Bread is by far one of my favorite ways to introduce wheat to babies when I’m focusing on the top 9 allergens. But there are a few things you need to keep in mind when purchasing and serving bread to your baby.
First, check ingredients and avoid honey (for babies under one) and any bread with nuts or seeds. Second, make sure you serve it appropriately. In general, babies do better with crusty breads or lightly toasted breads. The very soft breads can get gummed up in their mouths and increase their risk of choking.
There is no such thing as a “perfect” bread, but there are certain things that are important to look for when choosing a bread for your baby or young toddler. A lot of it will come down to personal preference (like if you need to avoid gluten for example) and budget, but there are a couple of things that I recommend from a safety perspective.
Babies under the age of 1 shouldn’t have any honey, even in cooked products. Honey can contain botulism spores which are very dangerous to young babies. Babies are born with immature immune systems and aren’t able to fight off the bacteria in the same way we as adults are.
Cooking doesn’t kill the bacterial spores, so they are able to survive. While botulism may not be common, it is very serious when it does happen. After about age 1, your baby’s immune system should have developed a bit more and they should be able to handle honey. Recommendations are still to avoid added sugar, including honey, until age 2.
Nuts or Seeds
Many breads will put nuts or seeds in the bread or on the crust. These breads should be avoided for young kids for the same reason we avoid offering them whole nuts: they are a choking hazard.
If your child is getting closer to 4, you can monitor them with breads with nuts and seeds and encourage them to chew them very carefully.
Salt is an important ingredient in bread. It can slow down yeast growth so that it doesn’t go overboard (1). You don’t need to look for a bread with zero sodium. Instead, if you are comparing two equivalent breads, just look for the one with less.
This is not a huge factor for me when I am choosing breads, but sodium from breads is a big contributor to overall sodium intake in the American diet, so it may be something to consider. Remember that some salt in your baby’s diet is ok, we just want to make sure that we are not adding in extra where it is not needed.
Whole wheat bread generally has more fiber than white bread. For young babies, we often recommend getting a mixture of whole grains and refined grains, because fiber can be filling and inhibit absorption of some nutrients. This is a case where I recommend choosing a bread similar to whichever your family eats.
If you are looking for a whole grain bread, make sure that it says 100% whole wheat. Sometimes bread companies will add a caramel color and label a bread as whole grain, but it is not actually 100% whole grain or whole wheat.
These recommendations are very generalized. A lot depends on your child’s personal development and the specific bread you are offered. If you ever have specific questions, it can be helpful to work with a pediatric dietitian familiar with your unique situation.
French Bread or Loafs
For these breads, you can pull out the soft insides and offer your baby the crusty outsides. Avoid breads that are very tough unless your baby has shown they are able to take bites. You can also soften the crust a bit by dunking it in breast milk, water, or formula.
For sliced bread, like sandwich bread, you can lightly toast it to make it easier for your baby. You want the bread to be firm, but not rock solid. For babies just starting out, you can cut the bread into long strips about the size of an adult pinky finger. Older kids may be able to bite into a slice of toasted bread.
Toast makes a perfect vehicle for pureed consistency foods. It basically becomes an edible spoon. Smear a thin layer of food on the bread and hand it to your child to self-feed. It works really well as a way to keep allergens in the diet. Once you have already introduced other allergens, you can spread a thin layer of peanut butter, nut butter, tahini, or yogurt on the bread for a simple way to serve 5 of the top allergens (wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, and milk).
The texture of bagels can be a bit tricky for babies. I recommend sitting with them and modeling how to bite and pull until they get the hang of it. You can slice bagels thinly and toast them to make them a little easier until your baby understands the concept.
Soft corn tortillas tend to be the easiest for babies to eat. You can serve those as is. Flour tortillas can be a bit trickier. Babies generally do better with them toasted, like in a quesadilla, and then cut into strips. Avoid crunchy shell tortillas until your child is a bit older. They are similar to chips and are considered a choking hazard.
Flatbreads (naan, pita, etc.)
When first starting out, your baby may do better with these breads toasted a bit and cut into strips. Once they get a bit older, you can work with them on biting and pulling the food. Like with the other breads, we don’t want the flatbreads to be so soft that they can gum up in your baby’s mouth.
My Favorite Breads
Here are some of my favorite breads. They are not all nutritionally equivalent, but they all have a place in my family’s diet.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.