Best First Foods for a Healthy Start Day 2: Best First Foods for a Healthy Start

Best First Foods for a Healthy Start

Your baby’s first foods should contain nutrients like iron, calcium, selenium, zinc, choline, Vitamin D/A/C, prebiotics and probiotics, healthy fats, and protein.

Here’s our expert-recommended Best First Foods.

1) Moong

Moong dal and whole moong are very rich in zinc, folate, iron, fiber, protein, and carbs. Fiber helps build and support a healthy gut, while zinc and folate help improve immune function and neurodevelopment.

Moong is also rich in antioxidants. Sprouting moong helps improve nutrient absorption and aids digestibility.

How to serve:
  • Offer well-cooked, tender, and soft moong dal
  • Offer whole moong that’s been sprouted, cooked, and mashed
2) Khichdi

This is a perfect first food as it includes both rice and dal. Dal (lentil) is rich in iron, while rice offers complex carbs and complete protein.

How to serve:
  • Khichdi balls (make sure the rice and dal are well mashed) are a good option in baby-led and spoon-led weaning.
  • Offer mashed khichdi in a bowl and your baby can scoop it up with their fingers.
3) Finger millet (Ragi)

Among the various millets, ragi (finger millet) is a common first food offered to babies in Indian homes. Ragi is rich in iron, calcium, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and zinc. Ragi is also a great source of calcium for babies, apart from milk.

The nutrients in ragi will boost your baby’s immunity, metabolism, and energy levels. Ragi is also rich in soluble fiber, which can help regulate your baby’s bowel movements.

How to serve:
  • Make ragi porridge using ragi flour or atta.
  • Make chapati or dosa using ragi flour or atta.
4) Bananas

It’s no secret that babies love bananas! Bananas are a wonderful source of carbs, which is our brain’s preferred energy source. They contain B vitamins, Vitamin C, potassium, manganese, magnesium, etc. The nutrients in bananas help boost bone health, immune function, muscular and neurological development in babies.

Bananas also contain pectin (a prebiotic) that helps promote good gut health.

How to serve:
  • Peel and mash ripe bananas, and serve them on a preloaded spoon. You can also serve it in a bowl, which your baby can scoop up with their fingers and put in their mouth.
  • Mix mashed bananas with millet porridge or cereal.
  • You can also serve just long pieces of the banana as is, but since the outer texture is slippery, it’s advisable to roll the banana or coat it with powdered nuts, seeds, or shredded coconut. This helps provide a proper grip to the baby as they hold it.
5) Bell peppers

Rich in antioxidants, bell peppers are packed with vitamins A, E, B6, and C. They also contain folate, fiber, and potassium. One bell pepper actually contains more than 100% of a baby’s Vitamin C requirement.

These vibrant vegetables help support babies’ eye health, immune health, digestive health, and brain development.

GOOD TO KNOW:

Bell peppers change in color and taste as they grow. They’re first green, then yellow, and finally red.

How to serve:
  • Roast bell peppers so they become soft. You can cut roasted peppers into big pieces and serve your baby.
  • You can also serve roasted bell pepper wedges or strips for baby-led weaning, which they can easily hold in their hand and nibble on.
  • For spoon-led weaning, you can mash the roasted bell pepper coarsely and mix it in any food you are serving your baby, as you would add veggies.
6) Red lentil (Masoor)

Masoor (red lentil) is a staple in India. Rich in iron, masoor is a great source of plant-based protein and complex carbs (the latter is a major source of energy for babies). Masoor also contains fiber, so it’s good for babies’ gut and digestive health. 

Masoor also contains minerals (phosphorus, manganese, zinc, magnesium, copper), folate, and B vitamins that help support neurological and immune functions in babies. 

Overall, lentils as a group of food contain trace amounts of all the minerals and vitamins that babies need for healthy growth and development. Lentils are easy to cook and prepare, and are a staple found in most Indian homes.

How to serve:
  • Cook dal (lentil) the way you do at home for the rest of the family’s meal.
  • Ensure the dal is well-cooked and soft (hand mash if needed).
  • Mix it with soft, cooked rice and offer it to your baby.
7) Kidney beans (Rajma)

Rajma, or kidney beans, are a nutritional powerhouse for your baby. They're loaded with protein, fiber, plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, folate, iron, and zinc, all of which are essential for healthy blood, growth, development, and a strong immune system. Rajma also boasts a rich red skin filled with antioxidants.

