Getting your baby off to a good start in life is important, which is why so many moms go out of their way to eat healthier meals, exercise more, quit smoking and cut down on drinking during pregnancy. And while everything you do while you're pregnant affects the health of your unborn baby, his or her development doesn't stop after delivery. In particular, your baby's brain is developing quite rapidly in the first three years of his or her life. To ensure that your child has all the nutrients he or she needs for maximum brain power, you'll need to provide a variety of foods with the best vitamins and minerals to boost brain health. Not sure where to start? Here are some of the best "brain foods" to feed your baby.
You might be happy to learn that breast milk is the best type of food for your baby – in more ways than one. It has the vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, growth factors and antibodies that your child needs to develop properly. It also helps babies ward off sickness, and healthy babies are better able to learn. Some studies have shown that babies who were fed breast milk had an 8-point IQ advantage over babies who were fed formula. If you can, it's in your best interest to breastfeed.
Dark green, leafy vegetables
These types of veggies have lots of iron and folate, both of which are necessary for optimum brain function. Iron helps your baby form neural connections and avoid mental and motor impairments. Spinach is one common example that would make a great choice, but other greens like kale, chard and collards are also high in these nutrients. Steam and puree them for your baby and experiment with how he or she likes to eat it. You could try mixing the greens with iron-fortified cereal.
To ensure that your baby is absorbing the iron he or she needs, plenty of vitamin C is necessary. To get it, try giving your baby squash, which has lots of that vitamin as well as vitamin A. It's also an easy texture for babies to handle and it's naturally sweet. Feed your child pureed squash and experiment with flavor combinations like herbs, spices or cheese.
Antioxidants help protect babies' brains from the dangers of free radicals, and foods like berries are rich in them. Blueberries have a high amount of antioxidants, as their blue color comes from flavonoids called anthocyanins, which are good for your baby's eyes, brain and urinary tract. Try mixing pureed blueberries with a little plain yogurt for a sweet treat.
Healthy fats are essential for brain development, and avocados are full of unsaturated fats, similar to the amount that breast milk has. Mashed-up avocados can be added to a number of foods, like applesauce or cream cheese. Your baby might even like the taste of mild guacamole!
Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas have lots of fiber and iron and are very versatile. Hummus is a great food you can easily buy in stores or make yourself for your baby to try. Just puree the chickpeas with garlic, lemon, olive oil and tahini.
Meat and fish
Meat has plenty of zinc, iron and protein, all of which your baby needs for a healthy brain. Fish like salmon are also full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Puree some chili, make salmon salad or puree some turkey for your baby to try. Stew might be a good option too, which you can add veggies and seasonings to in order to switch up the flavor.