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When the time comes to take baby off formula and/or mother's milk, most parents focus on cereal, applesauce, strained carrots, and gruel. Meat and fish, however, may be a better choice for most babies.

Baby food in America hasn't changed a lot since I was sitting in a high chair eating it 60 years ago. In 1956, the most popular brand of baby food in the United States was Gerber's. In 2016, the most popular brand of baby food in the United States is still Gerber's. A socially responsible company that makes a reliably wholesome baby food although not especially tasty product, Gerber's and similar manufacturers had made billions of jars of strained carrots, strained peas, strained peaches, and applesauce, in addition to billions of boxes of zwieback.

About 20 years ago, however, I was watching my nephew eat his own Gerber's baby food in his high chair, and he inspired a different point of view. My nephew was eating strained carrots. The rest of the family was eating loin roast, potato salad, and sauerkraut. My nephew said, "Want real food." I asked a little too capriciously, "You want kraut?"

This was not the right question.

My nephew misunderstood. "Cat!" he screamed. "Not eat cat! Love kitty!" As the uncle, I realized it was my moment to retreat. I'm not sure when his parents introduced him to meat, but I'm sure it wasn't at that meal. However, meat and fish are generally safe for toddlers, even though parents don't often offer them.

Meat Important for Babies Entering the Weaning Phase

When it comes time to introduce babies to foods other than milk, many parents try to stuff their babies with rice puffs and runny cereals and strained vegetables. Parents who are fans of "real foods" tend to focus on kale and avocado and yams. Even gourmet baby foods made by companies like Sprout Organic Baby Foods, which packages its infant meals in bisphenol-A free resealable pouches that cannot be microwaved provides lentil Bolognese without the meats, roasted bananas and brown rice, and strained squash with Parmesan, recipes that are demonstrably tastier for adults but still vegan.

A growing number of studies, however, find that the best baby food, at least for part of an infant's diet, is meat, and not necessarily just fruit and vegetable purée.

  • A Chinese study found that infants who were fed meat in addition to other traditional baby foods starting at the age of six months experienced better, steadier growth than infants who were fed a variety of cereals in addition to rice.
  • A study of babies who were fed meat at weaning had zinc levels that were twice as high as babies who were not fed meat. Zinc is critical in eye and thyroid health, and in recovery from viral infections and diarrhea.
  • Another study found that babies who were fed small amounts of red meat, which is a source of readily absorbed heme- iron, had higher levels of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in their bloodstreams.
  • A study of babies in Denver, Colorado found that infants who were fed meat in addition to other traditional baby foods grew faster but not fatter than infants who were not offered meat at weaning.
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