How to serve:
  • Soak rajma, like all pulses and lentils, overnight or for 6 hours before you cook them.
  • Slightly flatten the cooked beans with your hand to make them easier for your baby to eat and enjoy either as is or with cooked rice.
8) Eggs

Eggs are a nutritional treasure for your baby. They're packed with choline and selenium, along with B2 and B12 vitamins. Eggs also contain two important carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are crucial for eye and brain development. 

In fact, just one egg provides enough choline to meet your baby's daily needs, supporting their brain and nervous system development. Eggs are a fantastic source of complete proteins, essential fats for brain growth, and other B vitamins like folate, zinc, and iodine, with a touch of iron. 

The yolks are particularly special as they are one of the few food sources of vitamin D, essential for healthy bones. If you opt for organic eggs, you'll also get higher levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

Note: While eggs can be a great food for your baby, we recommend that you start with a few other foods before introducing eggs, especially if your baby is at a high risk for allergies (eggs are a common allergen). Once you’ve introduced a few starter foods, you can offer eggs in scrambled or omelet form to your baby.

How to serve:
  • Ensure the whole egg is thoroughly cooked, especially the yolk. No runny or half-cooked yolks for babies, as it can be harmful.
  • Blend a hard-boiled egg with breast milk, baby formula, or water until the consistency is as desired. Serve the pureed egg on a spoon.
  • Mash a hard-boiled egg by hand/fork and serve it with breastmilk/formula or mixed into another porridge like oats or millet porridge. Make it a thick mixture so your baby can scoop it up with their hands and eat.
  • Do not serve whole boiled eggs (in wedges or slices) to babies at 6 months. The slippery texture of the boiled egg white and the dry, sticky texture of the boiled yolk can be difficult to handle for a younger baby. Try offering this 9-10 months onwards once your baby is used to handling solid foods.
9) Pumpkin

Pumpkin (also known as “kaddu” in Hindi) is a good source of Vitamin E (good for eye health and immune function). It also contains Vitamin C and B6, folate, fiber, iron, potassium, etc. 

Pumpkin is very high in beta-carotene, which is turned into Vitamin A when absorbed by our body. Studies show that these “carotenoids” help reduce the risk for cancer. Hence, adding more carotenoid-rich foods to your baby’s diet is a good idea!

GOOD TO KNOW:

The longer a pumpkin stays on the plant, the more carotenoids it contains.

How to serve:
  • Add pumpkin to curries or sabjis and ensure the pumpkin is thoroughly cooked and tender.
  • Add pumpkin to sambhar or dal. Make sure the pumpkin pieces in curries/dals are bigger in size, so your baby can pick it up and eat it easily without a risk of choking.
  • Roast pumpkin is also delicious. Once it’s softly cooked, you can cut it into wedges or strips and serve your baby.
  • You can also mash or puree the pumpkin to add to other foods like dal rice.
10) Chicken liver or drumstick

Chicken liver is an excellent source of heme iron, which is very well absorbed in the body (compared to non-heme sources of iron). It also contains zinc (healthy immune system), copper (brain development and energy metabolism), choline (regulation of mood, memory, muscles), Vitamin A (eye health), phosphorus and manganese (bone health), selenium (thyroid health).

These are the reasons that chicken liver is a great first food for babies. Chicken drumstick is a good handheld food option for your baby, which can help them develop their oral motor skills. Babies at 6 months will likely gnaw on the drumstick, so don’t expect them to finish or consume a lot of the meat.

How to serve:
  • Trim the drumstick to keep minimum meat on it (use the meat removed for your family meal).
  • Remove any sharp bones, cartilages, or edges.
  • Serve this to your baby so they can gnaw and nibble on it.
11) Pearl millet (bajra)

Bajra is known to contain protein, fiber, calcium, fats, phosphorus, and iron. It contains the highest iron content among all millets. It’s a great food to offer babies at 6 months.

How to serve:
  • Make bajra khichdi using bajra flour.
12) Sesame seeds

Not many know this but sesame seeds are a great powerhouse of nutrients, especially for growing babies! Sesame seeds contain B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, manganese, iron, zinc, folate, selenium, fiber, protein, and potassium (great for healthy bone development and immune system). Sesame seeds are a good source of healthy fats and antioxidants as well. 

