When we introduced solids to our little guy, I felt like I had no straight answers, and conflicting bits of information all over the place. I wished so many times for a simple breakdown of “baby approved foods”, common allergens, and simple recipes–a handbook for when and how to introduce solids. I created a notebook and kept it next to the highchair as we went along in our journey, and added tips based on lots of research, meetings with our pediatrician, reading tons of cookbooks and creating new recipes myself, and of course, lots of pow-wows with fellow mamas!
Below are some of the findings I feel are most helpful when beginning your venture into solid foods with your baby.
***Important: Each baby is different. Please talk to your doctor before introducing solids. Be sure to monitor your child closely during and after mealtimes for any allergic reactions to new foods and if you notice swelling, hives, vomiting, trouble breathing, or any other symptom, please seek immediate medical attention for your child. It is recommended that you only introduce new foods one at a time, waiting 4-5 days before introducing an additional new food, so that you can accurately pinpoint food-related allergies. The below tips are opinions and not meant to be taken as medical advice.
A Simple Guide for the First Year:
When & How Much:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to introduce solid foods until 6 months of age, and exposing your baby to a wide variety of healthy foods and many textures. (This of course is in addition to breastfeeding or formula). Most of the food you first introduce will just be an experiment for your child to play with the texture and get a little taste–their main nutrition with come from nursing or bottle-feeding. A new eater only needs 1-2 tablespoons of each food and will gradually increase to 3-4 tablespoons as she gets older (AAP.org).
The most important thing is to pay attention to the cues from your baby. He will let you know when he is interested in trying a food, and how much he wants to eat, by reaching for the food, getting upset when you start to pack it away, etc. Because their main nutrition (especially before about 9 months of age) is still breast milk or formula, you want to make sure you are not force-feeding them with a spoon. Let them guide you in how much they eat, and be sure to provide them with many different foods to try (NOTE: Sometimes babies need to be offered a food 10-15 times before they begin to eat it–so don’t give up after a try or two. If they spit out all of the zucchini, wait a few weeks and give it another go. Their taste buds will change as they get older.
You’ll also discover that you don’t need to prepare a large portion of food for meal time (unless of course you want to divide it up and freeze portions to save time later on!). I find it works best if you prepare foods that you as parents, and your children can enjoy together. Feeling like asparagus for dinner? Great, cook it for the whole family, and then just slice up a small bit of the larger batch for your little one. That way, you don’t end up spending your whole life in the kitchen making separate meals for each member, and you won’t feel like you’ve wasted a bunch of food if your baby isn’t in the mood for asparagus just yet. (See below for hints on recipes and healthy ways to serve food, i.e., you won’t want to add a ton of butter or salt to the baby’s portion!).
Our pediatrician recommends working up to 2 meals a day of solid foods by 8 months (you pick the times of day that work best to intersperse the meals with nursing/bottle-feeding), and 3 meals a day of solid foods by 9 months (breakfast, lunch & dinner). For the first several months, our little guy wasn’t eating enough solid foods at the table (more just playing with the food in his hands, rolling it around his mouth and spitting it out), so I would nurse him after a “meal” as he was still hungry. By 8 months, he was getting enough nutrition during his mealtime in the highchair, so we were able to use the solid foods, in lieu of a nursing session at those times.
To make things simple for you and the rest of the family, it works best to try and time the solid food mealtimes around the same time the rest of the family is eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even better is when you can enjoy the same foods as your baby–that makes things really much easier, and you’ll find yourself eating more healthy too.
Our Sample Eating Schedule at 9 Months (remember, every baby is different–you’ll find your own schedule based on your baby’s needs and appetite).
- 6am: Nurse first thing when waking up
- 8/8:30am: Breakfast in the highchair (see meal ideas below)
- 10:30am: Nurse
- 12/12:30pm: Lunch in the highchair
- 3pm: Nurse
- 5:30pm: Dinner in the highchair
- 7pm: Nurse before bedtime
As you move closer to the one year mark, you can start folding in healthy snacks between mealtime and slowly cut out some of your nursing sessions. The first-thing-in-the-morning and bedtime nursing will typically be the last ones to wean.
