Why Beef is a Recommended First Food – And Why Your Plant-Based Babe Doesn’t Actually Need It
Should your baby eat beef? Here’s why beef is recommended as a first food and why babies don’t need to eat beef to meet their nutrition needs.
New parents quickly become familiar with the messages around nutrition for babies, especially when it comes to first foods.
Along with dairy milk, beef is one of the most frequently recommended first foods to introduce to new eaters.
We certainly acknowledge that beef is a source of nutrients like protein and iron. But we also want to be clear that it’s not a critical food for babies should you choose not to offer it.
Why is beef recommended for babies?
The recommendation around beef as an optimal first food for babies comes with a big can of worms. There are two main reasons beef is touted as a perfect first food:
1. Nutrition. Beef is a good source of protein, iron, and various other micronutrients.
Beef is also often touted as a perfect food for malnourished children. %This is due to its nutritional makeup and ability to contribute many calories in a small serving size.
2. Convenience. Additionally, beef is more accessible for some families and has many versatile uses in meals. This makes it an easy source of nutrition to add to the grocery cart and bring home for baby.
It’s also a food that the whole family can eat, whereas something like baby oatmeal isn’t usually going to be passed around the table. 🙂
So, should your baby eat beef? Let’s address some of the common arguments made for beef as a first food in more detail.
1. Beef is a good source of important nutrients for babies.
Beef is a good source of iron and protein. This is true.
But this narrowly-focused nutrient-only approach to nutrition neglects the other components of meat that make it less desirable.
Yes, it’s rich in some beneficial nutrients.
But it also contains saturated fat, cholesterol, and potentially harmful compounds formed during cooking. None of which are necessary for infants.
2. Beef is an optimal food for malnourished children.
The WHO recommends meat for infants because they’re looking at nutrition from a global perspective.
In underdeveloped countries where grains and legumes are the main sources of nutrition, some children lack proper intake of critical nutrients.
Either because of low intake or a lack of education on boosting nutrient bioavailability, children in poor countries often suffer from malnourishment.
Meat consumption may make sense for this population.
3. Beef is a convenient staple food.
Beef may be a more accessible and convenient option for some families.
For similar reasons as discussed previously, eating meat (with highly absorbable iron) is simply easier for some families.
When this is done, meeting iron needs is not a problem.
But again, not all families have access to fresh fruits and vegetables to provide vitamin C. And many parents may not know this is important.
The money behind beef.
As is the case with many recommended foods in the United States, one of the many reasons beef gets so much attention is because there’s a lot of money behind it.
Money from the Beef Council and other lobbying groups has helped put beef on a pedestal when it comes to foods we “should” eat and be feeding to our kids.
The Beef Council has A LOT of money.
Currently, the Beef Council is throwing major resources behind a big campaign targeted at dietitians and other professionals in the baby feeding space to push their message.
They’re sponsoring social media campaigns, advertisements, events, and webinars to spread the message that beef is an essential first food.
This is just one example of how certain foods are made to be more appealing to society simply due to the money put behind them, and why it’s important for consumers – and parents – to be aware.
The truth about beef as a first food
The truth is that beef is not necessary for infants to thrive.
So if you choose not to feed your babe beef, it’s okay.
While infants do need some of the nutrients found in beef, they can get them from healthier, more environmentally-conscious and animal-friendly sources.
With just a bit of education on proper feeding techniques and how to maximize iron absorption, families can absolutely provide their babes with optimal nutrition sans beef.
In fact, there is NO RESEARCH showing that beef is beneficial for well-nourished infants.
The only studies that show any benefit by the addition of meat to the diet have been done on malnourished children or those following a nutrient-deficient diet.
We hope that this is helpful when considering what first foods make the most sense for your family.
Dispelling nutrition myths and helping you help your babies thrive are some of our favorite things at PBJs – leave us a comment around what other questions you have!
Should your baby eat beef? It’s not necessary, but remains up to you. We hope this clarifies why beef is recommended as a first food, but also why babies don’t need to eat beef to meet their nutrition needs.
Chime In: Have you heard of beef as an ideal first food? What other foods are you curious about for new eaters?
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