Do note that sesame seeds are a common allergen. We will explore allergens and how to introduce your baby to common allergens on a later day, so stay tuned. Speak to your doctor for any concerns.

How to serve:
  • Blend sesame seeds into a powder and add it to baby food.
  • Make tahini-style thin paste from sesame seeds and add this to baby food.
13) Amaranth (rajgira)

Amaranth is an ancient grain that’s packed with protein, B vitamins, folate, iron, manganese, selenium, zinc, among other nutrients. One cup of amaranth offers 9 gm of protein and 5 mg of iron, which meet the complete requirement for protein and half the requirement of iron in babies.

How to serve:
  • Make rajgira porridge using rajgira flour or atta.
  • Make rajgira khichdi using rajgira flour or atta.
14) Peanuts

Rich in healthy fats, peanuts offer phosphorus, copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin E, and B vitamins; these nutrients are helpful in brain and bone development as well as for a healthy immune system.

However, peanuts are an allergen and research shows that introduction of peanuts earlier in life will help prevent allergy development later in life. That’s why it’s recommended to introduce peanuts at a younger age (by gradually exposing your baby and observing for any reaction after consumption). Speak to your doctor if you have any queries.

How to serve:
  • Add powdered peanuts to foods like porridges, khichdis, sabzis, or curries.
  • Add peanut paste or ground peanut to whatever you’re cooking at home.
  • Make peanut butter at home. You can thin it down and spread it on lightly toasted chapati or bread before offering it to your baby. (Readymade peanut butter jars usually have a high sodium content, so watch out for the ingredients!)
15) Mango

Mangoes are rich in antioxidants, folate, and Vitamins C, A, B6, and E, which help promote good eye health, cognitive and brain function, and immune health. Mangoes contain fiber, which is great for babies’ digestive system and bowel movements.

GOOD TO KNOW:

Combining mangoes (or any vitamin C-rich food) with an iron-rich food can help improve iron absorption in our bodies.

How to serve:
  • Since mangoes are a slippery fruit, it can be a choking hazard for young babies. The best way to serve them is to cut wedges/slices of mango and coat them with powdered nuts/flaxseed or shredded coconut, which helps babies get a good grip on the mango slice/wedge.
  • The mango pit is a good food that can help your baby’s oral motor development (just like the chicken drumstick mentioned above). You can take off most of the mango flesh around the pit and offer the pit to your baby to gnaw and chew on.
16) Pomfret

Pomfret. also known as butter fish, is a low mercury fish. It’s a good source of Vitamin A, D, and B12. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acid, which is great for babies’ cardiovascular health, nervous system development, neurological development, and healthy vision. 

Pomfret also contains protein and all the essential amino acids required by growing babies.

How to serve:
  • Make sure the fish is completely deboned and cooked well before serving your baby.
17) Chickpeas (kabuli chana)

Chickpeas are high in fiber, protein, carbs, folate, iron, manganese, and zinc. These nutrients support your baby’s immune function, bone development, and red blood cell development.

Some research shows that chickpeas could be an allergen among Indian children, so it’s best to introduce it gradually and observe for any reaction. Consult your doctor if you have any queries.

How to serve:
  • Before serving any pulses or lentils, soak them for 6 hours or overnight to remove any antinutrients and also make them less gassy. 
  • Since chickpeas are small and round, they can be a choking risk. The best way to serve chickpeas is to cook them thoroughly and mash them (by hand/fork). You could also slightly flatten the cooked chickpea, so they don’t completely lose their texture.
18) Curd

Curd is packed with calcium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, B12, and Vitamin A, which are important for nurturing healthy bone development, vision, immune system, and blood cell development.

Curd has probiotics, which will help your baby’s gut health and digestive system. Full-fat curd contains good healthy fats to boost their brain development.

How to serve:
  • Mix curd with cooked rice or millets and serve your baby.
  • Use curd for dipping pieces of dosa, paratha, or chapati before serving your baby.
  • Serve curd as it is, in a bowl, which babies can scoop up with their hand and enjoy. Add fruits or powdered seeds for some texture!

Tomorrow, we will explore which foods are a big NO for your little ones. The main reason is that your baby’s body is still developing and certain foods may hinder growth and development if consumed at such a tender age.