What to Feed
Chat with your doctor about what is best for your own child. Below are some healthy ideas. Also, check out my post on Food Safety 101 for helpful storage, cooking, and shelf-life guidelines.
6 months: Single-fruit/veggie pureed or mashed up bland foods, fed to your baby with a spoon. Examples: Rice Cereal, Pureed vegetables and fruits (banana, avocado, sweet potato, applesauce, peaches, prunes, peas, carrots, butternut squash–these items seem to be well-received because they are smooth, bland and slightly naturally sweet).
7 Months: Continued pureed varieties and introduce a few finger foods. Examples: Rice Rusks, Organic Rice Puffs, Teething Wafers, and pureed veggie and fruit combos, either self-made, or organic baby food pouches.
Favorite Baby Food Products:
8 Months: Once your baby has figured out how to self-feed a bit (shoveling with their fists might be the first step!), and maybe even got their pincer-fingers working (index and thumb grasping objects), you can start to add in some more lumpy textures, or even chop your fruits and veggies in long finger-like sticks, or round cracker-sized shapes and allow baby to gnaw on the foods at their own pace–you’ll still need to roast or stem veggies to soften them up. You can also try offering finely minced or small strips of meat or low-mercury fish.
Food Examples: Zucchini, Summer Squash, Green Beans, Pears, Watermelon, Grapes (cut into 1/4ths, ie “quartered”), Salmon, Tuna, Chunky mashed potatoes, Pasta (twisty pasta is easiest for little hands to grip), toasted whole wheat english muffins with cream cheese or hummus.
9 Months: Baby is really starting to figure out this whole eating thing by now and building up quite the appetite. Feel free to add in more finger foods, turn the spoon over to your baby to start figuring out silverware (just make sure it has a baby-soft tip), and strive for a balanced mealtime (Greens & Fruits–eat your colors!, Protein, Dairy, Healthy Fats, Carbohydrates). Examples Include: Yogurt, String Cheese, simple casseroles or soups containing healthy meats and vegetables. *A note about cow’s milk: typically you’ll want to wait until a year to introduce straight whole milk, as it is harder for your baby to to break down, however, processed versions of dairy are generally safe in small doses before the 1 year mark, such as yogurts, cottage cheese, string cheese (just choose baby-versions of the products when possible, as they tend to have lower sugar and salt). You can also typically start using milk for cooking/baking, just hold off on offering milk as a drink option until at least 12 months.
10-11 Months: Depending on the number of teeth your baby has, you can probably start adding in some crunchier or more clumpy soft versions of healthy foods. Additionally, he may be able to pick up very small pieces of food and manage eating rice or small grains. (WATCH OUT–now everything they come in contact with will go from pincer fingers to mouth. Make sure you monitor your baby carefully as they crawl or walk around the house). Baby also might be ready to start stabbing food with a baby fork, or scooping up with a baby spoon! Examples of foods to explore: cucumber (cut into thin, long sticks for them to bite on), celery (remove the outer strings), whole fruits such as ripe soft pears (take a bite out of it first to give your baby a starting point–and peel the skin if you’d like, otherwise, babies usually find a way to navigate around it, or spit it out if they don’t like it), meatballs, strips of chicken. Offer a full variety of textures, shapes and colors!
12 Months: At this point, many healthy meals can be easily adapted for your baby (yay for only making one meal for the whole family–as long as you keep the ingredients healthy, and avoid extra salt, grease, and sugar)! Check with your doctor, but you may be able to start offering cow’s milk (whole) as a beverage option, or to replace a nursing session.
Check out this great Baby Food-by-Age Chart from BabyMeals.net! And this other helpful Food Chart from Homemade Baby Food Recipes.com!
