As a new parent, you want to start your child off with a nutritious diet that includes plenty of whole grains. Of the many baby-friendly grain choices to introduce, it’s not uncommon for rice to be first on your list, especially in the form of rice cereal or porridge.
But however you serve rice on that rubber-tipped spoon, there’s no getting around one basic question: brown or white? Does it matter which you feed your child?
Brown rice is an extremely nutritious grain with lots of health benefits for babies (more so than white rice). Ready to rice, rice baby? We’ve got the details on how, when, and why to offer this nutrient-rich grain to your infant.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you can introduce your baby to solid foods when they’re about 6 months old.
Although there’s no perfect schedule for when to roll out each individual food group, many parents reach for rice cereal as a no-brainer for baby’s first food. After all, it’s convenient, inexpensive, and comes with a perfectly mushy texture for little mouths to gum.
Whether rice cereal is made with brown or white rice, it’s OK for babies to eat from an early age.
But what about serving your kiddo individual brown rice grains, which can be quite chewy? Surprisingly, even these foods can hit the high-chair tray as early as 6 months.
“For babies who are doing baby-led-weaning (i.e., finger foods starting at 6 months) and older babies (9 to 15 months), brown rice can be introduced in a variety of finger foods, such as salmon rice balls, vegetarian bean patties, sushi rolls, etc.,” says pediatric dietitian Amy Chow, RD.
As always, just watch your child closely for any signs of choking as they eat.
Even though brown rice gets the all-clear on baby’s plate, you’ll want to avoid it in their sippy cup. “Don’t offer rice-based beverages as a main milk alternative to children under 2 years of age,” advises Chow. For older babies’ and toddlers’ nutritional needs, whole dairy milk offers superior nutrition.
When making your own grain choices, does a voice in the back of your head whisper, “Choose the brown one”? You’re probably aware that brown rice is a whole grain, and that whole grains are a building block of a healthy diet. In fact, the Department of Agriculture recommends making half our grains whole.
Whole grain brown rice isn’t just a healthy choice for grownups. It offers nutritional benefits for babies, too. “Nutrients found in brown rice include healthy carbohydrates, protein, fiber, B vitamins, manganese, selenium, magnesium, as well as antioxidants,” says Chow.
The complex carbohydrates in brown rice promote feelings of satiation, keeping baby tummies full and happy. Its substantial fiber content of
Antioxidants, meanwhile, stave off cellular damage, while the micronutrients in brown rice help baby’s body and brain develop.
In the last several years, reports have circulated about the potentially alarming content of arsenic in rice. Due to these concerns, some parents have yanked rice from their children’s diets. (Because, um, no one wants to feed their kid poison, right?)
“Rice absorbs arsenic from the soil when it grows, and brown rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than white or wild rice because it contains the bran, the outer layer of the grain,” explains Chow.
It’s true that long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic can contribute to increased risk of certain cancers, Chow says.
Fortunately, public health organizations have taken action to reduce risks of arsenic toxicity for infants. In 2020, the
As of 2018, 76 percent of samples tested were already below this threshold — a significant improvement over those tested from 2011 to 2014.
You can also take steps to minimize the levels of arsenic in home-cooked rice.
“Cooking rice in excess water (from 6 to 10 parts water to 1 part rice) and draining the excess water can lower from 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content, with some variation based on the type of rice,” says Chow. (Just note that this will result in some nutrient losses as well.)
Brown rice isn’t among the top eight food allergens, which are responsible for
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for your child to have an allergic reaction to brown rice. Proteins in foods are responsible for causing allergic reactions, so people (including babies) can be allergic to just about anything that contains protein.
Yep, it stinks, but there’s a silver lining: Babies do sometimes outgrow food allergies.
Introduce just one new food at a time to your child in order to monitor for signs of an allergic reaction.
If your kiddo has the following symptoms after eating brown rice, consult a pediatrician as soon as possible:
- a red, itchy rash
- difficulty breathing
They can help you determine whether your child has a food allergy.
For such a simple food, brown rice comes with a variety of options for purchasing and preparing. In choosing the right type for your child, it can be tough to separate the wheat from the chaff (wrong grain, but you get the idea).
Every baby is different, but you can watch for signs of readiness that indicate which type of brown rice is best for their unique stage of development.
“For younger babies (6 to 9 months), they are only able to use palmar grasp and will have difficulty picking up small little pieces such as brown rice,” says Chow. For children at this developmental stage, brown rice cereal may be your best bet.
When purchasing cereal, be sure to choose one that has been fortified with iron. “Fortified rice cereal can be one of the many iron-rich food sources to help meet iron needs at this stage in an age-appropriate format,” Chow notes.
Meanwhile, infants ready for baby-led weaning can sample an array of finger foods based on cooked brown rice, such as rice balls or stir-fries. Got a toddler who’s working on silverware mastery? Offer mixed dishes like fried rice, casseroles, or soups.
If you’ve ever cooked brown rice, you know it takes its sweet time on the stovetop, compared with the white variety. That’s because the outer bran — where most of its nutrients lie — is tougher and takes longer to soften up.
With a little patience, though, you’ll get a highly nutritious finished product that’s worth the wait.
To make a simple batch of brown rice, bring one part rice and two parts water to a boil in a pot, then cover and let the grains simmer until tender. (This may take up to an hour.)
Want to speed things up? Try making the grains in a pressure cooker or opt for a microwaveable variety. (There’s also a lesser-known, easy-cleanup, baked version below.)
Store cooked brown rice in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.
Sure, brown rice may take a while to reach chewy perfection, but once it’s made, it’s extremely versatile in easy, baby-friendly recipes. Try any of these for your little eater:
Whether in the form of cereal, soup, balls, or plain grains, brown rice will add fiber, protein, and micronutrients to your child’s diet. Help them develop a taste for whole grains by serving brown rather than white rice as often as possible.