It's time to start your baby on solid foods! How exciting!
There are lots of things to consider about what foods you will start with. But at the end of the day, if you keep just a few things in mind it can actually be pretty simple to get them a great meal, and you'll have the hang of feeding your baby in no time.
Baby Led Weaning vs Traditional Feeding Method
If you're here, there's a good chance you're already familiar with what baby-led weaning is and the BLW approach to starting solids. But if you aren't, be sure to check out this article that talks about what baby led weaning is.
For even more help with baby led weaning and how to help your baby succeed with eating, be sure to check out this article with a comprehensive guide to baby led weaning and first baby foods!
If you aren't sure that you want to go the baby led weaning and finger foods route and are still considering spoon feeding more pureed foods, check out this article that talks about the pros and cons of the traditional way of feeding as well as baby led weaning.
No matter which way you decide to start feeding your baby, know that simply giving infant cereal (think rice cereal for this) for a first food is no longer recommended. There are so many more options for babies now to help them learn to love foods!
When to Start Your Baby on Solid Foods
Before we get into the best first foods for your baby, let's talk about when your baby is ready to start eating.
It can be so tempting to start your baby with all those fun and exciting new foods as soon as they start to show a little bit of interest. But it is important for their safety, as well as for their social and microbiome development, to wait until they are closer to 6 months of age and show the signs of readiness to start foods.
The most important sign of readiness that we're looking for is good head control, and the ability to sit up for a few seconds on their own. Both of these will help to ensure that they aren't at an increased risk for choking!
Things to Keep In Mind When Starting Solids
One of the more important things to keep in mind when it comes to feeding your baby is the texture of the food that you give them. Especially towards the beginning of solids.
We want to be giving them soft foods that are squishable between your thumb and index finger. Think of this as an equivalent to them being able to squish a food between their tongue and the roof of their mouth.
What texture you give is a much more important thing than how you cut the food. Although that is important too!
How you cut the food can differ a bit from person to person. But at the end of the day, towards the beginning you want adult finger size pieces of food. Smaller pieces of foods are not the way to go at the beginning, although that might be what seems the most intuitive and safest.
For small pieces of food, it is better to wait until they are closer to developing their pincer grasp. They will be much less frustrated as they work on the fine motor skills needed to pick up small pieces of food if you wait a bit.
It also tends to be safer for them to gum off pieces of food from a larger bit instead of putting a small piece straight in their mouth.
Choking Hazards for Babies
Babies who eat in a baby-led weaning style have not been shown to be at a higher risk of choking compared to babies who are spoon fed. But the same research shows that it is important for parents to be aware of what the choking hazard foods are. No matter how they choose to feed their babies!
Most people know not to give their babies things like hot dogs because of their dangerous shape for kids. But there are many other foods that it is important to know about.
Things like hard foods, foods with skins, slippery food that can include wedges of canned or frozen fruit.
I say this not to scare you. But to impress upon you the importance of becoming familiar with the types of foods that can post a risk to your baby. Most of the risky foods are actually fairly easy to modify to be safe. As long as you know what to look for!
For help with the specific types of foods to know about, as well as how to serve them safely, be sure to check out the Starting Solids course. I'll walk you through exactly what you need to know to keep your baby safe on their eating journey!
Choking vs Gagging
Before you start feeding your baby, make sure you are familiar with the difference between choking and gagging. Babies have a gag reflex that is much closer to the front of their mouth than an adult.
That often means that your baby gags a lot easier than you would expect.
If you aren't aware of what to look for, you might think that your baby is choking. Gagging, though, is actually a safety reflex. And one that isn't a bad thing or something that we need to interfere with!
Introducing Allergenic Foods
In recent years, the recommendations for food allergies, and how to prevent them, have changed.
It used to be the recommendation to wait to introduce allergenic foods for the first time until after your child's first birthday, at a minimum.
Now, we know that the best time to introduce potential allergens is actually in that first year of life.
That means you don't need to only feed your baby an egg yolk and not the whites, like was previously taught. It means you don't need to wait several years before introducing peanut products like peanut butter. Or dairy, seafood, or tree nuts. Introducing them early is actually protective.
Beyond that, we know that allergic reactions can actually happen at any point. Introducing allergens slowly doesn't actually rule out your child having an allergy.
Not to mention, following the advice to introduce foods one at a time and check for an allergic reaction in between can prevent you from serving your baby a wide variety of foods and different textures.
