to create a healthful and different meal. "For example, try adding carrots and apples to lentils and/or brown rice to create a tasty meal," O'Shea says. Cook them until soft and puree them as you would other pureed foods. "Most of these combinations are best for babies over 10 months old, but always check the individual ingredients to make sure they are appropriate for your child," she says.
After their first birthday, little ones can enjoy smooth nut butters, too, Pirello says. "Skip salt, sugar, and spices for now," she says. "They have their whole lives for all that jazz."
And with any new foods, safety should be front and foremost on a parent's mind. "There are some precautions with certain foods; for example, beans can present a choking hazard if introduced too early and if not prepared to a soft and mashed consistency," O'Shea says. "There may be some allergy considerations as well with things like soy or wheat. It's always important to discuss any food with your medical provider before introducing it to your baby."