Guest Post: Dr Nicole M. Avena

Early exposure to a variety of nutrient-dense foods sets the stage for healthy development

Avena_Nicole_author photo.jpg

Getting your baby started on solids is all about good timing. The period between 6 and 12 months is a special time when you can expose your baby to a wide variety of tastes and textures. At this point your child is eager to explore and learn about the world around her. Exposure is how we learn to like new and different things, so why not take advantage of this opportunity to introduce baby to a wide variety of tastes, textures, and colors while she is most open to trying them? Early exposure to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other nutrient-dense foods has been linked to greater consumption of nutrient-dense foods and decreased incidence of obesity later in life. After 12 months, exposure to new foods seems to have less of an effect.

But what do you do when your baby’s not into trying new foods? Babies often balk at new tastes. When baby refuses to try new things, simply keep trying! If you start trying new foods and are persistent with it early on, baby will be less likely to resist when he is a toddler and has a real temper. Also, if you start good habits early on and encourage variety, you will instill this in baby and help him go with the flow when you are in restaurants and away from home.

Variety is also important because it helps baby get the nutrients she needs. Your baby needs protein, for example, because it is essential for the constant process of cell repair and rebuilding. Protein is the basic building block for muscles and other body tissues, and it is necessary for the development of bones, skin, cartilage, and blood. Unlike carbohydrates and fat, protein is not stored in your baby’s body. Since there are no protein reserves to draw upon, your baby must each sufficient protein each day. Protein sources with the highest possible value include milk, soybeans and soy milk, eggs, cheese, rice, quinoa, beef, and fish.

So are all proteins the same? Most animal foods have complete protein, whereas plant foods tend to lack one or more amino acids. Does that mean that you should focus only on animal foods? No. Baby can get all the protein needed by eating plant foods alone if he eats a variety. However, you should try for baby to get a balanced mix of both animal and plant proteins, because in addition to the protein, baby is also getting vitamins and minerals from them, and a balance between the two is key.


Adapted from assorted excerpts of “What to Feed Your Baby & Toddler” by Nicole M. Avena, PhD, available in stores and online now. Dr. Avena can be reached at and @DrNicoleAvena  


Little Foodie Club