How to safely introduce common food allergens to babies

The transition to solid foods is an exciting milestone in your baby’s development, and it’s also a crucial time to introduce common food allergens. This period offers a window of opportunity to safely expose your little one to allergenic foods and decrease the risk of developing allergies later in life.

Australia is recognised as the allergy capital of the world, and to ensure safe exposure early on, the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommends the early introduction of allergenic food before 12 months and not before 4 months. Parents are encouraged to begin with vegetables and then move on to allergenic foods from around 6 months.

However, allergies can be inherited or caused by environmental factors including your baby’s microbiome, vitamin D levels, number of siblings, and exposure to pets.

If your baby is already allergy-prone, it’s highly recommended that you discuss the introduction of allergenic food with your paediatrician or general practitioner first. Signs your baby could be allergy prone include chronic eczema, a previous allergic reaction response to a food, or either parent suffers from anaphylaxis.

The following article provides invaluable information to ensure a safe and successful introduction of allergenic foods during this critical phase of a child’s food journey. Discover five simple ways to introduce these foods, plus some specific examples on how you can introduce the more common food allergens to babies, and the recommended replacements if your child is showing signs of allergen intolerance.

How to safely introduce common food allergens to babies

Here are five simple ways to introduce allergenic foods to babies: 

  • Rub peanut butter on the inside of their cheek.
  • Offer yolk first, then egg white. Once the baby is okay with both, serve a simple pikelet by combining only egg and banana.
  • Use good quality natural yoghurt before introducing cow’s milk as it’s far more nutritious for babies. Remember cow’s milk cannot be offered as a drink before 12 months of age.
  • Introduce fish either in grilled strips, pureed with vegetables or try a delicious and simple fish cake.
  • Toast fingers can be an excellent way to introduce wheat. Opt for an additive free wholemeal sourdough bread over a supermarket bread as the fermentation process helps with digestion.

Tips on how to safely introduce common food allergens to your child’s diet and some recommended food replacements if your child is showing signs of allergen intolerance.

Cow’s milk (start introducing from 6 months)

  • Best way to introduce: In the form of yoghurt or low sodium cheese. Sheep’s milk and goat’s milk are easier on the digestive system.
  • Best replacement: Use a good quality almond or coconut milk replacement. If you want to replace cheese or cream in recipes, then the best substitution is coconut cream or silken tofu. Make sure you are using good quality replacements and never use dairy alternatives to replace breastmilk or calcium-rich foods in the diet for babies and young children.

Eggs (start introducing from 6 months)

  • Best way to introduce: Mixing a cooked egg yolk with breast milk or formula, boiled and cooled water, added to vegetable purees or simply mashed with avocado or mashed banana. After the egg yolk has been offered at least three times, with no noticeable reaction, the egg white can be safely introduced. Boil the whole egg and mash with similar ingredients as listed above or if your baby is eating finger foods, offer an omelette and cut into thin slices.
  • Best replacement: There are many egg substitutes, including apple puree, ‘chia egg’, ‘flaxseed egg’ and mashed banana.

Peanuts (start introducing from 6 months)

  • Best way to introduce: Make sure your baby is healthy, choose a day when you are at home in a safe environment. Do not offer whole peanuts as they can be a choking hazard. Offer smooth peanut butter that is either homemade or a store-bought option with no added vegetable oil, salt or sugar. Simply blend the peanut butter with hot water or breast milk or formula and dab some on your finger and place it on the inside of your baby’s cheek.
  • Best replacement: Peanut and other nut butters can be replaced for seed butters, e.g. pumpkin seed butter, sunflower seed butter or tahini (sesame seeds). If your baby is not allergic to other nuts, you can substitute with almond or cashew nut butter.

Tree nuts (start introducing from 6 months)

  • Best way to introduce: Introduced in the form of cashew or almond butter without any additives or sugar, follow the same protocol for introducing peanuts.
  • Best replacement: Pumpkin or sunflower meal is a great baking replacement to use instead of nuts or almond meal. You can use the same amount of pumpkin seed meal as you would use almond meal in recipes.

Fish (start introducing from 6 months)

  • Best way to introduce: Pureed with a sweet vegetable, mini quiche, or rissoles.
  • Best replacements: Can be replaced with chicken or tofu in most recipes. Homemade or store-bought fish stock (low sodium and preservative-free) can be swapped out for either low sodium and preservative-free vegetable stock or homemade bone broth. It’s usually not recommend introducing your child to shellfish until at least nine months due to the high mercury content of most shellfish.

Soy (start introducing from 6 months)

  • Best way to introduce: Blend one teaspoon of GM-free silken tofu into a fruit or vegetable puree. Do not offer your baby miso as it is too salty.
  • Best replacements: Legumes, beans, red meat, chicken, and fish are a great alternative for a protein-rich boost. Soy milk can be replaced with coconut milk, oat milk, hemp milk, or almond milk. Remember, milk alternatives are not a suitable milk replacement for babies.

Wheat/Gluten (start introducing from 6 months)

  • Best way to introduce: Start with offering a spelt sourdough with some mashed avocado as finger food to your child.
  • Best replacements: If your child has a wheat allergy or sensitivity, then you can substitute with wheat-free and gluten-free grains such as quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat and millet. However, babies with a wheat allergy can often enjoy oats without any consequences.

Sesame (start introducing from 6 months)

  • Best way to introduce: Children commonly do not grow out of a sesame allergy. The easiest way to introduce sesame seeds is tahini or hummus. Add some hummus on a piece of toast and serve as finger food, add one teaspoon of tahini with steamed vegetables or blend it into a porridge.
  • Best replacements: Sesame seeds can be swapped with pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Make a homemade hummus without sesame seeds or try other dips or purees.
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