Has the time come to transition your baby into the world of solids? (Raise your hand if you're feeling excited.) Each baby's first experience with solids is different—some babies take to their first foods right away, while others require some trial and error. Allow your baby to sample a variety of healthy and nutritious foods, and let patience—and nutrition—be your guide, especially to support that growing brain.
Remember to not start solids until your baby is 6 months old (not 4 months, as used to be the case), and always check in with your child's pediatrician before starting solids, in case there are any specific considerations for your little one. Once you get the go-ahead, focus on foods that are rich in nutrients that support your baby's healthy growth.
Here are the brain foods that could positively impact your baby's brain development:
Creamy, mashed avocado is a popular first food. Avocado is a nutrient-dense fruit with plant-based fat, vitamins and minerals. Not only is it nutritious, as fats contribute to brain cell development, but the texture is soft and easy for baby to tolerate.
2. Greek yogurt
Whole-milk yogurt is a nutritious early food because it contains calcium, protein and healthy fats. The culturing process involved in making yogurt helps break down the proteins, making them easy for babies to digest, and incorporating fats into your baby's diet will help develop their brain cells. Plus, babies tend to like the rich, creamy texture of Greek yogurt. Because it contains cows' milk, some pediatricians recommend waiting to introduce yogurt between 9 and 10 months of age, so check with your child's doctor first.
Dark berries like blueberries are packed full of antioxidants, which protect the brain from stress and damage. You can offer blueberries mashed or blended into a smoothie, yogurt or oatmeal or as a finger food.
4. Whole grain porridge
Offering your baby a whole-grain cereal blend is a nutrient-rich option. Whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa and barley should be pulverized and blended into a fine powder form and mixed with water or breast milk. You can also mix in a bit of yogurt or a fruit/vegetable blend. Whole grains offer fiber and a source of protein.
Egg yolks contain cholesterol, which is what comprises the outer lining of brain cells. In addition, they contain fat-soluble vitamins as well as choline, selenium and vitamin B12—all important for brain development.
6. Nut butters
Traditional nuts in their butter form are a good source of healthy fat, protein and fat-soluble vitamins. Peanut, cashew and almond butter are all options to offer your baby when you feel they're ready.
You could offer it as a small spoonful mixed into your baby's cereal or porridge blend, yogurt or even applesauce.
Note: According to recommendations from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, highly allergenic foods like nuts can be introduced into infants' diets as early as 6 months of age—and should be introduced early and often, as research shows this tactic can actually prevent the development of food allergies down the line.
These nutritious fruits contain quercetin, which helps stimulate brain activity. Apples, whether pureed, cooked soft or raw, are easy to offer as a first food and throughout your baby's transitional food stages. (Check out this great applesauce recipe!) As they become more comfortable with finger foods and as they develop teeth, you could offer apples with nut butter as a healthy pairing.
Lentils are available in various forms and are especially nutritious because they contain fiber, iron and protein. They're soft and easy to cook (no long soaking periods required) and can easily be blended into puree or soup form. They're also one of the more neutral-tasting legume and bean options to initially offer.
9. Leafy Greens
While these may be hard to offer initially as a single vegetable, they could be used as a blend so they're tolerated better. For example, you could blend spinach with apple or carrots, or make a spinach pesto to coat pasta once your little one is older. Because many leafy greens contain nitrates, some pediatricians recommended them as a later introduction at perhaps closer to 10 months onwards.
Leafy greens such as spinach or kale offer lutein and vitamin K, which contribute to brain activity.
Babies' growing brains require DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential to cognitive development. Salmon is an excellent dietary source of DHA. You could mash some cooked, mix into a puree or even create a salmon burger or nuggets if finger foods are accepted.
A version of this post was originally published on Sept. 28. 2021. It has been updated.