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Skip the rice cereal

Skip the rice cereal

Dr. Erika Krumbeck

She loves elk and potatoes.  Applesauce and blueberries – not so much.  She loves when we add hot sauce (1 or 2 drops) to her mashed chicken and squash.  She loves sardines (pureed, of course).  Sardines!  She is so her father’s daughter.

Annika is still exploring the world of solids.  We had a bit of a rough start.  When we first gave her avocado and sweet potato (on separate days), she gave us a look like “what is this garbage?” Very suspicious, our daughter is.

Then we learned the secret to food introductions – give her the spoon.  This girl is SO determined, so independent, and frankly, very stubborn.  About half the time the food makes it in the mouth, but that’s okay – she’s learning the fun of mealtimes.  She also looks suspiciously at us when Mom and Dad are using a fork and knife and she only gets a spoon.  Soup dishes for dinner are best – then she fits right in.

Wait for it…


Skip the rice cereal!

Honestly, as a Mom and a physician, there is no reason to start food introductions with rice cereal.  Rice cereal has been a long-time staple of the food introduction folklore, but there is no science or even practical reasoning behind it.  Rice cereal has very little nutritional value.  It is starchy, full of carbohydrates with little to no protein or fat and very few vitamins and minerals.  Even the iron that is added to most brands is very poorly absorbed and frequently contributes to constipation.  And that whole “add rice cereal to the bottle to make them sleep through the night” idea?  Sorry, it’s a myth.

And another reason to skip the rice cereal – recent reports have raised concern about the level of inorganic arsenic in rice.  Arsenic is a heavy metal that is toxic to virtually every organ system, and is a potent carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).  Increased rates of bladder, lung, liver, kidney and skin cancers are associated with inorganic arsenic exposure.  Long term, chronic exposure can lead to sensation loss, headaches, seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, anemia, lung and other tissue damage.  Yikes!

This isn’t to say that a few spoonfuls of rice cereal are going to cause arsenic poisoning, of course.  But in an age of increasing toxic exposure I think it is wise to be prudent and avoid as much as we can.

Why go for rice cereal when we have so many other delicious options?  Here are some ideas for the different age groups:

6 months, pureed food (Note: the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends to wait until at least 6 months before introducing solid foods.  I strongly agree.  There is no downside to waiting past 6 months, as mothers milk is by far the best and most nutritious food.)
Avocado (a great first food!  Full of healthy fats, mild in flavor)
Carrots (add a drizzle of olive oil to increase the calories)
Sweet potato
Winter squash (mixed with a little cinnamon – yum!)
Poultry (even though it’s expensive, organic is really the best)
Elk or venison

9 months, pureed food, start small finger food
Berries (except strawberries, which can be allergenic – wait until 12+ months to introduce those)
Broccoli, kale, chard and other “brassica” family vegetables
Pork (definitely organic)
Beans and lentils (mixed with some chicken stock – yummy!)
Sunflower and pumpkin seed butter (thinned)
Grains like oats, rice, quinoa, buckwheat
Blackstrap molasses (you can add a little to just about everything to increase iron and calcium)

12 months, mashed or finger food
Orange and other citrus
Peanut butter (or avoid completely if you have someone else in the family who is allergic)
Barley, rye and non-GMO wheat (many people react to GMO wheat but not to non-GMO.  Best to start conservatively.)
Beef (pureed beef stew in tomato stock is so delicious!)

Obviously there are a lot more foods.  The idea is to avoid the most allergenic foods first to decrease the chance of a serious reaction.  Start with one food at a time and wait 3-4 days before introducing a new food (this is to see if there is a delayed food intolerance that may not be immediately noticeable). Once one food is well tolerated you can mix and match (or mix and mash) – e.g., elk and pumpkin, avocado and peas.

There are lots of opinions on how to introduce foods and when to add spices and herbs.  Personally, I think adding flavor is a great idea while the child’s palate is still developing.  Many infants in other countries start with extremely spicy curries and peppered dishes.  I don’t recommend that – unless your family is already used to some heat – but definitely consider adding a dash of cinnamon, a pinch of paprika, or some ground herbs like basil, thyme or oregano.  Just remember that infant portions are very small, so the spice needs to be proportionate.

Making your own is so much more fun (and less expensive) than buying baby food jars. What are your favorite solid food recipes?

For a more comprehensive list of foods, plus a guide to knowing when your child is ready to start solids, visit our resources page and download the “Solid Food Introduction” handout.

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