Baby’s First Foods

“This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. managed by NCBA, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation, but all opinions are my own.”

Last August my husband and I welcomed a baby girl into the world – Sylvie. When she turned six months old, we started her on solid foods.

We follow a feeding method called baby-led weaning, sometimes also referred to as baby-led feeding.

A child in a bib at a high chair eating solid foods.

What is baby-led feeding?

Baby-led feeding essentially means we allow Sylvie to feed herself rather than spoon feeding her.

Research shows there are a host of benefits for allowing baby to self-feed:

  • Allows baby to become independent
  • Baby has more control over what and how much they eat, allowing them to become less picky as they get older and have a better sense of their appetite
  • Allows baby to practice motor and oral skills
  • Baby is able to participate in meal time, just as the adults do
  • Many parents find baby-led feeding is less expensive, as they don’t as often purchase pre-made baby food products
  • Parents find it easier, as baby eats what they eat, so they don’t as often have to prepare additional meals and snacks

We were interested in baby-led feeding for Sylvie because of all of these reasons and have been having so much fun watching her explore different foods.

While it may seem like a non-traditional way of eating, most babies have the capability to feed themselves if the food is prepared in a way that suits their stage of development.

Additionally, research shows babies who self-feed are not at an increased risk for choking and are no more likely to choke than those who are spoon fed.

At six months old (plus when baby can sit upright unsupported, has good head control and can reach and grab foods and put them in their mouth), most babies have a palmer grasp, meaning they grab foods with their entire palm.

Foods at this stage should be cut into pointer finger-sized shapes that they can grasp with their palm.

Once they hit about eight or nine months, most babies start to develop the pincer grasp, meaning they can grab foods with their thumb and pointer finger. Foods at this stage should be cut into bite-sized cubes that baby can grab with two fingers.

All foods should be soft and there are certain foods that are off limits. These foods include honey (until 12+ months), unpasteurized cheeses, and those that are choking hazards, like hot dogs and sausages, hard raw vegetables, dried fruit, popcorn, whole nuts and candy. Foods that are high in sodium or added sugars should be avoided.

Babies can also often spoon feed themselves, so pre-loading a baby spoon with purees and mashed foods is also a great option.

Meatloaf plate prepared for an infant (around 6-9 months or if baby has palmer grasp)
A plate of meatloaf, peas and oranges prepared for an infant.
Meatloaf plate prepared for an older infant/toddler (>9 months or if baby has pincer grasp)
A plate of meatloaf, peas and mandarin oranges prepared for a toddler.

Sylvie’s First Foods

Sylvie has been eating whole foods since she started solids at six months.

Foods like cooked non-starchy and starchy vegetables, soft fruits, fully cooked meats, fish and seafood, whole grains, cooked beans and legumes, yogurt and cheese and nuts and nut butters are all free game (as long as baby doesn’t have allergies or intolerances to any of these foods).

We checked with Sylvie’s pediatrician before starting solids.

Sylvie’s very first foods were avocado and banana, and we quickly offered her many other foods in order to expand her palate and meet her nutritional needs.

A few of her favorite foods are mandarin oranges, cheddar cheese, ground meat, scrambled eggs, avocado, ruby red grapefruit, whole grain waffles and pancakes, sweet potato and broccoli. We strive to feed her a variety of foods at each meal to help meet her nutrient needs and to allow her to explore more foods.

We have introduced her to many different herbs and spices, too, and foods with all different colors and textures.

It has been a blast watching her learn to eat – she’s more adventurous than most adults I know! It’s a messy adventure, but it’s worth it.

I’ve learned a lot about baby-led weaning from Solid Starts, Malina Malkani’s book Simple & Safe Baby-Led Weaning and Jenna Helwig’s book Baby-Led Feeding.

For in-depth information about baby-led feeding, I highly suggest checking out each of these resources.

As always, if you have questions about starting your baby on solid foods, consult a physician or health care provider.

Why Beef as a First Food?

Beef is a complimentary food for infants and toddlers during the first few years of life when rapid growth and development occur.

Health authorities like the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and now for the first time ever, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommend babies consume animal source foods, like beef, to ensure nutrient needs – such as iron and zinc – are met.

Proper nutrition is critical during this time, particularly since by 6 months of age, iron stores are depleted, and breastmilk alone can no longer meet all of the infant’s nutrient requirements.

High quality protein, iron, zinc and choline found in beef support growing bodies and healthy brain development in babies and toddlers. Sylvie’s pediatrician recommended beef as a source of iron.

Introducing meats, like beef, has a purpose beyond simply meeting essential nutrient needs.

Beef offers new and different flavors and textures which not only supports oral and motor development, but also enhances discovery and learning, helping them to be more accepting of new and healthy foods as they grow and develop healthy eating habits.

Serving nutritious foods babies and toddler love to eat, like beef, is simple and easy—puree, mash, chop or shred meat at various stages to meet their changing feeding needs.

Sylvie has tried many different cuts of beef, including ground beef, steak and roast, as well as meatballs and meatloaf. She has loved all of them!

To learn more, visit Beef in the Early Years.

