Choosing Healthy First Foods

When babies start eating solid foods around 4 to 6 months, they are still getting most of their nutrient needs from breastmilk or formula. However, the nutrition of their first solid foods is still important! The first two years of life are a key time for growth and development, and nutrition during this period helps shapes future adult health.

There is not one “superfood”— babies need a variety of different foods! Here is a brief guide to some great early foods that provide important nutrients for the developing brain and body.

healthy first foods

Nutrients are vital for the development of:

  • Brain
  • Vision
  • Cognition
  • Hormones
  • Immune system
  • and more!

Key nutrients for the first two years of life:

  • Protein
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Choline
  • Folate
  • Iodine
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • B6
  • B12
  • Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
FoodNutrients and Notes
Meat (such as beef and poultry)Iron, zinc, protein, B6, B12. Soft, pureed meats can make great first foods due to easily absorbed iron and zinc.
FishProtein, iodine. Omega-3 fatty acids (in fatty fish such as salmon or mackeral). Pureed fish can be a good first food.
EggsProtein, choline, iodine, carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin D, omega-3. Small pieces of hard boiled or scrambled egg are good.
GrainsB vitamins, minerals. Offer a variety of grains, such as baby cereals made with oats or quinoa.
Leafy Greens (spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, etc.)Folate (needed for brain development) plus other vitamins and minerals.
YogurtProtein, iodine, B12. No sugar added.
CheeseProtein, iodine, B12, probiotics
BeansZinc, iron, fiber. (Note: Zinc and iron in beans are not as easily absorbed as from meat/poultry).
Wide variety of fruits and vegetablesMany vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Choose a variety of colors.

Tips for introducing first foods

  • The specific order that you introduce foods is not important— for example, vegetable, fruit, meat, or grains can all be first foods.
  • It is recommended to introduce a single food at a time, waiting 3 to 5 days between each one, in case there are any allergies.
  • Offer a variety of foods, especially a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits daily!
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vitamin D supplementation for all breastfed babies beginning soon after birth.
  • Iron supplementation is recommended for breastfed babies and iron-fortified formula recommended for formula-fed babies (American Academy of Pediatrics).

Tips for vegetarian babies

If your family chooses to eat vegan or vegetarian, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Vegan mothers may want to breastfeed for a year or more, since breast milk is such a rich source of important nutrients
  • Extra care is required for  a vegan diet, and some experts say babies should not be on vegan diets
  • Ensure baby gets enough B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and protein.
  • Non-dairy and dairy milks are not recommended for first year of life.
  • Mashed or pureed tofu, beans, yogurt, cheese, and soy yogurt are good protein sources

For more information:

Speak with your healthcare provider and refer to the following resources: