Early Bites With Beef

| August 24, 2022

Beef is an important complementary food for infants and toddlers during the first few years of life when rapid growth and development occur. Health authorities like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend animal source foods, like beef, to ensure nutrient needs – such as iron and zinc – are met. Proper nutrition is critical during this time, particularly since by six months of age, iron stores are depleted, and breastmilk alone can no longer meet all the infant’s nutrient requirements.1-4

Introducing meats, like beef, has a purpose beyond simply meeting essential nutrient needs. Beef offers new and different flavors and textures which not only supports oral and motor development, but also enhances discovery and learning, helping toddlers accept new and healthy foods as they grow and develop healthy eating habits.

To educate both health professionals and parents about beef as an early complementary food, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, continued the Early Bites With Beef Campaign in 2022. Campaign goals included advancing awareness and increasing health professional recommendations that beef can (and should) be a safe complementary first food for babies starting at around six months of age and continuing throughout childhood and providing consumers with information about how to effectively and safely feed babies beef.

Funding from the Federation of State Beef Councils and individual states extended outreach efforts to health professionals nationwide. More than 3,000 toolkits, complete with posters, fact sheets and newsletters, were distributed to pediatric health care offices in 32 states. Health professional response to toolkits was very positive with nearly 9 in 10 professionals recommending or intending to recommend beef to parents and caregivers. In addition, 75% of respondents reported being more knowledgeable about beef as an early complementary food after receiving the information. On the consumer side, half of respondents reported that receiving the information from their pediatric professional made them more likely to feed beef to their child. 

Peer to peer education efforts were further enhanced with a live webinar featuring Katie Ferraro, MPH, RDN, CDE. The Self-Feeding from Baby’s First Bites event reached nearly 3,000 attendees including pediatricians, registered dietitians and other health professionals. Following the event, 93% of attendees agreed that beef can safely support babies’ developmental needs and serve as the foundation for lifelong healthy eating patterns. Based on what attendees learned during the webinar, 70% indicated that they would make changes to their nutrition practice.  

Advertisements promoting beef as an early complementary food were placed in publications targeting health professionals including American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy Family Physicians, Contemporary Pediatrics, Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants and Healthy Children Magazine. Articles written by fellow health professionals also shared information about how beef’s iron matters in the first two years and how meat helps make every bite count.  

For consumers, recipes were developed with early years eaters in mind to make it easy for families to serve dishes everyone at every age can enjoy. The recipes were included in a special section of the Checkoff-funded www.BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com website as well in materials shared with consumers. New videos, social posts and display ads were also developed to reach parents with information about family-friendly meals and the health benefits of beef. A partnership with popular parenting website, Cubby, provided creative ways to incorporate beef into kids’ diet as well as other beef-centric information over a six-week social campaign and newsletter sponsorship.  

Rural consumers were also specifically targeted through YouTube video ads and native advertising. In addition, four states extended the message at the local level with their investments. The messaging reached more than two million consumers in rural areas across the country.  

Feeding babies beef at six months of age is still a relatively new concept for both pediatricians and consumers. Providing these audiences with information about beef’s role as an early complementary food influences how health professionals talk about beef with their patients and drives demand for beef. Overall, the successful Early Bites With Beef campaign generated more than 76.5 million impressions, including 6.5 million digital video views and 9.5 million audio ad listens. Learn more at https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/nutrition/beef-in-the-early-years.

1 American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. 7th ed. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014. 

2 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.  

3 Schwarzenberg SJ, et al. Advocacy for improving nutrition in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. Pediatrics 2018;141:e20173716. 

4 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. https://www.fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170208/nutrients