Posted: May 21, 2013 8:00 AM
In the 1950s, an American advertising blitz launched white rice cereal as the quintessential first food, but does it actually provide any nutrition? Learn about easy alternatives that provide much more in the way of nutritional benefit.

When my first baby was about 7 months old, she began to subtly indicate to me that she wanted solid food. You know, subtly diving across the table toward our plates while we ate, and staring at us like a starving puppy.

So, like any good American, I went straight to the grocery store and purchased some organic rice cereal. I mean, obviously. That's what you first feed babies, right?

Everybody does it.

My mom came over, saw the cereal, and asked: “Why are you feeding her that? There's absolutely no nutritional value to that food.”

And if I answered honestly, I would have said: “Because that's what everybody feeds their baby and I hadn't given it any thought.” I just figured that's what you're supposed to do: first food = rice cereal.Isolated avacado

So I ask my little smarty-pants mom, “Well, what do you suggest instead?”

And she says: “Avocado.”

So I hop on the internet and I learn a few things.

According to Alan Greene, a pediatrician at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children Hospital, babies in America were only routinely fed rice cereal as a first food after a giant advertising blitz in the 1950s (similar to what happened with formula). According to Greene, in the 1950s, baby food companies told mothers white cereal was best because it was gentle on stomachs and non-allergenic. But according to David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children's Hospital Boston, that recommendation is based on myth rather than science.

White rice — after processing strips away fiber, vitamins and other nutrients — is a 'nutritional disaster.'

Not only is it a myth that it's the best first food, there is in fact virtually no health benefit to white rice. Ludwig states: “White rice — after processing strips away fiber, vitamins and other nutrients — is a 'nutritional disaster.' It's as processed as anything in the food supply" and "the nutritional equivalent of table sugar." Um, yeah. I don't think I will feed that to my baby.

They are even worried about babies getting hooked on highly processed white rice and flour from the beginning of their lives, paving the way to future obesity and poor dietary habits. As a bona fide white flour addict, I can attest to the reality of that problem.

So... it appears my mother was on to something.

I hate it when that happens.

So if you aren't going the rice cereal route, where do you go?Isolated egg

Yeah, that's right: avocado.

Also (as early as 4 months old): egg yolk from free-range chickens, organic mashed sweet potatoes, peas or carrots.

Or all of those together. My pediatrician recommended meat as a first food. We gave my daughter chicken and avocado. It went well. I used brown rice cereal occasionally as a thickener, but very rarely. There's always a healthier option than rice.

There's a ton of info online — just Google “first foods for baby.”

For most babies, it does not matter what the first solid foods are.

Even the super mainstream American Academy of Pediatrics states: “For most babies, it does not matter what the first solid foods are. By tradition, single-grain cereals are usually introduced first. However, there is no medical evidence that introducing solid foods in any particular order has an advantage for your baby.”

If you're interested in even more information on this, read this, a white paper by Dr. Greene explaining how rice cereal became the go-to first food and why it might actually be the worst first food for our babies.

And then, get out a fork and avocados, and watch that baby devour her first [nutritional] food.

More on feeding baby

Feeding your baby: Healthy nutrition for every stage
Jar baby food vs. homemade baby food
To purée or not to purée