As exciting as it is to introduce new foods when you start solids with your little one, there are a few things that should stay off the menu for the first year because they pose a choking hazard or are otherwise not well suited for babies.
Here’s your guide to foods to avoid during your baby’s first year, along with recommendations for when it’s safe to introduce them.
Honey (or foods made with honey) is off-limits for the first year because it may contain the spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Although harmless to adults, these spores can cause botulism in babies under 1. This serious but rarely fatal illness can cause constipation, weakened sucking, poor appetite, lethargy and even potentially pneumonia and dehydration. So, wait until baby’s first birthday to serve your sweetie honey.
It may do a (bigger) body good, but babies under 1 year old should steer clear of cow’s milk, since it can be hard for infants to digest. Cow’s milk also doesn’t have all the nutrients (such as iron and vitamin E) a baby needs to grow and develop during his or her first year, which is why breast or formula are the best milk sources. Most doctors, however, will okay whole milk yogurt, cottage cheese and hard cheese by 8 months or so (and possibly even the occasional sip of whole milk). Once your baby is past the 1-year mark, whole cow’s milk is fine in moderation. Be on the lookout for a milk intolerance or allergy (though milk allergies are rare).
Fruit juice isn’t much of a step up from sugar water, containing calories but none of the fat, protein, calcium, zinc, vitamin D or fibre that babies need. It can drown tender appetites for breast milk or formula that should be the mainstay of a baby’s diet in the first year of life. Too much juice can also cause tooth decay, diarrhoea and other chronic tummy troubles.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that fruit juice not be given at all to babies younger than a year old. But even after their first birthday, avoid giving any juice at bedtime, and give it only from a cup and only in small amounts during the day (no more than 4 to 6 ounces total daily for children up to the age of 6). If you do choose to occasionally serve juice, choose tummy-friendly alternatives like white grape juice and dilute it at least half-and-half with water.
Not all carbs are created equal, nutritionally speaking. Complex carbs provide naturally-occurring nutrients that are stripped during the refining process (which turns whole grains white). Whole grains are also rich in fibre, which helps keep blood sugar steady. So keep refined grains like white bread off the menu and opt for 100 percent whole grain pasta, bread, cereal, rice and crackers at the supermarket. Even when you’re mixing up muffins or whisking up waffles at home, reach for the whole grain flour instead of the white. Starting the habit early will help your little one make smarter food choices later in life. (And always cut breads, pastas, muffins and waffles into tiny pieces for your new little eater.)
Babies who haven’t sampled a cupcake don’t care a lick about frosting yet — and how sweet that is. Baby taste buds do have a natural affinity for sweet, but they’re also more open at this age to other flavors (sharp, tangy, tart, even bitter) if you introduce them. No need to ban naturally sweet baby favourites like bananas, since they serve up nutrients. Just avoid sweetening everything baby eats with fruit as you’re building baby’s flavor foundations. And keep sugary treats off the menu until at least baby’s first birthday, especially chocolate (which also contains caffeine) and hard candies (M&Ms, Skittles and jelly beans, which pose a choking hazard).
Because of the danger of choking, avoid giving your baby foods that won’t dissolve in the mouth, can’t be mashed with the gums or can be easily sucked into the windpipe. These include uncooked raisins, whole peas (unless they’re smashed), raw firm-fleshed veggies (carrots, bell peppers) or fruit (apples, unripe pears, grapes) and chunks of meat or poultry. Once the molars come in around 12 months, you can add foods that require chewing, like firm-flesh veggies or fruits (raw apples grated or cut into very small pieces, for example), small slices of meat and poultry (cut across the grain) and seedless grapes (skinned and halved). Hold off on common choking hazards like raw carrots, popcorn, nuts and whole hot dogs until your child is chewing well, usually around age 4 (though it may be a little earlier for some children and later for others). Even then, make sure they’re diced, cubed or very thinly sliced if possible.
Just as these foods were off the menu when you were expecting, you should never serve your baby unpasteurised (raw) dairy products, juice or cider. They can contain dangerous bacteria that can cause life-threatening illness in babies and young kids.
SMOKED AND CURED MEATS
Most smoked or cured meats (like bologna and bacon) contain nitrates and other chemicals and are high in sodium and animal fat, which means they should be served to babies rarely, if at all. Ditto for most smoked fish.
HIGH MERCURY FISH
Research shows that regularly feeding baby fish may boost IQ. Just avoid those with high levels of mercury (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and fresh tuna, among others). Also steer clear of fish from contaminated waters (especially important if you go fishing; check with the local health department). Instead, stick to the many other varieties that are safe, including haddock, hake, pollack, ocean perch, whitefish, wild salmon, tilapia, flounder, trout, sole, shrimp and scallops, to name some. Canned tuna also gets the thumbs up; just opt for canned chunk light tuna, which contains less mercury than albacore tuna, and limit to no more than 1 ounce per 12 pounds of baby’s weight.
You may have heard that you should avoid feeding babies allergenic foods — including peanuts, eggs, wheat, citrus fruits, tomatoes and strawberries — during the first year. But the AAP now recommends introducing allergenic foods early, between 4 and 11 months, to prevent food allergies. And that’s a good thing, since they’re packed with healthy protein, folate and other essential nutrients. Just talk to your doctor first before serving them (especially if allergies run in your immediate family), and introduce them one at a time at home where you can watch closely for a reaction. Also avoid whole nuts, since they can be a choking hazard before the age of 4. Instead, start off with smooth nut spreads and butters.