It's a first food that seems to divide opinions. Those dedicated to Baby-Led Weaning are vehemently opposed to it, health professionals tend to recommend it, and parents are just plain confused. So, let's do a Chewsday Review on baby rice cereal! Today I've chosen Rafferty's Garden Organic Baby Rice Cereal.
🔹Brown rice (99%), sunflower oil, sunflower lecithin, electrolytic iron
🔹These ingredients are all certified organic, but remember that this doesn't mean they're any more nutritious than non-organic ingredients.
🔹Sunflower lecithin is a fatty substance derived from sunflower seeds, which acts as an emulsifier to keep the texture of the cereal smooth.
🔹Common allergens include: nil
🔹This product provides a significant amount of iron, which is critical for a baby's brain and immune system development.. I talk in detail about iron here. At about 6 months of age, babies no longer have sufficient iron stores, and breastmilk or infant formula can no longer provide enough iron for their growing bodies. In fact, a baby's requirements for iron are higher between 7-12 months than they are during later childhood. A 10g serving of this cereal mixed with 2Tbsp of water provides 35% of a baby's iron requirements. This is significantly more than other infant cereals, and a big proportion of daily needs. Given that babies only ingest very little food as they are introduced to solids (via BLW or purée), this is an easy option.
🔹No added sugar or salt, meaning it's pretty much just rice and iron.
🔹Meets healthy guidelines for fat, sugar and salt.
🔹Rice cereal is bland and smooth, which can be helpful to teach babies about swallowing solids at the beginning of their food journey. However, reliance on such plain food may make it difficult for your baby to learn about new tastes and textures, so it's important to introduce this along with other foods.
🔹There's been a bit of hysteria about arsenic levels in rice products recently. In a quick summary, rice can absorb arsenic (a heavy metal) from soil/water (where arsenic naturally occurs or occurs from pollution). Some areas in the world (e.g. Bangladesh) have higher levels of arsenic contamination than others, but the levels occurring in Australian foods (including rice) are relatively low. Our Food Standards organisation reviews these levels and has indicated no need for concern if your baby eats a range of foods. So, as per the point above- offer a variety of foods and don't just rely on rice cereal.
🔹The rice cereal packet states that it is suitable for babies 4+ months of age. I would VERY rarely see 4 month olds who are developmentally ready for solids, so don't feel like you need to feed this to your 4 month old just because of this statement.
🔹The nutrition information panel states that one serving of this cereal meets 100% of the iron RDI, yet I've told you above that it meets 35%. Say what?! Well, this meets 100% of requirements for infants YOUNGER than 6 months- and that's because their needs are much lower than older infants who have used up their iron stores. This is in very fine print and I think quite misleading!
🔹From a dietetic perspective, I think this is a good option to include as a first food because it's a ready source of iron, which is the most important nutrient in the first 6 months of solid food.
🔹To alter the taste and texture, feel free to mix with other foods like fruit or veggies- which will have an added benefit of higher iron absorption thanks to the presence of vitamin C. If you're intent on baby-led weaning without offering purée, then you could use this cereal to replace a small amount of flour in pikelet/muffin style foods, or buy a self-feeding spoon for your bub to practice with.
🔹I would also suggest mixing with breastmilk or formula, instead of water, to add more nutrients to the rice cereal.
🔹I'd also recommend moving to other high-iron foods as your baby develops the skills e.g. Puréed meat, slow cooked meat, lentils, fish, Weet-bix.
About Mealtime Building Blocks
Dr Kyla Smith is a paediatric dietitian specialising in fussy eating, feeding difficulties and childhood nutrition. Lauren Pike is an occupational therapist working in fussy eating and feeding difficulties. They have a private practice called Mealtime Building Blocks in Perth, Western Australia. You can connect with Kyla and Lauren on their website and sign up for their newsletter, and the Facebook page or on the Instagram page.