January 29, 2014
Raising a Healthy Baby: Real Food & Rice Cereal

The moment Liz and I decided to start this column, we received numerous questions on one topic: infant cereal. While we were planning on addressing this a little bit later, we decided it was the right time to open up the conversation- and the floodgates. This post is written from two perspectives: a mom who has done a ton of research & a dietitian who has worked with infants. This does not mean that we are the authority on this topic (or any topic for that matter) so let’s make this a conversation, not a tell-all. Agree? Disagree? We want to hear from you! 

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Warning: this week’s discussion can be a little touchy. This is where tradition is introduced to new research …and sometimes traditions’ feelings get hurt. The tradition of starting babies on white rice cereal has been in practice for 50+ years and continues to be the leading first food recommended by mothers and pediatricians alike. Yes, even pediatricians are still learning about the issues found in white rice cereal. This is one of those subjects where I urge you to do your own research. 

Now, how do I put this nicely?

Get rid of the white rice cereal.

There, said it. Sorry. To those who were told at the time and believed that this was the right place to start with solid food, (it’s okay) I want you to keep reading. To those of you who have caught wind of this recommendation in recent news, I want you to keep reading, too. There is a lot of information and opinions out there, but in my mind—it all comes down to the facts.

I’ll start with the most obvious reasons new studies are saying that white rice cereal (not whole grain, brown, or other whole grain varieties) shouldn’t be introduced in an infant’s diet- it’s digested as a concentrated carbohydrate. Infants bodies aren’t able to process these grains until at least 1 year old. The Food Renegade has the science behind this if you’re curious.Yes, most rice cereal boxes say that they’ve added in iron, calcium, and other important health ‘buzz’ words.  But, really, why serve something so drastically processed- basically fortified white flour? I advocate instead for getting nutrition through real food.

Another reason white rice cereal is harmful to infants, according to Dr. Greene’s White Out movement, and others, is that giving infants these tastes at such an important time in their food exploration could be setting them up for a lifetime of preferring processed, white carb tastes over other, more natural, (and healthier) flavors. New research suggests starting our munchkins out on avocados, bananas, or a sweet potato is a better way to go. There are lots of other first food options that are easily digested and contain natural vitamins and minerals. Try these next: pears, butternut squash, mango, apples, lentils, spinach, tofu, or acorn squash. Real food with a touch of spice (more on spices below) make a great beginning for both flavor and nutrition.

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Caroline’s Food Introductions (in order):

Bananas
Avocados
Apples
Peas
Pears
Carrots
Peaches
Prunes …always in moderation…need I say more?

She is just like her mama, can’t get enough of bananas and avocados, pass on the peas. It is important to wait 4-5 days in between introducing new foods and spices, as allergies can present themselves instantly or, unfortunately, after a couple feedings. We found this out the hard way. I had already introduced apples to Caroline a couple weeks ago, so figured I would add a little cinnamon to the pot to keep her flavor interest peaked. I have been told by my pediatrician and fellow moms to “cook like you were going to eat it, too”. Great! Knowing this, I added in some yummy Vietnamese Cinnamon. She ate the apple/cinnamon mixture twice on a Sunday and again Monday morning at daycare. No reaction.

Lunchtime on Monday, we weren’t so lucky. While she was enjoying her apples at daycare, she developed a rash around her lips, cheeks and chin where the apple had touched. Thankfully, it didn’t bother Caroline one bit. Besides her rash, she never knew that she had an allergic reaction. Needless to say, she will have to enjoy her apples without cinnamon for the next 6 months. I will be happy to try them again once she is a year, just to see if she’s ready.

While the cinnamon didn’t agree with her, I am still going to add flavor to her food. In fact, she is enjoying ginger carrots and banana with nutmeg as I write this. Whenever I start to question whether or not I should add some flavor to her food, I remind myself that Caroline is just one piece of the worldwide baby puzzle. In India, babies are introduced to curry in their very first foods. Latino babies are often introduced to cilantro, cumin, and wait for it….chili peppers in their very first foods! (If you’re breastfeeding, your baby already tastes all those flavors you’re eating, so there is absolutely no reason to all of a sudden start serving them bland food.)

I will say, most pediatricians may recommend waiting until 8 months before introducing spices and seasonings, but this is really just for the digestive issues that may ensue not the allergic reactions that may occur. In my mommy opinion…try it! Our household will remain busy for the next 18 years, and I don’t want to be one of those mom’s that cook a separate meal for my child because “they don’t like what I made”. We never had that option growing up, and I want Caroline to be introduced to as many flavors as possible as she develops her palate. Same principle applies to spices as food: start slowly, introduce one at a time and wait 4-5 days in between. By year 1, your little one will have a flavorful, nutritious palette that will be ready to take on whatever meals you are fixing for yourself.

I want to hear from you! What do you think about the rice cereal studies? What about the spice additions? Who’s going to try something NEW this week? Comment below…I’d LOVE to hear from you 🙂

As for next week’s topic, I am going to walk you guys through the different varieties of fruits & vegetables (and their paired spice) that I have been playing around with. As a bonus, I  have found a  perfectly comparable, much cheaper, and HOMEMADE alternative to those expensive fruit/veggie pouch-thingy’s.

Too excited to wait!? Sneak peak here

Until next week,
Liz

If you liked this article, you might enjoy these links as they helped me in my decision of not choosing rice cereal:

Rice Cereal for Infants
Oh Lardy- Stop Feeding Rice Cereal
Wholesome Baby Food- Cereal in a bottle?

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, Plant-Based Chef and Yoga Instructor. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

10 comments
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  1. We skipped rice all together and went straight to oatmeal instead, and avocados were his first food too! Our little guy has never been limited on food choices, he just likes to eat whatever mommy and daddy are eating, which makes us more health conscious in our food choices!

    • Jennifer, yes! Caroline LOVES to watch us eat, too! How funny 🙂 It definitely makes you think twice about what you’re putting in your mouth! Haha! Hope you find some yummy recipes for your munchkin!

  2. Totally agree! Always wondered why this is the first suggested food we feed our babies. My babies diets were primary breast milk for their first year but I always skipped the cereal and went right to veggies around 9 months. I enjoyed the post, thanks! My doctors didnt agree with me but oh well 🙂

  3. Hey Deanna! Thanks for stopping by 🙂 The next post will be all about mixing food, then I’m taking to back to basics with a post all about BEGINNING this adventure! If you have any specific questions or things you want to see more of…post them here! 🙂

  4. Loving this new column! And, it’s perfect timing for me. My son is almost 3 months and I’ve been researching about first foods to prepare for a few months from now.

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