How is the Nutrition Rating determined?
Each food in our free First Foods® database is rated according to a nutrition star system developed by our multidisciplinary team of nutritionists, dietitians, pediatricians, and licensed infant-feeding specialists. Our team dives deep into the scientific research and data to formulate ratings for each food.
Nutrition is not a perfect science—it’s constantly evolving and influenced by countless agricultural, environmental, research, and cultural variables. Please use the database as an educational tool. It is not intended to replace recommendations from a baby’s pediatric health professional.
Solid Starts is aligned with recommendations from the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics to introduce solid food around 6 months of age, which is typically when babies show signs of readiness.1 2 Prior to 12 months of age, solid food is complementary to breast/human milk or formula, which should remain the primary source of nutrition until a child’s first birthday.
We created the star rating system to help you quickly understand the nutritional content of foods. In evaluating any given food for babies, we consider the complex nutritional needs of healthy infants and toddlers around the world during a key window of development—their first 1,000 days of life—while accounting for nutrients that are low in most children’s diets.3 4
When considering which foods you want to serve, remember that variety is key for both health and preventing picky eating. Which is to say: It is better to offer a wide variety of foods regardless of nutrition rating rather than a rotation of a few 5-star foods. Variety is key.
What do the star ratings mean?
The number of stars given to a food, based on an age-appropriate serving size, reflects both the nutrients it contains and any potential downsides.
In general, more key nutrients equals more stars. But a rating could be reduced if a food also contains high amounts of sodium, sugar, environmental contaminants, or harmful elements like arsenic and mercury. For example, tuna contains iron and omega fatty acids that benefit babies, but also has high levels of mercury—a harmful heavy metal to which babies are particularly susceptible. As such, tuna’s rating is lowered to account for its mercury level.
The logic of the ratings
When an age-appropriate serving of a food provides 10-20% of a child’s daily need for a particular nutrient, it is considered a good source of that nutrient. If a food provides more than 20% of that nutrient in a similar-sized serving, it’s considered a great source. These percentages also help determine the final star rating.
- 5 Stars: Contains great amounts of three or more key nutrients or beneficial components; OR good amounts of five or more key nutrients or beneficial components (such as probiotics and fiber); OR good amounts of three key nutrients or beneficial components plus great amounts of one or more key nutrients or beneficial components.
- 4 Stars: Contains great amounts of two key nutrients or beneficial components; OR good amounts of four key nutrients or beneficial components; OR good amounts of two key nutrients or beneficial components plus great amounts of one or two key nutrients or beneficial components.
- 3 Stars: Contains good amounts of three key nutrients or beneficial components, or good amounts of one key nutrient or beneficial component plus great amounts of one or two key nutrients or beneficial components.
- 2 Stars: May contain good amounts of key nutrients or beneficial components, or varied content of key nutrients or beneficial components but lacks adequate concentrations. Herbs and spices are commonly 2-star foods as they are nutrient-dense but not typically consumed in amounts that are nutritionally significant.
- 1 Star: Does not contain good or great amounts of key nutrients but may contain other nutrients and/or or beneficial components in lesser amounts.
What are key nutrients for babies?
According to researchers, the following nine nutrients play particularly vital roles in optimal growth, development, and overall health in the first 1,000 days and are often inadequate in the diets of young children worldwide. Please note: This is not an exhaustive list of all important nutrients for children.
- Vitamin A + certain carotenoids
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Omega-3 fatty acids
We identified five additional nutrients and beneficial components of foods that enhance children’s brain development, digestive function, and overall health. Good or great amounts of the following may increase the Solid Starts star rating:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12 (especially for vegetarians and vegans)
Food for thought
The nutritional value of food is greater than the sum of its parts, as food can provide far more than just nourishment: enjoyment, curiosity, a broader palate, or healthier habits. Many fruits, vegetables, and spices are highly beneficial for baby’s physical and cognitive development, but because they lack iron and omega-3 fatty acids, for example, they may receive fewer stars in our system. Regardless of rating, we encourage offering a wide range of foods to help create more diverse experiences for babies and the whole family.
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J. Truppi, MSN, CNS
V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP
E. Cerda, MSN, CNS, LDN
A. Gilbaugh, RD, CNSC
A. Derma Salazar MS, CCC-SLP/L
K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC
K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT
K. Rappaport, OTR/L, MS, SCFES, IBCLC
Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist
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