Best First Foods For Your Baby
Babies can generally start on their first solid foods between 4 and 6 months. Up to 12 months of age, breastmilk (or formula) will continue to provide most of the baby's nutritional requirements, with solids as complementary foods. Cereal, vegetables, and fruits are all suitable for starting your baby off on solids. All food should be well-cooked, mashed, thinly diluted, and fed in tiny quantities in the introductory stage, progressing to thicker consistencies and increased portions as the baby grows older and more proficient at eating.
Your little one is no more a tiny infant, just a couple of days old. As she crosses the 3-month milestone, she’s growing up fast – and her needs are changing too. It’s the rare parent who can navigate through this challenging stage in their baby’s life without a worry! When should you start solid foods? Do you breastfeed in tandem or do you stop? More often than not, you are flooded with suggestions from family, friends, and other sources that can leave you quite confused. Fret not, these guidelines should help.
How To Tell If Your Baby Is Ready For Solid Foods
The American Academy Of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that your baby should be fed exclusively on breastmilk for the first 6 months of her life. While 6 months is ideal, there is a little give here, with many pediatricians setting the bar between 4 and 6 months (but not before 4 months). Your baby’s level of growth and development will determine when she can start on solid foods. Some babies are ready to start solid foods as soon as 4 months; others will refuse all foods but milk until they are around 8 months old.1 An exhausted parent may well wish, “If only my baby could talk!”
Factors That Decide If Your Baby Is Ready For Solid Foods
The American Academy of Pediatrics lists these “markers” for parents to understand when their baby is ready to transition from breastmilk or formula to solid foods:
- Body Weight: When the baby’s birth weight doubles and she weighs about 13 pounds, it’s considered a good time to try out solid foods (the operative word being “try”!). This happens usually around 4 months.
- Head Up: Can your baby sit comfortably on a high chair or a baby seat with his head remaining stable? If she can, you should think about setting a date for her first meal.
- Eagerness To Eat: Some babies signal their readiness for food when they see you eating and instinctively reach out for your food. Others may open their mouths in response to your offer of a food. Place baby next to you in a high chair at your dining table and watch out for these delightful, first-time-ever moments!
- Learning To Eat: Since the only food your baby has known is milk, her first attempt at eating a solid food is likely to result in her simply dribbling it out onto her chin. This does not mean she is still unready for solids. Get her used to the unfamiliar texture of solid food by diluting it initially, moving slowly to a thicker consistency. If she doesn’t get it at this stage, give her time – say, a couple of weeks – before trying again.2
Between Breastmilk And First Foods
Make breastmilk your ally, follow this tip! When starting a baby on her first foods, breastfeed her just before offering solids as she is more likely to be curious about a new food if she isn’t desperately hungry. Breastfeed her again after she tries out a solid food.3
Even if you introduce foods to her diet around month 4, continue with breastfeeding until she is at least 12 months old. Why so? Because even as you gradually introduce her to a variety of first foods, giving her breastmilk will ensure she gets all its nutrients and protective components that are required for normal growth. Babies who have transitioned successfully to solid foods can continue to be breastfed even after 12 months if that’s what both mother and baby want.4 5
All About Allergies
Some foods are known widely to trigger off allergic reactions, typical ones being eggs, dairy products, peanuts, and fish. There’s no proof, however, that waiting until a baby is over 4–6 months of age can prevent food allergy.6 In fact, research indicates that introducing a variety of solid foods – cereals like wheat, oats, rye, and barley, and others like fish and eggs – from the age of 4 months onwards may actually decrease the risk of babies developing asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic eczema.7 At any time, while getting your baby started on solid foods, if she develops a rash, vomits, or has diarrhea, consult her doctor immediately to plan out a diet that will suit her. If you’re still worried about this – especially if there’s a history of food allergy in your family – a medical professional may be able to help you decide when to start on certain foods.8 Nutrition experts also caution against feeding honey or corn syrup to babies under 12 months of age as these foods could lead to botulism, a rare but potentially life-threatening illness.9
Choosing First Foods
4 to 6 Months
Which food group should you start with? It doesn’t matter, says the American Academy Of Pediatrics (most grandmothers would say the same, too!).10 When introducing complementary foods between 4 and 6 months, try out single-ingredient, pureed or mashed foods, one at a time. A puree will allow you to dilute a food to the consistency suited for your baby’s age. With just one ingredient at a time, you’ll be able to quickly identify the cause of an upset stomach.11
Traditionally, cereals like rice and oatmeal are preferred options to kickstart your baby’s solid food journey. You could start with soft-cooked rice to help your baby learn how to move food to the back of her mouth and swallow it safely. Later, you can add other cereals like oatmeal and barley.