Foods to Avoid
Salt–a baby’s kidneys are unable to process large amounts of sodium. Try flavoring food with lemon, lime, or healthy herbs instead, and read labels for any processed or frozen foods before offering them to a baby or toddler. Salt hides in breakfast cereals, baked goods, ham/bacon, and canned or frozen foods.
Sugar/Or Any Junk Foods–your baby is just learning to process solid foods, so you want to give them the best options possible. Why fill them up with empty calories, or teach their taste buds to crave unhealthy food? Plus, as soon as those teeth come in, you’ll want to protect them against decay!
Honey–wait until at least the first year to give anything with honey to your baby. It can cause a dangerous infection called botulism.
High-Fiber Foods (Such as Bran)–These foods can interfere with the absorption of fiber and other essential nutrients, so they are not recommended for babies. Choose whole wheat versions, rather than wholegrain, or high fiber options. (Source: “Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook”. Check out my resources below).
Common Allergens/Possible Irritants
Most pediatricians recommend waiting until at least 1 year to introduce these foods, and then being especially careful to monitor for signs of reaction. Talk to your own doctor before trying the following:
- eggs, especially egg whites
- cow’s milk
- peanuts and tree nuts
- acidic foods (oranges, mango, pineapple, tomatoes, peppers…can all be tough on those little tummies, and even cause a painful diaper rash).
- Any foods that you have a family history of allergies too. My husband is allergic to bananas and avocados (bummer, because these foods are delicious, and perfect for mashing up for a baby!), so we were very cautious when introducing these foods to our child, making sure we worked through a plan with our doctor’s advice.
What about Drinks?
Babies will get the bulk of their hydration from breastmilk or formula, however, after about 6 months, your pediatrician my give you the OK to try a sippy cup with filtered water during mealtimes. Juice can be given occasionally (for instance, prune juice if your baby is feeling a bit constipated), but should be whole fruit juice, no sugar added (look for organic and/or juices made specifically for babies), and then you should be diluting the juice with water. Try 1 part juice for every 3 parts water. They’ll get the nutrients from the breastmilk/formula and any whole foods you are introducing, so you don’t need to give juice on a regular basis; in fact, it’s really just empty calories that can cause fill a baby up before mealtime, or contribute to tooth decay. Juice should always be given in a small baby cup (never a bottle), so you can monitor how much is being consumed, and so you can refrigerate leftovers before it spoils. Additionally, to prevent choking or tooth decay, it is recommended that you never send your baby to bed with a bottle of any kind.
1. Baby-Led Weaning
This is the cookbook version of the Baby-Lead Weaning Series, but contains 40 pages up-front of helpful food safety, prep-tips, info on when to know when your baby is ready for certain foods, and other great information before the recipes section. (So in other words, you can skip the first book, and jump right to the cookbook because it provides a lengthy summary). I will note that our baby needed to move much slower with the food discovery than the book’s timelines. It took him time to learn to chew and swallow chunkier or harder textured foods, so we were behind the timeline grids of the book, but I highly recommend moving at the pace that your own baby decides. Additionally, many of the recipes do include some common allergen/irritant foods (eggs, milk, tomatoes), so you’ll have to decide when you are comfortable offering some of these selections to your baby. We’ve followed the “wait until the 1 year mark” advice.
Another helpful tip from this book: To cut down on frustration during mealtime, offer your baby both foods you know your baby likes and is good with eating, along with some new foods or shapes or sizes to explore. They will get to push themselves to learn greater hand-eye-mouth coordination and develop new tastes, while at the same time having access to familiar foods and easy-to-eat options so meal time doesn’t become a negative and frustrating experience for them.
2. First Foods: How to get started
3. Homemade Baby Food Recipes
4. Weelicious.com and Cookbooks from Catherine McCord!
This mama and formally-trained chef provides fantastic ideas and delicious (yet simple) recipes starting from 6+ months on up to the grown-ups. Find sample recipes straight from the cookbook here!
Have a recipe or food-related tip you’d like to share? Message me!