7 Hot New Baby Feeding Trends of 2016: What's Healthy, What's So Not

Only serve green vegetables! Banish gluten! Let Baby feed himself ! Prechew his food for him! Wait, what?

Baby Sitting in High Chair Grace Huang
I love to see parents who are passionate about feeding their baby, but some seemingly healthy plans can lack crucial nutrients infants need. I combed through the hype to pick out solid advice you can trust.

The Trend: Baby Feeding Himself

Rather than first being spoonfed pureed foods, with this plan babies go straight to feeding themselves finger foods, like a carrot, a broccoli floret, and a piece of meat. This trend was made popular by books such as Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.

What I Like Encouraging infants to eat healthy table food with the rest of the family as soon as possible fosters the joy of dining together.

What Worries Me It’s irresponsible and dangerous to offer new eaters large pieces of foods, which could be a choking hazard. For instance, the authors of Baby-Led Weaning write that your baby “may suck at spaghetti, shovel rice or minced meat into her mouth, [and] gnaw at chicken bones.” Gnaw at chicken bones? Whoa! A baby should not be entrusted to determine what is or isn’t a choking hazard. And infants who are completely self-feeding are not likely to get adequate nutrients.

Rules to Use The safest way to try early self-feeding with your baby is to put a few very tiny, soft bites, such as ripe avocado or well-done shell-shaped pasta, on her high-chair tray and let her explore. Pureeing, especially at first, is not wrong. Feel free to make your own baby food, buy it, or puree food from your plate. It’s also smart to pay close attention to your baby’s cues as she eats. If she turns her head away, she’s telling you she’s full, so don’t insist on one more bite. Once your baby masters purees, move on to thicker, lumpier foods, such as fork-mashed potatoes and carrots or yogurt with ripe banana, and then to finger foods.

The Trend: Going Vegetarian

“Babies don’t come out of the womb only wanting to eat chicken fingers,” writes actress Alicia Silverstone in her book The Kind Mama, which encourages a plant-based diet.

What I Like A good vegetarian or vegan feeding plan emphasizes nutritious foods such as beans, whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds, plus lean dairy products for vegetarians. Advocates tend to emphasize breastfeeding, favor whole grains over processed ones, and rally for making your own baby food. These are all great practices.

What Worries Me Vegetarian and vegan proponents don’t always have the credentials to be making the health claims they do. Beware unfounded statements such as this one in The Kind Mama: “Jarred baby foods are made at such high heat that any vitamins once in that all-natural, organic container of butternut squash have been nearly obliterated (and then added back in artificially).” This is a pretty broad statement, and no research is given to support it. Watch out for recommendations to make homemade formula and use raw milk. Homemade formula is not likely to have the right nutrients, while raw milk is unpasteurized, which means it may contain bacteria or other organisms that could be deadly to an infant.

Rules to Use You don’t have to go fully meat-free to aim for more vegetables and beans in your baby’s meals. Discuss any pseudoscientific claims with your pediatrician. And if you are a vegetarian or vegan family, work closely with your doctor to make sure your baby is getting the nutrients he needs. 

The Trend: Eliminating Gluten

The G-word has many people concerned, including parents who feel their kids should also avoid the grains that contain gluten, which are wheat, rye, and barley.

What I Like These plans encourage eating whole foods, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, and quinoa, all of which are naturally gluten-free. These are much healthier than empty-calorie “white foods,” such as highly processed breads, crackers, and cookies.

What Worries Me There simply is no reason to completely eliminate gluten unless your child has a documented allergy or celiac disease and you have discussed the plan with your pediatrician. Removing all gluten-containing products leaves a big hole in your baby’s diet: Whole-grain breads and pastas, for example, are a great source of energy, provide fiber for a healthy digestive system, and feed the healthy bacteria in the intestines. Also worth noting: Research shows that delaying the introduction of gluten does not decrease a child’s odds of developing celiac disease later in life.

Rules to Use Limit highly processed foods, but don’t cut out gluten altogether. Instead, offer healthy whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, barley, and brown rice. 

The Trend: Starting Solids Late

Some parents so strongly believe that breast milk is the best nutrition that they delay the introduction of solids until 9 to 12 months of age.

What I Like Nursing for a full year will provide your baby with all the nutrition, antibodies, and other benefits of breast milk.

What Worries Me Learning how to chew and swallow solids and accept new textures is a complicated process that your baby is primed to learn at about 6 months of age. Waiting can make it harder for your baby to accept food later, and studies suggest it may also increase your child’s risk of food allergies.

Rules to Use Breastfeed as long as you wish, but also introduce solid foods at about 6 months of age. 

The Trend: Sticking to Green Food

Popular with vegetarians and vegans, this plan means Baby eats nothing but green vegetables until age 1.

What I Like Your baby will get an incredible amount of exposure to healthy vegetables.

What Worries Me Although green vegetables do contain some iron, infants won’t get enough for proper growth and development if this is all they eat. Protein and other key nutrients will also be missing from the diet of a child who isn’t eating any meat, fish, dairy, or beans. Lastly, your baby will not get used to tasting other foods during the critical window of introduction between 6 and 12 months of age.

Rules to Use Serve your little one plenty of green vegetables, as well as a variety of nutrient-packed bites for iron, protein, fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. 

The Trend: Relying on Pouches

Take a quick glance around your local playground and you’ll see many babies sucking food from a pouch.

What I Like Pouches are less messy and very convenient on the go.

What Worries Me Frequent slurping of sticky, sugary contents can cause tooth decay. And older babies will find pouches easy to inhale, which primes them for overeating.

Rules to Use Keep pouches handy for when you’re in a pinch, but squirt the contents onto a spoon and feed it as you would regular baby food when you can. Make sure your older baby is getting plenty of exposure to bite-size chunks of produce. And be mindful. Instead of a pouch that “evokes the flavor of oatmeal,” when you’re home, just make oatmeal!

The Trend: Using Feeding Nets

These allow Baby to safely hold and enjoy whole fruits like apples or pears.

What I Like Mesh nets only allow very tiny pieces of food and juices to come through, so you can introduce the taste of healthy food without the risk of choking. They can also be used to soothe teething pain if you fill one with a cube of cold food.

What Worries Me Nets are not an effective way to deliver needed calories to a growing baby.

Rules to Use A net is fine when snacking, but at mealtime, feed pureed food or safe finger foods. 

The Trend: Chewing Baby’s Food

With this trend—technically called “premastication”—you are supposed to prechew all of your baby’s food and then gently place it in his mouth.

What I Like Nothing, unless you’re stranded in the wilderness or on a trip with no other way to safely feed your baby solid food. Some cultures don’t have the luxury of pureeing food and prechew out of necessity, but that’s entirely different.

What Worries Me Prechewing your baby’s food can transfer harmful bacteria from your mouth to your child’s mouth, increasing her chance of illness and cavities.

Rules to Use Just don’t! As for the rest of these trends, there are tips worth trying, but don’t pressure yourself. Your goal is to teach your baby to develop an appetite for new foods, so if you model healthy eating and expose him to your favorite foods, you can’t go wrong.