Wheat cereals or mixed cereals should be reserved for a later stage lest they trigger off allergies. Whichever cereal you select, ensure that it’s made for babies.12
How do you do this? When shopping for cereal, ensure that it’s an iron-fortified, single-grain product with no additions like baby formula, yogurt, or milk. Again, this is to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction when you are first trying out solid food. Make a diluted preparation with expressed breastmilk or water (or formula if your baby is already having it) for the initial feedings. Once your baby has accepted this new food and learned how to eat it, gradually thicken the consistency and offer more cereal at each feeding.13.
Veggies And Fruits
During this phase, food still needs to have a smooth texture. After trying cereal, you can begin on vegetables and fruits. The rule about trying one food at a time still applies. Buy fresh vegetables as far as possible. Fruits should be ripe, washed well, and peeled before being stewed or eaten raw.
Here are some fruit and veggie suggestions:
- Potatoes, pumpkins, carrots: cooked and pureed or mashed
- Banana: mashed
- Apple or pear: Cooked and pureed
- Avocado: Scooped and mashed14
Dilute all these foods with water, breastmilk, or formula in the early stages and offer thicker consistencies as your baby gets more proficient at eating.
Try These Easy Recipes
|1. Unsweetened Applesauce||Apples: 2 medium size, washed
Water: 1.5 tablespoons
|Peel and core apples. Remove seeds and chop. Using a blender or food processor, puree the chopped fruit with just enough water to make a semi-thick sauce. Dilute applesauce more if required.|
|2. Pureed Pears||2 firm, ripe pears, rinsed clean||In a pot of boiling water, immerse the whole pears for just under 1 minute. Drain out the water and plunge them into ice-cold water. Remove and peel the skin, pick out seeds, and cube the flesh. Place cubes in a blender and puree with a little water. Sieve the puree to strain out any remaining seeds or skin.|
|3. Vegetable Puree||Vegetable of your choice||Boil, steam or bake your vegetable of choice in a little water until soft. Cool and place the chopped vegetables in a blender or food processor. Add 2–3 tablespoonfuls of the water used for cooking as it contains nutrients from the vegetables.
Blend the food, adding small quantities of additional water until you get the desired consistency.
Meat is a good, easily absorbed source of zinc and of iron, an important nutrient between the ages of 4 and 6 months when babies start losing the store of iron they are born with and must get it from breastmilk and other foods.15 The American Academy of Pediatrics specifically recommends introducing iron-rich complementary foods at 6 months or earlier (say, around 4 months) if a baby was born preterm or had a low birthweight.16 Including a good source of iron and zinc is even more relevant in case a baby is on formula.17
Meat is also a valuable source of high-quality protein. Non-meat sources of protein include tofu, legumes, and beans.18 As with other foods you are introducing at this stage, meat, chicken, and fish should be well-cooked and pureed to a consistency your baby can handle.19
The Ayurvedic Way
Ayurvedic practitioners also recommend introducing one solid food at a time, offering each new food for a few days to allow the baby to get accustomed to it – and for the parent to observe any reactions. Start off with liquid foods, slowly building off to a thicker consistency. In the ayurvedic tradition, bananas and tart fruits like strawberries and grapefruit are not recommended in very early infancy as it is believed they increase the presence of phlegm, which leads to congestion. Cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products are discouraged for the same reason. Sweet-tasting fruit, stewed gently, is thought to be ideal for weaning babies.20
A Simple Ayurvedic Recipe You Can Try
Strain the broth from homemade mung bean soup or the water in which rice is cooked, add a drop of ghee (clarified butter) and just a grain or two of salt.
How to feed: Offer your baby a few teaspoonfuls only. A week or fortnight later, try a semi-liquid mung bean soup – you can cook this using 1 part mung to 5 parts water. Thicken the consistency gradually depending on your baby’s progress. When she is used to a semi-solid consistency, you can start her on soft-cooked mashed vegetables.
