So you're officially ready to start feeding your baby solid foods. They're about 6 months old and have met all of the developmental milestones. You've maybe even given them a couple of first foods. So what do you need to keep in mind as you start feeding them regularly?
I like to think of a 6 month old's plate as needing 2-3 items on it. Remember, they have a small tummy and food for these first several weeks is really about skill building. As we get into 7-8 months, their skills will drastically improve and you will have a better idea of how much your specific baby will want to eat. In the meantime, offer them a variety of foods that are the appropriate textures to allow them to explore.
So which foods do you offer at each meal? Try to think of it as one food from each of the categories below.
One of the biggest nutrients of concern for babies 6 months and older is iron. If you haven't already had your pediatrician talk to you about it, you're likely to hear something in the coming months. Getting adequate iron is important for your baby, and the general scientific consensus currently is that breast milk starts to not be an adequate source of iron as baby gets older than 6 months. The good news is this is a gradual change, and helping your baby to learn eating skills starting at 6 months and offering iron rich foods frequently has been shown to provide adequate supplies of iron for most babies.(source) So what is considered an iron-rich food?
Here are some ideas:
As your baby continues to grow, they start to need complementary foods to provide calories. This doesn't mean instead of breast milk or formula, though. It means in addition to the milk. Choosing a high-calorie food can help to get your baby the calories that they need to continue to grow.
Some ideas might be:
Your baby needs to be exposed to lots of different flavors and textures and one of the best ways to do that is by offering many different fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables also contain a plethora of vitamins and minerals of importance, like Vitamin C which can help with iron absorption. The only limit on this category is the texture your baby is able to handle at their current developmental age.
Of course iron and calories aren't the only things that are important in first foods for a growing baby. They are the most critical initially, though. As they grow, things like zinc, omega-3s, and selenium become important. Following the above breakdown and adding foods to your lists as your baby grows will provide most of these nutrients in abundance. Red meat is a great source of zinc as are nuts, eggs, and beans. Seafood can be a great source of both selenium and omega-3s. Adding things like chia seeds and omega-3 enriched eggs can also help with omega-3s. Don't worry as much about the individual nutrients, though, as about offering a variety of foods from the different categories. A generally balanced diet will provide your baby with all the nutrients they will need.
For the first month or so the general rule of thumb is that the first foods should be able to be squished between your thumb and forefinger, or very fibrous where baby can't break it off. An example of a fibrous food would be a slice of read meat that baby can gum and suck on but has very little chance of actually taking a bite. There are various sites and groups out there that have different recommendations about textures. The research and experts show, though, that the best way to reduce the risk of choking is to ensure that at the beginning babies are only provided foods that are soft or not able to be broken off. The best sized first foods for baby are finger width and around 1.5 times the length of their fist. The general idea is long enough so that they can grasp the item and still have enough room to nibble. Avoid round or disk-shaped items like grapes as these have a higher risk of choking and blocking your baby's airway.
Well I'm glad you asked! Even though I do this for a living, when it came time to start feeding my daughter I still needed an easy way to figure out what first foods to give her. If you read my last post you might remember me mentioning that I created a handout to hang on my fridge. It has ideas of what to offer in each category, and reminders of textures and portion sizes. I find myself referring to it every day just to make sure I'm offering as balanced of meals as I can to my daughter.
Bottom line: Give your baby a variety of different foods from each of the three categories above. Make sure the food is the appropriate texture and size, and allow them to explore and develop their skills as you go on the feeding journey with them.