Although every baby is different, research shows it’s beneficial to start introducing solid foods when your baby is around six months, regardless of whether you choose to breastfeed or formula feed (or utilize a combination of them both).
When starting solids, the most important thing to remember is that the breastmilk and/or formula will still be the primary nutrition source for the first year. Exposing your baby to a wide variety of flavors and textures is key in encouraging a more adventurous eater.
Readiness Signs for Starting Solids
Here are readiness cues to watch for:
- Your baby should have good head control and be able to sit up with very little support in their own highchair.
- Your little one shows interest in food. This means they may open their mouth and lean forward when food is offered. Your baby might also make chewing motions and bring their hands to their mouth, or even reach for your food.
- While feeding, watch to see that your baby can close their lips over the spoon, keep food in their mouth (ok, at least some of the food), and swallow. Babies may just push food out of their mouth at first until they learn how to move food back along the tongue to swallow.
Parent-Led Weaning vs Baby-Led Weaning
Parent Led Weaning: This technique is most well-known and is often recommended by pediatricians. It puts the parent or caregiver in control of the feeding (you hold the spoon, you feed your baby). It begins with spoon-feeding purees followed by lumpy mashes, and then graduating to soft solid finger foods and finally soft table foods. It is important to advance textures as soon as baby is ready.
Potential advantages to this feeding method include:
- Less messy
- Easy-to-purchase options
- Potentially less waste
Potential disadvantages to this method include:
- Baby relies on you to eat
- If you are not listening to your baby’s hunger or fullness cues, it may be easier to overfeed your baby.
- If you are not able to progress through to soft solids in a timely manner, your little one may have a difficult time accepting textured foods.
Baby Led Weaning
The theory behind baby led weaning is that infants should be in control of what and how much they eat and advises adults to never put food in baby’s mouth. This allows the infant to be in control of the entire feeding experience. Because infants have more control of their ability to grasp and swallow at 6 months, parents opting for this feeding method should wait until they reach 6 months and not start this method any sooner.
The potential advantages to this feeding method include:
- Acceptance of a variety of foods
- Baby is in control of how much they eat
- More practice with fine motor skills and self-feeding
Potential disadvantages include:
- Can get messy
- More food waste
- Risk of choking
Ultimately, the method you choose is a personal preference. You can chat with your baby’s pediatrician about what would be a good fit for your family.
What Foods Kids Should Try at What Ages
Once your baby is used to purees, it’s time to advance!
Make the purees a little chunkier or provide soft, ripe fruits (no skin) or steamed/cooked vegetables cut into pieces the size of peas. Make sure foods you provide are “smushable” between your fingers. Advancing texture and introducing different flavors is important so your baby is more willing to accept a wide variety of foods when they’re older. Happy Baby Advancing Texture bowls were developed with infant feeding specialists to help baby prepare for table food and accept a wide range of foods.
Babies will progress at different paces; however, by 9 months, most babies are on finger foods and are eating 3 meals per day along with 1-2 planned snacks.
The following foods, however, should not be given to babies less than 1 year of age:
- Honey due to the risk of botulism spores.
- Whole cow’s milk due to the risk of iron deficiency and intestinal bleeding when given in large amounts during infancy. (Note that feeding your baby yogurt and cheese, or using whole milk in recipes is perfectly safe as long as they do not have a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance).
- Added sugar and salt meaning, you do not have to add sugar and salt to the food you’re preparing for them, and should limit the use of sugar and salt when cooking.
- Choking hazards such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit, popcorn, whole grapes and cherry tomatoes, whole kernel corn, olives, hot dogs; hard, raw fruits or vegetables such as apples, celery and carrots; chunks of meat or poultry; hard candy, gum drops and jelly beans.
- Caffeine-containing foods such as coffee, tea and cola drinks which can make babies and children irritable.
- Fruit juice. Babies under 1 year should not have fruit juice. Children aged 1-3 years should have no more than 4 oz of 100% fruit juice (may be diluted with water).
Be sure to consult your baby’s pediatrician about what foods work for your baby’s diet.
