Iron-fortified baby cereal can be used in lots of nutritious ways. Here are 5 easy recipes for baby-led weaning, perfect for feeding babies 6-12 months old. Teething biscuits, banana muffins and more!
If you’d like to learn more about this topic in a visual way, check out my Google web stories on 5 ways to use baby cereal for baby-led weaning!
In this post, I’ll share why I, as a pediatric registered dietitian, recommend using fortified baby cereal when starting solids, not only as a puree, but also in finger-food recipes that are suitable for baby-led weaning. I’ll explain what iron-fortified infant cereal is, why it’s a good option for baby’s first foods, and how to create safe finger foods with baby cereal, for baby-led weaning. I’ll also explain why it’s important to include iron-rich foods in general, right from 6 months of age, and give some examples of how to do that. Some parents worry about arsenic in infant rice cereal, so I will share my recommendations on that as well.
Next, I’ll explain what baby-led weaning is, and why I recommend that babies learn how to self-feed right from 6 months of age. I will then share my top baby-led weaning recipes using iron-fortified infant cereal!
Oh! And if you haven’t already picked up a copy of my comprehensive guidebook for parents, Food to Grow On, make sure that you do! Inside my book, there is a a step-by-step guide on how to start your baby on solids and progress through textures (with visuals) and I answer your top questions on starting solids and baby-led weaning. There are also several homemade baby-friendly recipes included!
Why is iron so important for babies?
Iron-rich foods should be introduced right from the get-go (6 months), because iron stores (that they had built up in the womb) become depleted around this time. That being said, there is no rule saying that your baby’s first food can’t be avocado, carrots, green beans or banana. You just want to make sure that iron-rich foods are introduced right around 6 months of age as well, and served daily. Babies between 6 and 12 months of age should be offered iron-rich foods at least twice a day (one to two small servings). Soft and tender pieces of meat or finely minced, ground or mashed cooked meat, de-boned fish (like these skillet tuna patties), poultry, well-cooked whole egg, beans, and lentils (like these vegan lentil nuggets) are great first foods. Add in a serving of plant-based, non-heme iron (infant cereal, lentils, beans, spinach) and your baby will be getting everything he needs iron-wise.
What is iron-fortified infant cereal?
We all know that iron-fortified infant cereal has traditionally been used as a staple first food for babies when they start solids. And there are many reasons why!
Infant cereal is:
- Neutral tasting and generally well-accepted by babies
- It provides a great source of iron—80% of babies daily needs in 1/3 of a cup dry–which is a very important nutrient for babies, as their iron stores are depleted by 6 months of age
- They are safe, convenient and shelf-stable. They can come in handy if your baby attends daycare or if you’re in a rush and want to make sure she is getting her quota of iron for the day.
- It is EASY to prepare and serve
What you might not realize is that iron-fortified infant cereal can be used in many ways… not just the same old same old! In fact, you can use infant cereal in homemade finger foods to support self-feeding, which we all know has many benefits, right from 6 months!
When is it safe to introduce solids (including iron-fortified infant cereal)?
My recommendation as a pediatric dietitian is to wait until 6 months of age to introduce solids (which includes introducing iron-fortified infant cereal). Some experts recommend starting as early as 4 months of age, but most babies aren’t developmentally ready to start solids at that time, and if a baby is exclusively breastfed, we recommend that mom carries on with exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age. Once baby is around 6 months (and showing signs of readiness listed below), you can introduce solid foods.
There is no one right way to do this, but it is important that baby is exposed to a variety of flavours and textures within between 6-9 months of age. Both baby-led weaning (explanation below) and spoon-feeding (or a combo) are perfectly fine (I recommend a combination), as long as all-feeding is responsive and baby-led.
Here are signs that baby is ready to start solids:
- They are showing interest in solid foods (reaching for, grabbing)
- They can hold their head up and sit in a highchair with little assistance
- Have they doubled their birth weight (at least)
- If you give them soft food, they can move it around in their mouth, to the back of their throat to swallow, instead of just spitting it out
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a feeding strategy that some parents choose, which allows babies to self-feed exclusively (meaning no spoon feeding!) from 6 months of age. As a pediatric dietitian, I support parents whether they choose to do baby-led weaning, or spoon-feeding (or a combo!), as long as all feeding is baby-led. It’s important that baby is served a variety of textures and flavours starting right at 6 months (including soft, safe finger foods), and it’s also important to feed responsively, so that baby is in charge of the amount and the pace at which they are fed. If you are going the baby-led weaning, here are my top baby-led weaning tips.
What type of infant cereal should I buy?
If you do choose to serve iron-fortified infant cereal, there are now some really nutritious, high quality varieties at the store. What you should be looking for are infant cereals that are enriched with important vitamins and minerals such as iron, thiamine and niacin, and that provide at least 2 grams of dietary fibre per serving. My preferred varieties are oat, barley, or mixed grain. Also, ensure that there are no weird ingredients or artificial colours or flavours.
But isn’t rice cereal bad because of the arsenic?