Beef roast plate prepared for an infant (around 6-9 months or if baby has palmer grasp)
A plate of beef roast, carrots and potatoes prepared for an infant.
Beef roast plate prepared for an older infant/toddler (>9 months or if baby has pincer grasp)
A plate of beef roast, carrots and potatoes prepared for a toddler.

How to Prepare Beef for Babies and Toddlers

  • For babies and toddlers, it’s recommended to serve fully cooked beef (at least 160°F).
  • For steaks, insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally from the side so it penetrates the thickest part of the center of the steak not touching the bone or fat. After cooking, let steaks rest before serving.
  • To determine the perfect doneness for a roast, insert an ovenproof meat thermometer prior to roasting (into the thickest part of the roast, not resting in fat or touching bone) and leave in throughout the cooking process. Or, insert an instant-read thermometer toward end of cooking time (as described above) for about 15 seconds. Remove thermometer, continue cooking, if necessary, until beef reaches at least 160°F. Allow 15 to 20 minutes standing time before slicing.
  • Be sure to trim steaks and roasts of visible fat before serving it to babies and toddlers.
  • For ground beef, be sure to cook until the meat is fully cooked (no pink remains and reaches 160°F). For younger babies, you can mix the ground meat with mashed foods like mashed potatoes or yogurt and serve on a pre-loaded spoon. For older babies and toddlers, serve in small ground chunks they can grasp with their thumb and pointer fingers.
  • For ground beef cooked into meatballs or meatloaf, be sure the meat is fully cooked (160°F ) and slice into the appropriate-sized pieces for your baby or toddler.
  • Be sure all foods served to babies and toddlers are warm or cool, not hot. Be sure to cut steak and roast into pointer finger-sized strips for younger babies and small diced pieces for older babies and toddlers.
  • Use a variety of herbs and spices when cooking beef. Hold the salt for baby, for now.

Food Safety FAQs

  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.
  • Use separate plates, cutting boards, utensils for raw vs. cooked foods to prevent cross contamination.
  • Use an instant read thermometer to ensure beef is properly cooked.
  • Follow USDA guidelines for proper cooking of beef here.
Beef taco plate prepared for an infant (around 6-9 months or if baby has palmer grasp)
A plate of tacos with ground beef, yogurt, tomatoes and tortillas prepared for an infant.
Beef taco plate prepared for an older infant/toddler (>9 months or if baby has pincer grasp)
A plate of beef tacos, tortillas, tomatoes and Greek yogurt prepared for an infant.

Family Favorite Beef Recipes

We eat a wide variety of foods, but a few of our favorites (and also some of Sylvie’s favorites!) are meatloaf and meatballs, roast with potatoes and carrots and deconstructed tacos. Her appetite for these foods has inspired me to share my recipes for all three!

Each recipe is outlined via the link, with suggestions on how to serve to babies, toddlers, and adults!

What we love most about baby-led feeding is these are dishes we’d normally cook in our house, and Sylvie gets to enjoy them with us!

We sit at the table for each meal and serve her these foods cut into the appropriately sized pieces.

She takes her time when eating so she can thoroughly explore each food. If she isn’t interested in something we put on her tray, we let her skip it and try it again another day.

Now, let’s get cooking!

Grab the full recipes for 3 family favorite beef recipes:

Classic BBQ Meatloaf Cups

These Classic BBQ Meatloaf Cups will surely become a family favorite! With ground beef, onion, garlic and herbs and a balsamic vinegar, ketchup and brown sugar glaze, they’re flavorful, easy to make and really the best meatloaf recipe out there. Give ’em a try for yourself – I promise you’ll love this American classic.

Meatloaf cups in a white bowl.

Dutch Oven Pot Roast

This Dutch Oven Pot Roast is made on the stove-top with beef chuck roast, potatoes, carrots, onion and thyme in a rich beef broth with Dijon, balsamic and brown sugar. It’s the best pot roast recipe!

A white Dutch oven filled with pot roast.

Beef Tacos with Refried Beans

These classic tacos are the perfect weeknight meal for the entire family! Make your own beef taco meat with homemade taco seasoning and refried black beans. Stuff the filling in your favorite toasted taco shells and top with lettuce, tomato, Greek yogurt and thick cut cheddar cheese. Delicious, nutritious and easy to make!

A tray filled with beef tacos.

A note on sodium and added sugar

Each recipe has been slightly modified to assure there is not too much sodium or added sugar for babies and toddlers, and you can see in the pictures above how to properly prepare and serve each recipe.

The goal is to limit sodium and added sugar in baby’s diet.

Simply avoid adding salt to recipes until after you’ve prepared a plate (and leftovers) for baby. Same goes with added sugar – a little bit is okay, just don’t go overboard.

For example, I prepare a meatloaf glaze made from lower sodium and lower sugar ketchup mixed with balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of brown sugar.

Brown sugar is an added sugar, but it is such a small amount when spread across 12 servings, so the amount baby is getting is negligible.

A baby with a bib in a high chair eating solids.

Aim to serve babies and toddlers a wide variety of whole foods to help nourish their growing bodies and let them explore new ingredients and dishes without pressure to encourage a healthy relationship with food!

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