Common Allergies in First Foods
Any food has the potential to cause an allergic response, and so far over 170 foods have been identified as potential allergens. However, there are nine foods that account for a majority of all reactions (2023 Food Allergy Research & Education).
Top 9 food allergens:
- Tree Nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios)
- Crustacean Shellfish (shrimp, crab and lobster)
Starting in January 2023, sesame seeds were also added to the list as the ninth major food allergen.
The latest research has shown that there is no benefit in delaying the introduction of allergy-causing foods. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends introducing foods such as eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts, or fish, in appropriate textures for baby, when you introduce solids around 6 months of age. Here are some ways to introduce these foods:
- Eggs: scrambled, omelet strips, or as an ingredient in pancakes and french toast
- Dairy: plain whole fat yogurt or cheese
- Tip – try mixing a store-bought fruit and/or veggie puree with plain yogurt or cottage cheese, such as Happy Baby Stage 2 Brain Support Blends .
- Soy: mashed or cut edamame or tofu
- Peanuts: peanut butter thinned with water or breastmilk or small amount stirred into infant cereal or puree, such as Happy Baby Stage 1 Mangos
If you suspect your baby has an allergy to a food or if you have a history of severe eczema or food allergies, talk to your doctor on how best to introduce allergy-causing foods.
Pros and Cons to Starting with Cereal
While infant cereal seems to be a traditional first food for babies, it doesn’t have to be! You can start with any single ingredient puree that you choose.
Benefits of starting with a single ingredient puree (whether it be cereal or something like pureed sweet potatoes):
- Being able to assess baby’s tolerance to each food individually
- Offering more flavor profiles than just the taste of infant cereal
- Adding in too much infant cereal may cause constipation
A well-balanced diet that includes all food groups should be encouraged throughout life. Iron-fortified cereals are great first foods that can help babies, especially those who are breastfed, meet their iron needs. Meats are also an excellent way to offer your baby iron and zinc.
How to Avoid Picky Eaters
It’s fairly common for a toddler to become picky as they begin to develop food preferences. This often shows up around ages of 1 or 2 years – though for some children it may even start a year or two later. New foods can be a bit intimidating for your child, and while this may be a frustrating time for parents, it’s important to know that continuing to offer a wide variety of foods can help your little one’s eating pattern become more inclusive again.
To help you get through this time and continue building an adventurous eater, here are some tips:
- Be patient: It can take 10 or more exposures to a new food before a child begins to like it. Continue to put food on your child’s plate consistently, even if you don’t think s/he’ll eat it. This will allow your little one to stay familiar with the look, smell, and texture of the food – increasing the likelihood that one day your child will taste it!
- Offer a balanced plate: Provide multiple choices at each meal: one or two items your child will eat, and one or two new (or ‘disliked’) foods in smaller portions. Aim for some protein (beans, legumes, eggs, meat/poultry/fish, tofu, etc), vegetables, whole grains, and perhaps some fruit. With a positive approach but without applying pressure, gently encourage your child to try the new food(s), and remember it will be up to them if they choose to eat it. A small bite may turn into bigger bites after they’ve seen it a few times, so don’t give up!
- Provide structured meal and snack times: Kids thrive on routine, and that includes when they eat. Rather than letting your child graze or eat snacks loosely between meals, provide these at consistent times so your child will arrive hungry at the table and ready to eat. If you find your child is not hungry at meal times, take a look at when his/her last snack is, it may need to be eliminated or moved farther from the meal.
- Offer the same (new/disliked) foods prepared in different ways: For example, you can offer carrots with peas, carrot spears, carrot coins, or softer steamed carrots. The food could also be offered with a dip, such as hummus. Kids enjoy flavor, just like adults! Adding herbs, spices, and fats can really enhance the taste of foods that he/she may not favor.
- “Parent’s provide, children decide”. This eating philosophy, also called the Division of Responsibility (or DOR), may help take some stress out of meal time. As parents, our job is to provide a variety of foods within balanced meals and snacks. Your child’s job is to decide how much (if any!) of the food to eat. It can be frustrating to serve kids foods only to watch them refuse, but it’s important not to force eating as it may lead to more resistance. Meal time should be easy and relaxing (as much as possible!) and not filled with dread or anxiety for the parent or child.