Learn whether oatmeal or rice cereal is a better first food for baby, based on nutrition, safety, and more. Plus, find out what other types of foods you should introduce baby to.
Is baby ready for solids --- or are you looking ahead to figure out the best foods to introduce? Starting solid foods is an exciting journey for your little one, but deciding which foods to start with can be a confusing process.
Two grain-based first foods that many parents have used are oatmeal and rice cereal.
But which one is the better first food choice for baby?
The answer is clearer than you might expect --- it's oatmeal.
Here's why oatmeal is a better first food for baby than rice cereal, based on nutrition, safety, and more. Plus, we'll cover what foods to introduce to baby along with oatmeal.
Oatmeal vs. Rice Cereal: Taste
Rice cereal and oatmeal both have a relatively bland taste, although oatmeal does have a nutty flavor. Still, both can be mixed with breastmilk or formula to make the flavor more familiar to baby.
Oatmeal vs. Rice Cereal: Nutrition
Rice cereal and baby oatmeal are both often fortified with iron. Iron is particularly important for babies' growth and development, especially when they start solids.
Breastmilk only supplies iron in small amounts. And regardless of whether you feed baby breastmilk or formula, baby's stores of iron start to deplete around 5-6 months of age. So, eating foods high in iron, such as iron-fortified cereal, becomes especially vital for baby.
But when it comes to other nutrients, the gap between baby oatmeal and rice cereal is very wide.
Oatmeal contains many vitamins, minerals, proteins, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Some key nutrients in oatmeal include B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and manganese.
Oatmeal is also naturally fiber-rich. One of the fibers oatmeal contains, called beta-glucan, promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria. This is beneficial because a balance of healthy gut bacteria supports the immune and digestive systems.
And since oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate, it keeps baby full for longer periods, compared to the simple carbohydrate of rice.
Meanwhile, most rice cereal is processed in a way that removes rice's natural nutrients.
Oatmeal vs. Rice Cereal: Digestion
Rice cereal is relatively easy for most babies to digest. But it can sometimes cause constipation.
For the vast majority of babies, oatmeal is easier to digest than rice cereal. That's because oatmeal is high in fiber, making it easier for baby's body to break it down.
Rice Cereal and Arsenic: Oatmeal Is Safer Than Rice Cereal
Here's what truly sets oatmeal apart from rice cereal --- rice cereal isn't the safest choice for your baby.
Most rice products, including baby rice cereal, contain high levels of arsenic.
The kind of arsenic in rice cereal is known as inorganic arsenic.
Out of the two types of arsenic, inorganic arsenic is the more dangerous type.
- It is known to increase the risk of cognitive problems (problems affecting the brain's processing).
- It is also known to cause cancer.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that inorganic arsenic is especially dangerous for infants and younger children.
The youngest children are at greater risk of these harmful health effects from inorganic arsenic, compared to older children and adults. After all, their bodies are smaller, and they are rapidly moving through developmental milestones.
Why does so much arsenic get into rice cereal?
The amount of arsenic in soil and water has increased as people use more and more pesticides on crops.
And rice plants tend to absorb much more of this arsenic than other plants --- they can absorb up to 10 times more. This probably happens because rice plants grow in lots of water.
Oatmeal doesn't contain the high levels of arsenic found in most rice cereals, so it is a much safer first food option for babies than rice cereal.
Learn more about rice cereal in this video with Nurse Dani from Intermountain Moms:
Oatmeal Vs. Rice Cereal: For Reflux And Swallowing Disorders
Rice cereal used to be recommended for babies with swallowing disorders or GERD (acid reflux). But it's not recommended anymore because of the high levels of arsenic.
Instead, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends oatmeal as a safer alternative for feeding babies with GERD or a swallowing disorder.
These babies benefit from the thicker texture of oatmeal mixed with breastmilk or formula. The thicker texture helps reduce reflux or assists in safe swallowing.
(Always talk to your doctor before preparing oatmeal for a baby with GERD or a swallowing disorder, and follow your doctor's exact instructions for preparing and serving it.)
How To Feed Baby Oatmeal?
Now that you know oatmeal is a better first food choice than rice cereal, how should you feed oatmeal to your baby?
Once you've determined that baby is ready for oatmeal, you'll need to decide on the type of oatmeal to serve them.
A prepared baby oatmeal is often the easiest option, as it's already specially made for babies' needs. But make sure the oatmeal doesn't contain any added sugar or artificial additives --- babies don't need these.
You can also blend rolled oats or steel-cut oats in a food processor or blender, so they're smoother and easier for baby to handle.
Or, if baby is ready for thicker and lumpier textures (with more textured but still soft oat flakes), you can prepare rolled or steel-cut oats without blending. You can also thicken the texture of oatmeal as baby gets older, by adding less liquid.
Whichever choice you make, you can mix oatmeal with breastmilk or formula, and serve the oatmeal to baby on a spoon.
You can also prepare a thicker oatmeal that clumps up into small pieces (using breastmilk or formula). This way, baby can pick up the clumps with their hands and self-feed. The clumps of oatmeal are a great option if you're doing baby-led weaning.
What Else To Introduce Along With Oatmeal?
Keep in mind that babies need exposure to many healthy flavors and textures, in order to build lifelong nutritious eating habits. Texture variety also builds their munching and chewing skills, which baby needs to learn in order to help prevent choking.
So, when introducing solids, feed your baby a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and other nutritious foods, prepared in baby-safe ways.
Don't limit their solids exposure to baby oatmeal and purees!
As baby continues their solid food journey, though, you can mix many different types of healthy foods in with oatmeal.
Try mixing in:
- Chopped peaches
- Chopped mangoes
- Cooked, chopped apples
- Mashed bananas
- Mashed blueberries (or chunky blueberry puree)
- Mashed raspberries (or chunky raspberry puree)
- Chopped or pureed avocado
- Cooked, chopped butternut squash
- Pumpkin puree
- Chia seeds
- Plain yogurt with no added sugar
- Small pieces of ricotta cheese
The possibilities are nearly endless with baby oatmeal!
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