Why Your Baby Needs Meat (and how to prepare it)
As a momma beginning your baby on solids, you might be encouraged to offer your little one banana, avocado, or softened sweet potatoes. While there’s nothing wrong with these foods, meat can (and maybe should) be one of your baby’s first foods.
Meat is a good first food because it contains iron. Babies require high amounts of iron during their first 2 years and requirements are highest at 6 months, right when your baby begins to explore solid food. Iron helps to move oxygen around the body and it’s important for healthy brain development. When your baby doesn’t get enough iron during development, there’s a greater risk of:
- Poor motor skills
- Poor language and cognitive skills
- Social problems during adolescence
Meat also contains the “meat factor,” which boosts overall iron absorption from your baby’s entire meal. As vague as it sounds, the “meat factor” is a real thing in scientific literature. It describes the impact that meat has on the absorption of iron from plant foods – otherwise known as non-heme iron. It takes more work to use non-heme iron and the “meat factor” lends a helping hand.
If you’re wondering about other animal proteins – such as eggs or dairy – the effect on iron absorption isn’t quite the same. In fact, both egg whites and dairy block the absorption of iron.
It’s important to know that even a small amount of meat can make a difference. Besides that, meat also:
- Contains all essential amino acids
- Contains other minerals that your baby relies on, such as zinc, phosphorus, and selenium
- Contains vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin B6, and riboflavin – all of which support baby brain development
What’s The Best Meat For My Baby?
The best meat to begin with is soft meat from fish or chicken.
If it’s available, shop for free-range chicken and choose a fatty fish like salmon or sardines. Make sure your fish is wild-caught. Wild fish will contain more nutrients than their farmed cousins. For example, wild-caught salmon contain 4 times the amount of vitamin D that you’ll find in farmed salmon. Vitamin D supports your baby’s immune system, brain development, and bones.
Liver is an animal protein that falls under the category of offal. It – along with other offal like heart and tongue – are some of the most nutritious parts of an animal. In addition to the “meat factor” and other meaty nutrients like heme iron, zinc, and B vitamins – liver is also one of the few places you’ll find natural vitamin D. It also contains vitamins A and K2.
How To Prepare Meat For Baby-Led Weaning and Purees
- Gently steam salmon for 5 – 8 minutes. Be sure to check for tiny bones before serving.
- Canned sardines contain bones, but these are completely soft and will crumble with pressure.
- Cook chicken with “moist heat.” My favorite way to prepare chicken is in a slow cooker, it’s a big time-saver and I can use the carcass to make bone broth later. To prepare:
- Wash a whole chicken and pat dry.
- Place in slow cooker, breast up. Close and cook on low for 4 – 6 hours. Be sure it doesn’t overcook and get dry.
- Once done, strip meat from the carcass and store with drippings. You can offer these strips of meat to your baby or use in other dishes.
- Begin broth immediately by covering the chicken carcass with water and adding 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Set to cook on low for at least 24 hours. Once done, use the bone broth to soften vegetables for your baby.
- If blending chicken into a puree, use the drippings that you collect from the slow-cooker. This fatty, gelatinous liquid will add a layer of flavor and nutrition to your baby’s puree.
- Freeze liver and grate it over piping hot soup. (Go ahead and top your own bowl of soup with some liver – it’s a wonderful postpartum tonic!)
- Quick-fry thin medallions of liver in a heat-stable fat, like ghee or coconut oil. The inside of the medallion should be barely pink. Allow your baby to gum on suck on these.
- Add 1 ounce of liver to your baby’s sweet potato puree – simply cook everything together in bone broth + a teaspoon of fat (such as butter, ghee, or coconut oil) and blend. The metallic taste of liver pairs well with sweeter, starchy vegetables. Adding fat helps with the absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients that are in liver.
- Occasionally offer pre-made liverwurst or braunschweiger. Occasionally, because these tend to be high in salt.