In order to build a strong house, you need a good foundation, and no foundation is more important than brain development in early infancy. Nerves constantly connect and grow, which in turn affect memory, learning, attention, and sensory systems – essentially everything the body needs in order to function intellectually and physically.
The foods we chose to introduce into our bodies have the power to help or hurt this development. Believe it or not, the brain of a three-year-old is expected to be about 80% of its adult size on average, meaning the brain has done more of its growing and changing in the first three years than it will for the rest of their life.
As parents, this can put a lot of stress on us as we want to do right by our children to help them grow strong and healthy. So, it’s only natural that you would have questions regarding your baby’s first foods, wondering what is best to give them in order to ensure proper brain development.
1. Essential Nutrients for a Healthy Brain
When making these decisions, you need to know where to start. It’s not just about the foods themselves; it’s about the building blocks of the brain and the required nutrients that can be found in each of these foods.
Some of these nutrients include:
- Vitamins A, D, B6, B12
- Long-chain fatty acids (like omega-3)
The combination of these nutrients is what makes breastfeeding such a great start for babies. And while it would be easy to just keep producing breast milk rather than stress over food choices, we all know that’s just not feasible.
So, what are some good food choices that will ensure your little one receives the nutrients necessary to continue their healthy brain development?
Really any type of whole grain – oats, quinoa, or barley in particular are great for brain development. They are a rich source of glucose which helps to energize the brain so it can continue to make all of those connections.
In addition, they also have a load of B-vitamins and zinc as well as vitamin E and fiber, all of which help to create a healthy nervous system.
Eggs are quite a powerful food in many ways, especially for the brain. They contain cholesterol – what the outer lining of brain cells are made of. They also have choline, selenium, and vitamin B12, which are all essential for organ development.
It is important that you introduce eggs appropriately, though. Your little one should only eat egg yolks until they reach at least 12 months since egg whites are a higher allergen risk. The good news is that the yolks are the most flavorful part and are very easy to digest.
4. Greek Yogurt
Yogurt is probably the most common first food worldwide. It is highly nutritious being full of calcium, protein, and healthy fats, which help to develop your baby’s brain cells. Probiotics found in yogurt also work to create a strong microbiome, microorganisms working together to protect and regulate the body’s functions.
While any type of yogurt is good, Greek yogurt tends to be a better choice. It is made by straining out extra whey to make it thicker and creamier, making it more of a “solid” to introduce to your little one. It also tends to be lower in sugar and higher in protein due to its concentrated state.
For reasons similar to yogurt, cheese is also a good choice due to calcium, fat, and protein content.
Of course, not just any cheese will do at any time for your baby. You need to be selective of the type and texture as well as nutrient content before introducing it to your baby – meaning you don’t want to just reach for the slice of processed cheese or pass out hard cheddar before they have some chompers.
Cottage cheese is a good start. It’s easy to mix with fruit and serve with a spoon or as a finger food if you don’t mind a bit of a mess. From there you can move onto shredded mozzarella and eventually cubed cheese when they have more teeth.
6. Nut Butters
Nuts like almonds, cashes, and peanuts are nutritional powerhouses. They’re good sources of healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals, all of which are essential for a healthy nervous system.
The best way to introduce nuts to your child is through butters. However, you do need to be cautious as nuts are a high allergen risk, especially if you have members of your family with nut allergies. You also want to check the ingredients on the label as many nut butters (peanut butter in particular) contain added sugar.
Avocados are more than just a trendy fruit; they are actually very healthy and great for brain development. They are chock full of healthy fats that feed the brain and help it grow.
It is also a great first food for babies. They are soft so they are easy to mash or serve cut into small pieces as a finger food. Their creamy texture and mild flavor also make them a great additive to homemade purees or smoothies.