Introducing a baby to solid foods can be a very exciting time for parents. Seeing how a baby experiences and reacts to different foods is yet another way to get to know your baby. When your pediatrician says that you are ready to start solid foods, usually between 4-6 months, you may have a lot of questions about how much food to give, what kids of food to give, and in what order food should be introduced. These are the most common types of questions I answer at well visits for 4-6 month olds. I recommend two books on starting solids foods for a good introduction and overview. One is my book, “Raising a Healthy Happy Eater” which is co-authored with my friend Melanie Potock, noted pediatric feeding therapist. The other is Melanie’s Book with Nancy Ripton, “Baby Self Feeding” which also has a ton of great information and recipes on feeding babies. Melanie often stresses that feeding is a developmental process, just like learning to walk or speak. The more we understand the developmental process of feeding and how to foster it, the better chance we have of raising great eaters.
In the past rice cereal was a commonly recommended as a first solid food. However rice cereal is very bland and can set the stage for bland food preferences. If you do choose infant cereal as one of your baby’s first starting foods, I recommend choosing a whole grain cereal like oatmeal, mixed grain or brown rice cereal, thinned with breastmilk, water or formula. A smooth puree of a fruit or vegetable is another good starting place. An infant new to solids may have a tendency to thrust food out of the mouth with the tongue when first introduced. This is amusing to watch and is definitely a good photo opportunity! Don’t be afraid to practice a few times a day. Keep in mind that at this early stage food is not offered as much to “fill” babies, but as an opportunity to taste and practice swallowing solids. In these early months a few bites after formula or breastmilk feeding is a great practice session.
Regarding purees, you can start with Stage 1 store bought baby foods, which have only one ingredient and are pureed to a very smooth consistency. Another great option is to make homemade baby foods. Homemade baby foods can be prepared without much time or expense and can introduce babies to a different flavor profile than store bought baby foods offer. Of note, there are some new baby food making systems that have the steamer and puree device all in one. These can be helpful but are absolutely not necessary, because with a few common kitchen tools you can easily make baby food (see below).
What are the benefits of homemade baby foods?
- Economical- A large volume of food can be made for very little cost. Freezing small portions means there is less waste, too.
- Easy and fast- Because babies eat so little, a lot of what you prepare can be frozen and popped out of the freezer as you need it. There are also little shortcuts you can learn to make baby foods with the same ingredients you use to make food for the rest of the family.
- Controlled- You control exactly what goes in the food. If you want certain varieties of or blends of fruits and vegetables, or if you want to prepare organic baby foods, you can decide for yourself. As their skills develop you have much more control with the texture. Instead of 3 stages you can create an infinite amount of more complex stages.
- Tastes more like real food! – This is a great reason. Although store bought baby food is healthy, fast and easy, it often is much blander than what you can prepare on your own. Introducing a wide flavor profile early may imprint those tastes so that babies are more used to those foods later on as toddlers and children.
Things you will need to make baby food:
- Saucepan or pot for cooking
- Steamer basket
- Blender, food processor or baby food mill
- Cookie sheet for roasting
Homemade baby food as easy as 1-2-3
- When can babys start eating solid foods? Between the age of 4-6 months is a good target time to start foods. For most typically developing babies, 5 months seems to be a great age when babies are interested and have a little more control of their trunk to sit up in a feeding chair. Help support their back so that they are not leaning backward but are a little more forward over their food and help them feel stable by making sure their feet are supported.
- How much food does a baby need? At first start with 1-2 feeds a day offered after breastmilk or formula. A few bites offered after milk (which has the protein and fat babies need early on) will be enough to practice and experience new foods and not fill them too much.
- What foods are safe to start with? Babies should be able to have most anything as long as it is offered in a safe consistency. Talk to your pediatrician if your baby has eczema or if you have a family history of food allergies, but consider offering foods like cooked eggs, wheat soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish and dairy (foods like yogurt or cheese, but wait until a year to transition from formula or breastmilk to whole milk), before the age of one which is now considered safe for most babies. For most babies, when introducing cereals, fruits, and veggies, there is no need to wait between foods to monitor for allergies. A waiting period between foods may delay the pace at which you are introducing foods. Want to know some foods we introduce at our first foods class: Lemon Hummus, Lentils with Spinach and Mashed Potatoes, and More. Babies eat these up and, so do their parents.
- How long do they have to be on pureed foods? Not long at all! As we write in “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater” teaching babies to eat with a smooth puree allows them to learn to swallow a solid in a safe, easy way. However, many babies stay on that soft puree far too long without advancing to a more complex texture. Advancing texture once your baby is comfortable with a puree allows them to learn how to chew and swallow more foods and helps to advance their oral motor skills in a steady way so that they can handle increasingly more challenging foods. When making your own food, this may mean blending foods a little less each week or using a fork or fingers to smash foods, leaving soft, squishy lumps. Always supervise babies when feeding foods to make sure that they are enjoying foods. Expect an occasional gag when babies are learning to chew and swallow texture. For an explanation of choking vs. gagging, see “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater.”