If we’re honest, we really can’t argue with the catchphrase “Butter makes everything better.” Anyone who’s ever eaten butter dolloped on a baked potato, spread atop a blueberry muffin, or whipped into sweet buttercream frosting can attest to the magical richness of this delicious fat.
But butter isn’t exactly a health food. Its high calorie count and saturated fat content place it in the “sometimes” category of food choices for adults.
Still, while we grown-ups may want to limit our butter intake as part of a balanced diet, do babies need to exercise the same restraint in the face of a flaky croissant or buttery cake? Baby and adult nutritional needs are different — but when it comes to butter, just how different?
Here’s what you need to know about babies and butter.
Aside from the rare possibility of a dairy allergy, butter is safe for babies.
A pure fat, it provides around 100 calories, 11 grams of fat, virtually no protein, and 0 carbohydrates per tablespoon, according to the
Its fat content — which we’ll discuss in a sec — can contribute to baby’s healthy development in several positive ways.
Plus, because of its smooth, creamy texture, butter doesn’t pose a hazard for choking in infants (whew!). As long as it’s spread thin or incorporated into other smooth foods, it should go down quite easily.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that you can introduce baby to a wide variety of healthy solids around 6 months of age or when your little one shows signs of readiness.
You don’t have to follow any particular order of which food groups to introduce and when.
While butter might not be among the very first foods you debut on the high chair tray — and you’ll probably want to serve it on something, rather than as a solo pat — kids should be developmentally ready for it at 6 months old and beyond.
Just keep in mind that to spot food allergies or adverse reactions in your child, it’s best to limit your introductions to one new food at a time.
When you’re ready to get started with butter, try serving it with something your child has already sampled.
Believe it or not, butter offers some health benefits for young children, though your baby can be perfectly healthy without eating it, too. And limiting fat intake isn’t recommended for most babies and toddlers, so that shouldn’t be a concern.
Then there’s butter’s satiation factor. Not only does the fat in butter help keep baby bellies full, its high calorie count can be an advantage for kids who need to put on weight (though this is rare in babies). If you’re concerned about your little one’s weight, talk with their doctor about the possible need for extra calories.
Butter is also a surprising source of vitamins. (Who knew?) One tablespoon contains 400 international units of vitamin A, as well as small amounts of vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B12, and vitamin K2, according to the
Finally, the real star of butter’s benefits for babies might be its fat content.
For decades, research (like
Like anyone else, babies aren’t immune to the delicious charms of butter — so it’s possible that your little one could overdo it on the creamy fat.
According to the AAP, certain conditions may call for cutting back the saturated fat in your child’s diet.
Parents of children with overweight, at risk of overweight, or with a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol should speak with their pediatrician or registered dietitian about the possibility of limiting saturated fats, as in foods like butter.
Another buttery pitfall for little eaters: If too much fat fills up their tummies, they may not have an appetite for other nutritious foods. Keep butter servings moderate to help your child leave room for fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and other building blocks of a balanced, nutritious diet.
Margarine enjoyed a heyday back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the prevailing nutritional wisdom ran that dietary fat was a leading contributor to excess body fat. And it’s true that margarine, made from vegetable oils, contains less fat than butter.
However, the hydrogenation process often used to create margarine produces trans fats, which have been linked to increased risk of health issues like inflammation and heart disease.
To prevent the formation of trans fats, some margarine producers instead use a production method called interesterification, but the
As for feeding margarine to your baby, just note that any type of margarine is a highly processed food. Processed foods aren’t all bad — and you’re certainly not a bad parent if your kiddo eats them sometimes — but in general, the more whole foods you can offer your child, the better.
Because of all the benefits of fat for infant development, experts give babies a major green light on this macronutrient. Until kids reach the age of 2, the AAP advises not restricting fats in their diet.
In fact, babies and toddlers should get about half their daily calories from fat. Since 1-year-old babies need around 1,000 calories per day, this means 500 calories can come from fats (totaling about 56 grams of fat per day).
Of course, not all these fat grams should come from butter. You might begin with a 1-teaspoon serving of butter for your baby. (And be sure to offer fats from a variety of other nutritious sources, such as nut butter, avocado, olive oil, and fatty fish.)
Much of a baby’s fat intake may come from breast milk, formula, or — if they’re over 1 year old — whole milk.
For such a simple product, butter can come with head-spinning variety. When shopping at your local grocery store, you may wonder which of the numerous butters in the dairy case is best for your baby.
When budget allows, consider opting for organic butter. Not only are organic farming practices more environmentally friendly, they result in foods that may lessen your child’s exposure to potentially harmful pesticides.
Butter made with cream from grass-fed cows’ milk is another great (though sometimes pricey) choice.
Butter can make its way into everything from fancy soufflés to long-simmering risottos. If you’re cooking these for your family, there’s no need to leave the butter out of your little one’s portion.
And if your child’s doctor really suggests looking for more ways to add butter to their diet, you can try these simple serving ideas:
- Add a small amount of butter to cooked vegetables (especially those with a bitter flavor, like spinach, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts).
- Make toast points for baby by spreading butter on toasted whole wheat bread, sliced into quarters.
- Use butter as a base in creamy pureed soups like potato, tomato, or cream of mushroom (cooled down to avoid scalding baby’s mouth).
Some foods are tougher than others to introduce to your baby — but your little one isn’t likely to have a hard time accepting butter. (We’re betting there’ll be no need for the “Here comes the airplane” game here.)
In addition to its rich flavor and creamy texture, butter can even provide health benefits for your growing kiddo’s body and brain. Keep portion sizes moderate and let your high chair diner develop a taste for this delicious fat.