5 Amazing Grains to Add to Your Baby’s Plate
Can babies digest grains? It’s a frequently asked question that many caregivers have when it’s time to introduce foods. Despite what you may have heard, grains are a green-light food for babies. Babies 6 months and older are equipped with digestive enzymes such as amylase to help break down starches and other carbohydrates in foods. That’s great news for your mini muncher because they shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of grains. Keep reading to learn more about five amazing grains to add to your baby’s plate.
Why should I give my baby grains?
Babies benefit from balanced nutrition from all food groups, including grains. Grains, especially whole grains, give your baby a host of nutrients to support their fast-paced growth and brain development. Whole grains have three nutritious parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm, which make them more nutritious than refined grains (refined grains are missing one or more of those three parts—for example, white flour consists only of the endosperm).
Benefits of Grains for Babies
- Iron: Young children and infants are at high risk for iron deficiency, which can progress into anemia and make them more susceptible to illness. Grains can be fantastic sources of iron to help counteract this and are packed with many other nutrients to enhance your baby’s health.
- Fiber: Grains tend to keep a baby’s bowels moving! Hard stools can be a pain; grains provide fiber to aid digestion.
- Complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates to give your baby the energy they need to support their daily activities…whether that’s from sitting up unassisted, rolling over, pulling up or starting to crawl and walk.
- B vitamins. Different B vitamins serve different functions, but one big job is helping to break down carbohydrates and fat and help the body use those nutrients for energy.
- Versatility. There are so many ways to enjoy grains…which make them easy add-ins for just about any dish.
Remember when many people struggled to pronounce the word quinoa? These days it's much more commonly heard, spoken, and cooked at home. “Keen-wah” is one of the healthiest grains, thanks to its impressive nutrient profile. For one, it’s chock-full of essential amino acids (small proteins the human body can’t make on its own and must get from food). Quinoa naturally contains all nine essential amino acids to support your baby’s growth and development, making it a complete plant-based protein.
On top of that, quinoa has a lot of fiber to make sure your babe goes number two without struggle. Quinoa delivers zinc, folate, and phosphorous, too. The naturally gluten-free grain cooks in 15 minutes and has a more neutral taste than other whole grains.
How to serve quinoa to babies:
- Make a peachy quinoa parfait by layering peach puree, full-fat yogurt, and cooked quinoa.
- Offer cooked quinoa mixed with pesto.
Barley is a nutritional powerhouse brimming with beta-glucan, a significant type of fiber. In fact, it’s one of the most fiber-rich grains on the market. To boot, barley has protein, selenium, thiamin, magnesium, and iron. Iron-rich foods are crucial for babies 6 months and older to help prevent the harmful effects of iron deficiency. Adequate iron is needed for healthy development, iron is a major component of hemoglobin, a blood protein that carries oxygen all over your baby's body to nourish their cells, organs, and tissues.
Barley comes in different types: hulled and pearled. Though hulled barley is more nutritious, its drawback is that it takes longer to cook. Pearled barley has a shorter cooking time, tends to be softer in texture, and may be easier for your babe to eat. Feel free to cook it in bulk ahead of time and freeze it long-term. Remember, barley tends to be chewier than other grains, so consider tossing it in your food processor with fresh mangoes and full-fat yogurt and making a baby pudding. For convenience, you can purchase barley baby cereal. Regular barley may last longer in your pantry and your whole family can enjoy it.
How to serve barley to babies:
- Make a barley fruit puree using blueberries to give your whole grain a fun color.
- Blend cooked barley with carrots, turkey, sage, and low-sodium broth for a three-in-one meal.
Oats are another must-have whole grain for babies’ because they, too, are loaded with nutrients. Like barley, oats also offer plenty of beta-glucan fiber that may stimulate your baby's immune system. In addition, oats have resistant starches, which are prebiotics that feed your babies healthy gut bacteria, enhancing their digestive health. You’ll find various nutrients in oats, from phosphorus for your baby’s bones to copper (to help shape their heart health). Oats don’t take much time to cook, plus you can take cooking shortcuts by buying unsweetened instant oatmeal packets or baby oatmeal cereal.
How to serve oats to babies:
- Blend oats into flour and use it to make cinnamon oat pancakes that you can moisten with applesauce.
- Blend oats into a hearty veggie soup with cannellini beans, carrots, and low-sodium veggie broth.
Amaranth is a gluten-free grain that offers a powerful punch of plant-based protein. Similar to quinoa, amaranth provides all nine essential amino acids. It’s high in calories—helpful for keeping your baby on track for growth. Amaranth offers a lot of selenium, manganese, magnesium, and iron. Plus, amaranth contains antioxidants that can help fight against illness and disease. Turn amaranth into a porridge or cook it into a polenta-style dish. Though amaranth is a bit sweet and nutty, it can also get crunchy when cooked, so you may want to grind it up to serve it. Consider sprinkling it on top of mashed potatoes or baking amaranth flour into baby-friendly recipes, like pancakes and muffins.
How to serve amaranth to babies:
- Blend cooked amaranth with peanut butter, chia seeds, and mashed bananas.
- Bake baby muffins, crepes, pancakes, or waffles with amaranth flour.
Teff is a teeny-tiny whole grain that’s widely used in Ethiopia to make injera, a spongy flat bread eaten with most meals. It’s no surprise that teff brings a wealth of fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium…and it boasts lots of vitamin C, which usually isn’t found in whole grains. Vitamin C is necessary for your baby’s immune system and helps heal the skin when there are cuts and wounds. Like many grains, teff tastes nutty, earthy, and slightly sweet, and when prepared with your baby’s tastebuds in mind, it can be full of great flavors.
How to serve teff to babies:
- Make a sunrise teff breakfast bowl using coconut milk and pureed pineapples.
- Cook a teff trifecta by blending it with sweet corn and rotisserie chicken.
More Baby Feeding Tips:
- Healthy Fats Babies Need
- The Best Proteins for Babies
- Easy Dinner Ideas for Babies
- The Best Breakfasts for Babies
- What to Know About Rice Cereal for Babies
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.