Every Bite Counts: Why Eggs are an Important First Food

By: Jen Houchins, PhD, RD

The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says “every bite counts” when it comes to feeding infants and toddlers. This is the first time in Dietary Guidelines history that the DGAC is making recommendations for the Birth to 24-month lifestage and addresses complementary feeding as “a critical period for growth and development… characterized by high nutrient needs in relation to the amount of food consumed.1

The Advisory Committee specifically recommended eggs as an important first food for infants and toddlers as they are a rich source of choline and because early introduction of eggs (after 4 months of age), when baby is developmentally ready, may help reduce the risk of developing a food allergy.

The following breaks down recommendations from the Advisory Committee based on age group.

BIRTH TO 6 MONTHS

For approximately the first 6 months of age, human milk, infant formula, or a combination of the two are an infant’s sole source of nutrition. Once developmentally ready (>4 months of age) – baby has good head and neck control, can sit upright, has lost the tongue-thrust reflex, and shows interest in food – complementary foods can be introduced.


6-12 MONTHS

During the 6-12 month period, an infant continues to receive human milk, infant formula, or a combination of the two, but also starts transitioning to a varied diet that includes complementary foods and beverages. This is where nutrient-rich foods with essential nutrients for growth and development come into play. The Advisory Committee recommends a variety of animal-source foods (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy), fruits, and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grain products in age-appropriate forms, beginning at ages 6 to 12 months, to provide key nutrients and build healthy dietary habits. 

For infants fed human milk, the Committee recommends complementary foods that contain iron and zinc, such as meats and fortified infant cereals. Modest amounts, (i.e., less than 1 ounce equivalent per week), of seafood, eggs, and nuts is recommended for infants 6 to 9 months and minimum weekly amounts of 3 oz seafood, 1 egg, and 0.5 oz, respectively, by ages 9 to 12 months.  Further, the DGAC recommends prioritizing fruits and vegetables, particularly those rich in potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, to provide adequate nutrition, but also to foster acceptance of these healthy foods.

During this time, the Committee also recommends the introduction of peanut-containing foods and eggs, to help reduce the risk of developing food allergies. Additionally, introducing baby to complementary foods like eggs, which are high in choline, supports brain health.2,3 It should also be noted that complementary feeding not only provides additional nutrients, but introduces different textures, and models healthy eating behaviors, as well. The table below outlines approximate amounts of complementary foods and beverages for ages 6 to 12 months.1


12-24 MONTHS

As baby moves past the 12-month mark and into the second year of life, many move away from human milk and infant formula entirely and transition to a fully varied diet of nutrient-rich foods and beverages. Others may choose to continue offering human milk in addition to a varied diet of nutrient-rich foods and beverages. Either way, the food patterns for this age group is consistent with proportions of food groups and subgroups recommended for children ages 2 years and older, which requires careful choices of foods to meet nutrient needs. The DGAC emphasizes offering developmentally appropriate forms of nutrient-rich animal-source foods, including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products, as well as nut and seed containing foods, fruits, vegetables, and grain products in age-appropriate forms. For toddlers whose diets do not include meat, poultry, or seafood, the Committee recommends eggs and dairy products on a regular basis, along with soy products and nuts or seeds, fruits, vegetables, grains, and oils. The tables below outline approximate amounts of foods and beverages for toddlers between the ages of 12 to 24 months, for those not receiving human milk or infant formula, those fed human milk, and for those following a vegetarian style eating pattern.1


EGGS AS A FIRST FOOD FOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS

Eggs are recommended after four months and when baby is developmentally ready for complementary foods, and throughout infancy and toddlerhood.

  • Eggs are a nutrient-rich choice providing a good or excellent source of eight essential nutrients.
  • Eggs provide various amounts of all the nutrients listed by the American Academy of Pediatrics4 as essential for brain growth.
  • Introducing eggs early and often may help reduce risk of developing an allergy.
  • Eggs are an affordable source of high-quality protein.
  • Eggs are versatile and can be used to make a wide variety of dishes and can be adjusted to fit various developmental stages and age-appropriate textures.

Interested in more information?  

Check out these recipes for infants and toddlers:


References

  1. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services,. 2020; Available from: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/ScientificReport_of_the_2020DietaryGuidelinesAdvisoryCommittee_first-print.pdf
  2. Wallace, T.C., A Comprehensive Review of Eggs, Choline, and Lutein on Cognition Across the Life-span. J Am Coll Nutr, 2018. 37(4): p. 269-285.
  3. Wallace, T.C., et al., Choline: The Underconsumed and Underappreciated Essential Nutrient. Nutr Today, 2018. 53(6): p. 240-253.
  4. Schwarzenberg, S.J., et al., Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days to Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. Pediatrics, 2018. 141(2)