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Starting Strong: Feeding infants healthy food to help growth and development

Hear from a medical expert on ways to transition your baby into healthy, toddler foods.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Feeding infants and toddlers has its challenges and parents need to make sure children are consuming all the right nutrients as well as set feeding schedules. And for good reason! The first 1,000 days – from conception up to the age of 24 months – is a critical time when good nutrition can play a positive role in school-readiness and reducing the risk of chronic disease later in life. 

Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, joined My West Michigan Tuesday and shared some guidelines to ensure that your baby is ready for solids food and that the complementary foods included when transitioning from breastfeeding or formula feeding will provide the nutrition needed for optimal growth. 

  • Babies are ready for solid food when they double their birth weight, around 4-6 months of age or around 13 pounds or more. This introduction of foods is important to provide needed nutrients as it teaches babies how to enjoy a variety of food tastes and textures.
  • Look for signs that the baby is ready for solids. They should sit up on their own, hold their head up for a long time, show interest in food and appear hungry between nursing or bottle feeding. 
  • Start by offering simple foods made for babies.
  • Give your baby one new food at a time to determine if they like it or if there are any allergies.
  • Keep food amounts small.
  • Babies learn to self-feed around 8 months of age and should be able to use a cup around 12 months as they also start to join the family for mealtime.
  • Look for cues that babies are done. They may turn their head, spit out food or keep their lips shut. Never force food.
  • It takes practice! Be patient.

Key nutrients of concern during the transitional period include:

Your baby needs protein so their body will grow/ develop and repair itself if hurt or sick. Beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, nuts.

Your baby needs iron for brain development and an iron-rich blood supply. Iron deficiency in the first 2 years of life can cause future delays in intellectual, behavioral and motor development.  Beef, iron-fortified cereal, poultry (dark meat), beans and lentils, dark greens. Plant-based sources of iron (like beans & veggies) need help from vitamin C foods (citrus, tomatoes, peppers) to help iron absorption.

Offer 2 servings of iron-rich foods per day such as beef puree & green beans or iron-fortified cereal with cooked egg yolk.

Your baby needs zinc to grow, regulate appetite and prevent illness. Sources of zinc include red meat, beans and iron-fortified baby cereal. Iron and zinc can be found together in beef (pureed, chopped or whole) and iron and zinc-fortified baby. cereal

Vitamin D
Your baby needs vitamin D to build strong bones. Good sources of vitamin D include fortified milk and fatty fish.

DHA (omega-3 fatty acid) 
Your baby needs DHA for brain and retina (eye) development. A good source of DHA is salmon and you can purchase DHA-fortified eggs from a number of grocery stores.

Your baby needs fat for their rapid growth and brain development. Plant oils such as avocado, olive oil and nut butters are great, healthy sources of fat.

How to adapt family meals to infants and toddlers

Ground Beef & Pasta Skillet Primavera  
This Italian-inspired recipe is a one-pot, fun to make and eat dish that combined ground beef, pasta, fresh zucchini and yellow squash.  It’s also certified by the American Heart Association®.

  • The natural iron found in the lean beef in this recipe is more bioavailable to your baby’s body.
  • US and global pediatric organizations recommend early introduction to meat because of the nutritional value and specific nutrients of need – protein, zinc, iron.
  • Offer a fruit or vegetable at every meal or snack.
  • For older infants and toddlers – break meat into 1/2 -inch crumbles, dice vegetables, make sure pasta is cooked to a soft texture.


1 pound Ground Beef (96% lean)
1 (14-1/2 ounces) can reduced-sodium beef broth
1 cup uncooked whole wheat pasta
2 zucchini or yellow squash, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) no-salt added diced tomatoes
1-1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning


1.    Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add Ground Beef; cook 8 to 10 minutes, breaking into 3/4-inch crumbles and stirring occasionally. Pour off drippings.

Cook's Tip: Cooking times are for fresh or thoroughly thawed Ground Beef. Ground Beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F. Color is not a reliable indicator of Ground Beef doneness.

2.    Stir in broth, pasta, squash, tomatoes and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook 9 to 11 minutes or until pasta and squash are almost tender and sauce is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.

Nutrition information per serving: 296 Calories; 54 Calories from fat; 6g Total; 76 mg Cholesterol; 338 mg Sodium; 28.2 g Total Carbohydrate; 3.1 g Dietary Fiber; 31.7 g Protein; 5 mg Iron; 7 mg Zinc

For more beef recipes, visit www.BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com. Ask "Chuck Knows Beef" a question at https://chuckknowsbeef.com/#/question.

DISCLOSURE: Shari is a member of the Beef Expert Bureau through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff.


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