Legumes are plants that include beans, peas, and lentils. They are among the most versatile, affordable, and nutritious foods available, which is why they are a staple in cuisines around the world.
Despite their beneficial fats, legumes are cholesterol-free; in fact, their soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. They are high in folic acid, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Folic acid is essential for brain function, mental and emotional health, and fetal growth and development. Beans are also rich in copper, iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and selenium.
Supermarkets and natural food stores usually stock a wide variety of dried and canned legumes. Dried beans, especially those that have been sprouted, are more nutritious with less sodium and preservatives than packaged legumes. Canned beans are a more convenient option, and there are a few organic brands that have no added sodium or preservatives and are cooked with kombu sea vegetables for improved digestibility. Even with the awareness of the chemical, BPA, many cans for food processing are still lined with this chemical, so check for brands with BPA-free cans.
Cooking dried beans takes time, but they are more delicious than canned beans. You can prepare them in bulk and freeze them for later meals or use a pressure cooker to shorten the cooking time. To help your baby digest legumes, buy sprouted beans, soak them for 8 to 24 hours, and add a small piece of kombu sea vegetable while cooking.
A protein-rich legume, the soybean often serves as an alternative to meat and dairy. Soy products that use the whole bean, such as miso and tempeh, and that are fermented with salt, are more nutritious than unfermented soy. Like raw cruciferous vegetables, unfermented soy contains goitrogens that can inhibit thyroid function; its phytic acid blocks the absorption of important minerals like copper, zinc, and iron.
Soy introduces phytoestrogens into the body, which some believe are linked to the disruption of the endocrine system. Soy comes in a variety of forms that can easily be a part of your child’s diet, in moderation.
Tofu is a staple food in Asia that is easy to prepare and serve as a first protein for your baby. Tofu is soft and creamy and easy for him to eat. Because it is a processed, unfermented form of soy, cook tofu thoroughly so that your baby can digest it. Offer him small amounts occasionally.
Miso is a highly concentrated source of protein with 17 amino acids and trace nutrients. It can reduce cholesterol in the blood and aid digestion. This fermented form of soy offers two grams of protein per tablespoon.
Tempeh is a cake of pressed, hulled, cooked soybeans mixed with a vegetable culture and fermented. With a high protein content and a nutty texture, it has very little flavor and easily absorbs any added seasoning. Steaming tempeh opens it up before sautéing, which allows flavor absorption and ensures that the tempeh gets fully cooked.
Tempeh’s unique fermentation process makes it a good source of probiotics. Low in saturated fats and high in dietary fiber, it contains generous amounts of B vitamins, iron, calcium, and lecithin.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a source of plant-based protein for your baby that provide the highest level of essential fatty acids of all unprocessed foods. As with vegetables and fruits, seeds and nuts vary with the seasonal climate. Cashews, Brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts grow in warmer climates and are higher in fats. Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chestnuts, and almonds grow in colder climates and have a moderate amount of healthy fats that are easier for your baby to digest.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against feeding peanuts or peanut butter to children under the age of three. Observe your baby for potential allergic reactions, especially if your family has a history of nut allergies.
Nuts are one of the best sources of vitamin E, which is essential for nerve development. They also boost immunity with their high levels of antioxidants, and their omega-3 fats can help prevent heart disease and diabetes. Before your child can chew well, he can drink nut milk or eat nut butter, or you can cook nuts with grains, and then puree them together. When he can chew well, whole nuts or nut pieces can provide him a nutritious snack or condiment.
Toasting nuts in an oven or skillet or boiling them in water first is easier on your baby’s digestive system than eating them raw. Nuts and seeds can become rancid and lose their nutrients once they are hulled or shelled. Taste them to verify their freshness before feeding them to your child. If you grind extra nuts or seeds for later use, storing them in the freezer protects them from becoming rancid.
Almonds contain more nutrients than any other nut. They are full of vitamin E, calcium, niacin, iron, phosphorous, zinc, selenium, copper, and magnesium. Like the others, they can be toasted and ground to incorporate into other purees; they also are processed into a nutrient-dense nut butter, as well as almond milk.
As with many juices, the milk form is a concentrated food that contains the nut’s sugars, but has stripped away the nutritious fibers and vitamins that are in the whole nut.
Chestnuts are high in carbohydrates and low in fat, and they are the most easily digested nut. They have been used medicinally for colic and for digestive disorders. Fresh, dried, or packaged, they can be boiled and mashed to make a naturally healthy pudding puree.
Sesame seeds add a delicious taste to dishes, and they are ground and blended with oil to make tahini. Mixing tahini or ground sesame seeds into vegetable purees can add a creamy texture and subtle flavor, as well as healthy proteins and fats.
Sesame seeds are a good source of vitamin B1, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, and beneficial dietary lignans, which can help lower both cholesterol and blood pressure. Roast, grind, and sprinkle them on porridge, or cook the raw seeds together with a grain, and then blend them into a puree after cooking.
Sunflower seeds are packed with insoluble fiber and easily digestible proteins, fats, vitamin E, minerals, and phytochemicals. They can enrich any meal, from sprinkling ground seeds on your child’s cereal to offering them as a protein-rich snack after he is two to three years old.
Brimming with cholesterol-lowering phytosterols, sunflower seeds are also high in choline, which supports memory and cognitive functions. Roast, grind, and sprinkle them on porridge, or cook the raw seeds together with grain, and then puree them after cooking.
Pumpkin seeds, which provide nine grams of protein per ounce, are also an excellent source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A and B. Roast, grind, and sprinkle them on porridge, or cook the seeds together with the grain, and then puree after cooking.
Flaxseeds are one of the richest sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3 fatty acids, which help strengthen your baby’s immunity, encourage healthy brain development, and maintain good cardiovascular health. Grind flaxseeds in a blender and add them to his porridge for a boost of protein and essential fatty acids; they are also a digestive aid.
Chia seeds are another rich source of dietary fiber, protein, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals, such as calcium, manganese, and phosphorus. These tiny seeds develop athin, gelatinous coating around them after soaking in liquid, making them have a caviar-like texture. Chia seeds are considered a superfood because they aid hydration.