Parents should be aware that rice-containing foods (such as infant rice cereal) do contain arsenic, as well as other metallic elements such as mercury and cadmium. The rice plant is really effective at soaking up these elements out of the soil and ground water. The rice plant is also very efficient at absorbing inorganic arsenic (a form of arsenic that lacks the organic element carbon), which is much more harmful to humans than its organic counter-part. This is even true in brown rice.
Arsenic is a known carcinogen and can also cause cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic and immune-related health issues. But, the good news is, the FDA has set limits on the amount of arsenic in these infant/toddler foods, which is one step in the right direction. And we know that the occasional serving (once or twice a week) of rice cereal, or whole rice — whether brown or white — is completely fine when included in an otherwise balanced and nutritious diet. There’s no need to panic if you’ve been serving your baby infant rice cereal! Just mix it up with other grain varieties of cereal, and other iron sources too.
Why should I use iron-fortified baby cereal in finger foods?
One of the main concerns of parents who choose to do baby-led weaning is that their baby won’t get enough iron. This is a valid concern, as baby determines exactly how much food they eat (and it’s hard to predict how much will make it into their tummies!).
So, if you’re feeding baby meat, fish or poultry (all higher iron foods), and they decide to throw it on the ground instead (which is totally normal), they may not meet their daily needs for iron.
Including iron-fortified infant cereal with otherwise lower-iron soft, safe finger foods (avocado, banana etc.) can increase the chances of baby meeting their iron requirements for the day, and can also help with gripping these slippery foods! It can act as a replacement for breadcrumbs or flour in some recipes too!
Here are my top 5 creative ways to use infant cereal when feeding your baby
1. Coat bananas, avocado or pears in infant cereal for better grip.
Babies as young as 6 months can start eating soft and safe finger foods like ripe banana, avocado and pear, but those foods easily slip out of their hands. Coating it with some infant cereal not only helps baby to grip it, but also adds some iron!
2. Make Homemade iron-rich teething biscuits
Homemade iron-rich teething biscuits are oh-so-fun for babies because they’re delicious and can be made into fun shapes using cookie cutters! My go-to cookie cutter was a firetruck! Enlist the help of your older kids for a fun activity.
This recipe comes together easily and can be made vegan or gluten free if needed. In a large bowl combine
- 1 banana
- 1/2 cup iron-fortified cereal
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp or more of water (to get sticky consistency)
Use a cookie cutter to cut out biscuits and bake on a cookie sheet at 400 for 15 minutes.
3. Replace breadcrumbs or oats with infant cereal for meatballs, or meat patties for an iron and protein-rich baby-friendly finger food.
Meatballs (like these turkey and lentil meatballs) and meat patties are a great starting finger food for babies. They can be molded into just the right size and easily break apart for safe consumption. Adding iron-rich infant cereal is an easy way to elevate the nutritional profile of an already great finger food.
Introducing a nice variety of tastes and textures between 6-9 months is important for oral-motor development, dexterity and to widen their palate. These meatballs are the perfect size and texture for a baby learning how to self-feed.
- 1lb of ground turkey (you can use any ground meat)
- 1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup rolled oats (you can substitute ½ of this for iron-fortified infant cereal if you have some that you have to use up)
- 2-3 eggs
- 1 cup grated or chopped veggies (I use a combo of grated carrot, chopped spinach, and grated zucchini)
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- other dried herbs (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400F and line or grease a baking sheet.
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with clean hands.
- Form into 24 medium-sized balls and place on a lined, greased, or non-stick baking sheet.
- Place in the oven and bake for 12-minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 170F.
This recipe makes 30 meatballs.
4. Make homemade baby banana muffins
Muffins are a fantastic starting solids food as they are so versatile. Egg muffins, mini-meat muffins, and even delicious baking muffins. They are the perfect portion for baby and can be made in big batches and frozen! My recipe for iron-rich mini banana muffins has no added sugar, which is exactly what little ones need!
In a medium bowl combine:
- 1 cup whole grain flour
- 1 cup Baby Gourmet Iron-Fortified Oatmeal Cereal
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
In another medium bowl combine:
- 2 ripe, mashed bananas
- 3 eggs, whisked
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp of melted coconut oil
- 1/3 cup water
Fold wet ingredients in with dry, spoon dough into mini muffin tins and bake at 350 F for 16 minutes.
5. Sprinkle into baby-friendly foods such as smoothies, oatmeal, full-fat plain yogurt, or a fruit pouch!
This is a great way to use up leftover infant cereal and add some texture (and iron!) to more advanced spoon foods.
As you can see, there are lots of creative and nutritious ways to use infant cereal when introducing solids. When starting solids it is important that your baby is offered iron-rich foods first, and at least twice a day. As your baby continues to explore other nutritious and exciting foods keep in mind that iron is still an important nutrient. So keep finding fun and interesting ways to offer iron rich foods!
If you feel that you need one on one support, we’re happy to help! Contact us at The Centre for Family Nutrition