There is no actual research to support such a slow introduction of food. There IS a lot of research to support the importance of introducing variety and a lot of different textures and foods to your child in the first few months of eating, however. (ref)
Foods to Limit When Starting Solids
While most foods are an option for your baby, we do want to avoid a few things.
The only food to absolutely avoid for safety reasons is honey.
When it comes to sugar, there are so many other important nutrients that your baby needs that they just don't have room for sugars!
Other than that foods and considerations I've already talked about, your baby can participate in family meals and eat just like the rest of the family.
One of the main benefits of baby led weaning is an encouragement and easy way for baby to join in at family mealtime. Your baby's diet really can be similar to the whole family. And eating family foods and watching other people eat those same foods is one of the best ways to help your baby learn to enjoy food and mealtimes!
Baby's First Foods: The Best Options
Now that we've gotten those logistics out of the way, let's talk a bit more about the actual food.
Breast milk or formula are still going to be their main source of nutrients all the way to their first birthday. As they reach 6 months, your baby needs other foods, too to help them meet their growing nutritional needs.
That means that there are certain foods and food groups that it is important to include in your baby's diet.
First and foremost, your baby needs an iron-rich food at every meal. Iron is arguable the most important nutrient that babies get from food. It is very important to offer enough iron to your baby right from their first meal.
Next, they need a high calorie food. They have very high needs, and a high calorie food will help them meet those needs, even when they are only getting a small amount. This category generally includes things like carbs and fats. Think bread, olive oil, and yogurt, as well as other similar things for a great option.
And finally, they need a fruit or a vegetable. It doesn't matter whether it is a fruit or vegetable. There is no real conclusive research that shows that a particular order of introduction when it comes to fruit or vegetables is better than another. Simply including one is our goal at every meal.
Some Great First Foods Options
Here are some of my favorite first foods to get you started on what to serve.
Do your best to serve one food from each category at every meal. I'm showing you an easy way to serve each of these foods. But keep in mind that there are lots of different ways to serve these, even at the beginning of solids.
High Calorie Foods
Avocados are a classic first food. They are full of healthy fats, and are soft for your baby to eat.
Sweet potatoes are another food that is a great option for this category. They’re a pretty dense source of calories for your baby, and could fit in the high calorie or the fruit/veggie category.
Breads are one of my favorite foods for babies that are also a great way to offer them other harder to eat foods. You do need to be mindful of how to serve it to your baby, though. Certain breads can result in a gummy ball that isn't safe for babies. Check out this post on the best bread for babies for help in choosing and serving bread safely to your baby.
High Iron Foods
Red meat is a great first option. Choose something like beef and cut it into strips. The idea is that your baby will suck on it and get out the juice, not actually chew it or break any off. You can also slow roast red meat and shred it for your baby.
Lentils are another great option. They can be served many different ways including just cooked plain or in a stew or curry. My favorite, and the most convenient option, is a lentil pasta. There are several different brands and styles out there of lentil pastas to choose from. They're a great way for your baby to get lentils in.
Beans of all kinds are also a great source of iron. Mash them up lightly with a fork before serving to help your baby digest them easier. At the beginning, expect them to eat them using their palm and a raking motion. They can also be served as a dip in a more smooth puree form, or they can often be found as a pasta. Black bean and chickpea pastas tend to be the most common ones I've found.
Fruits and Veggies
The sky’s the limit with fruits and veggies as long as they are able to be squished between two fingers. (This means that things like raw apple are out!)
Carrots that have been cut into a finger size and steamed are a great option that can be soft while still holding their shape to allow for easy eating.
Curious how to steam vegetables? Here’s a video showing you how!
Bananas are another great option that are firm enough to hold their shape while still being soft enough to be safe.
Broccoli that has been steamed can be another great option as the stalk provides a handle for your baby to hold. Once your baby chews the top of the broccoli off, it’s often best to take away the stem unless it is soft enough to squish.
These are just a few different ideas to get you started. Most foods can be made safe for babies, and will fit into one of the 3 categories to serve them! For help with more options, as well as how to serve them safely, be sure to check out the Starting Solids course!
The Most Important Thing to Remember About Starting Solids
At the end of the day, we want eating to be a good time for both you and your baby. It can be hard when there are a lot of outside pressures that we are trying to deal with.
Do your best to remember that your baby will likely not eat much food at the beginning. They are getting the majority of their nutrients from their milk still, and that is okay! Follow your baby's lead and practice listening to your baby's hunger cues. Focusing on those is one of the best ways to get off on the right foot.
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