4 Creative Ways to Incorporate Beef into Your Kids’ Diet
Every parent needs a flavorful, versatile, and reliable weeknight staple in their dinner routine. One that appeals to adults and kids alike — even the picky ones. When you want to bring powerful nutrition to the table, turn to beef! We chatted with registered dietitian Shanna Hutcheson, RD, LD of Wellness for the Win about how parents can get creative with beef in the kitchen and incorporate this flavorful protein into their kids’ diet — starting in the early years and even tempting the tastes of picky toddlers.
Shanna works with Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff to ensure that kids get the most out of the protein at the family table. “One great thing about beef is that it is incredibly versatile. There are so many fun ways you can prepare it! Mix up the taste and texture so that it is safe for your baby to eat during all different stages, while exposing them to various flavors,” shares Shanna, a mom of a one-year-old herself.
While some parents might not initially think of proteins as “first foods,” Shanna points out that beef has huge benefits to babies and toddlers outside of just taste. “In the first few years of life, rapid growth and development are occurring, and there are specific nutrients that are needed to support children during this time,” she shared. “Beef provides many of these essential nutrients so important for babies and toddlers, including protein, iron, zinc, and choline.”*
To make the most of these nutritional benefits, Shanna shared four creative ways to add beef to your kids’ diet, from starting solids through the toddler years.
1. Purée Your Beef (6 to 8 months)
Most babies start solid foods around their half birthday, at six months. Puréeing cooked beef is an easy way to give them more of the nutritional benefits of beef at mealtime. Browning Ground Beef for Easy Homemade Beef Pasta Sauce or Quick and Easy Beef Chili? Portion off a cup of the cooked meat and purée it in a food processor or blender with breastmilk or formula until it forms a smooth, thin texture. Now you’ve got a tasty, nutrient-dense dinner for your baby without a lot of extra effort.
“Iron is an important mineral with many functions in the body, but it is especially important for healthy brain development in babies and toddlers,” Shanna says. “Eighteen percent of infants fall short on recommended iron intake. Beef delivers highly absorbable heme iron and can be served to your baby starting as a purée at around six months.”†
Try it out: Easy Homemade Beef Pasta Sauce
2. Mash Up Your Beef (7 to 8 months)
Once your baby is a more seasoned eater, try incorporating cooked and mashed ground beef with other soft foods. Try mashing it with avocado for an easy, tasty taco filling. Or make a family meal out of Sloppy Joe Stuffed Sweet Potatoes and serve the roasted sweet potatoes and mashed, cooked beef to your baby on a spoon. Let them get messy with dinner served directly on their highchair tray!
“A baby’s first foods are an important way to help supplement your baby’s diet with iron,” Shanna adds. “When starting solid foods, introducing infants to nutrient-dense meats, like beef, can help make every bite count. Pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron in the body. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, and dark leafy greens, to name a few!”†
Try it for yourself: Ground Beef and Pasta Primavera
“Make it a goal to sit down as a family for meals as often as possible. This is a great opportunity to model eating behaviors to your baby. They will be more accepting of foods you are eating, but also learn how to feed themselves by watching you! Show them how to hold a spoon and bring it to your mouth, and exaggerate actions like chewing, to help them develop these skills to become confident, independent eaters.”Shanna Hutcheson, RD, LD
3. Braise and Shred Your Beef (8 to 10 months)
Around nine months, most babies are comfortable using the “pincer grasp” to feed themselves, which means it’s also the perfect time to serve them some of your slow-cooked favorites. Braised beef dishes, like Slow-Cooked Mediterranean Braised Beef, are ideal for this age group as they can safely feed themselves beef that has been cooked until tender and falling apart. Plus, now you can truly cook one meal for the whole family, utilizing family-friendly dinner tools like the slow cooker.
Give this recipe a try: Slow-Cooked Mediterranean Braised Beef
4. Chop Your Beef (10 to 12 months)
“[By 10 months] babies should be mostly feeding themselves, and practicing self-feeding with a spoon,” Shanna says. This is the perfect time to serve hearty, but still small, bites of ground or chopped beef, including everything from braised beef to chopped or sliced steak.
Here’s a favorite recipe: Lazy Day Beef Vegetable Soup
Another benefit of beef to parents? Adding beef to your weekly meal plan can help prevent picky eating. Shanna reminded us that “incorporating beef may help your child become a more adventurous, skilled eater and be more accepting of a variety of foods over time.” Reducing picky eating habits while promoting growth and development? Yes, please!
* 1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. 7th ed. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014. 2. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC. 3. Schwarzenberg SJ, et al. Advocacy for improving nutrition in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. Pediatrics 2018;141:e20173716. 4. USDA WIC Works Resource System. Infant Nutrition and Feeding Guide. 5. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019.
† 1. Eating Tips for Healthy Toddler Growth. Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN. 2. Bailey, R.L., et al., Total Usual Nutrient Intakes of US Children (Under 48 Months): Findings from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016. J Nutr, 2018. 148(9S): p. 1557S-1566S.