The latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released earlier this year, recommend that infants over the age of 6 months can start eating complimentary, or solid, foods to help provide key nutrients for growth and brain development.

“It’s not the age of the child that dictates when to start adding complimentary foods, but it’s the development of the child,” explains Ruth Litchfield, associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University.

“Are they developmentally ready? Can they hold their head up without any additional support systems? Are they reaching for things and bringing it to their mouth? Those are the markers of (when) it’s time to start adding in some food.”

Two essential nutrients for young children - iron and zinc - are lacking in breast milk, Litchfield says.

Real meat is an excellent source of iron and zinc that’s an easy “first food” to introduce to young children. Infants as young as 6 months can start out eating pureed beef and then work up to “finger foods” like beef strips or ground beef when developmentally ready.

For details about how to best prepare beef for infants and toddlers, according to their age and development stage, visit the “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” website at

And for more information about the unique nutritional benefits of real meat and how Iowa farmers care for their farm animals and the environment, visit the “Real Farmers. Real Food. Real Meat” website at

Return to The Iowa Dish