6 Months Onward
At 6 months and going ahead, your baby can eat a wide variety of well-cooked vegetables and fruits – potato, yam, parsnip, peas, beans, carrot, pear, apple, to name a few. Remember to cool them before feeding. Peach and melon are also soft and easy to eat.21 When your baby is fully accustomed to these foods, you can move from purees to mashed foods. Try soft-cooked meat and mashed chicken. Mashed fish is a delicious, high-protein food, but do check thoroughly for tiny bones. Hard-boiled and mashed eggs, pasta, soft-cooked lentils and rice can all be a part of exciting meal times for your baby.22
Important Note: As more solid foods are introduced into your baby’s diet, her stools will also change, becoming more solid and reflecting the color of the food she eats. The stools may also contain bits of undigested food like vegetable skins. If her stools appear watery, very loose, or mucus-filled, it means her still immature digestive system is irritated. Cut back on solid foods and reintroduce them in reduced quantities once her stomach settles down. Consult her doctor if the loose stools persist.
Between 8 and 9 months, a baby will typically be on three meals a day. Her diet will include the major food groups: carbohydrates (rice, pasta, bread, potatoes), protein (meat, eggs, fish, beans, peas, cheese, and yogurt), vitamins and minerals (fruits and vegetables), and, of course, breastmilk or formula
Two Energy Boosting Porridge Recipes With Multiple Ingredients
|1. Rice And Millet Porridge||
||Grind brown rice and millet into a fine powder in a food processor/blender. In a pot, bring water to boiling point and turn down the heat to a minimum. Sprinkle the ground cereal mixture into the water. Use a wire whisk to stir, so that lumps do not form. When the porridge is cooked, remove from fire, cool and add breastmilk or formula to the desired consistency.|
|2. High Protein Porridge||
||Grind brown rice to a fine powder in a blender. Boil water and reduce heat to a minimum. Sprinkle ground rice into the water and use a wire whisk to prevent lumps forming. Add egg yolk and tofu. Stir briskly to bring all the ingredients together. Cool and add breastmilk/formula to the desired consistency.23|
Around 8 months, when your baby will be more adept at eating harder foods, she may show signs of wanting to feed himself. Encourage her by offering finger foods. This is going to be a messy stage, but a good step toward her learning to eat independently.
- Finger foods to get going include bananas, carrots, apples, and pears.
- All finger foods should be soft and served as small pieces to prevent baby from choking.
- Cook hard fruits like apples.
- Slice, then halve and quarter round-shaped foods – bananas, carrots, grapes – before giving them to your baby.
- Soft scrambled eggs, pasta, or small, well-cooked potatoes are other recommended finger foods.
- For energy-giving snacks, try toast, bread or crackers. Strips of cooked meat and chicken are good sources of iron and protein.
24 25 26
By 12 months, your baby’s three meals would consist of more chopped foods and nutritious snacks like fruit pieces and cooked vegetable sticks. This is also a good time to get baby on whole milk as she needs the additional fat and vitamins found in full-fat dairy.27
Making Your Baby’s Food
Commercial baby foods are undoubtedly convenient but can detract from your baby’s desire to try new flavors and textures. It could also slow down your baby’s capacity to chew. Use them only on the odd occasion that you can’t prepare food yourself or if you’re traveling. Homemade baby foods have a greater range of natural flavors. They’re also way less expensive! These simple tips will help you make the most of your baby’s first solid foods.
- Vegetables and fruits: Steam or boil them in very little water. Don’t add salt or sugar.
- Meat, chicken, and fish: Cook in a small quantity of water until very soft without any seasoning.
- Mash or blend: Use a blender to make purees. Alternatively, mash food and sieve to ensure there are no lumps.
Serving Up Baby Foods: Things To Rememeber
- No matter which solid food you pick when starting on solids, offer no more than just a quarter teaspoon, once a day. Does your baby look interested? Are there any adverse reactions to the food? Increase or reduce the amount and frequency of each food accordingly.
- If your baby dislikes a new food, give a gap of a few days before offering it again. With some foods, you may need to do this several times before you baby accepts them. Be patient!
- Baby food may taste awfully bland to you but don’t let that influence your choices. Your baby’s tongue is way more sensitive to flavors, so don’t add sugar, salt, butter, margarine, or any spices yet.
- Always stay with your baby while she learns to eat solid foods to prevent choking. Foods with a hard texture like peanuts are a complete no-no. Make cleaning up after baby’s meals an easier task by spreading a plastic sheet or shower curtain under her high chair.
- Hygiene is super important. Wash your hands well before preparing baby’s foods; wash her hands too before mealtimes. Work counters, utensils, and other cooking aids should be squeaky clean.
- You can reheat baby’s food, but just once.28 29
The transition from breastfeeding (or formula) to solid foods is a learning process for both baby and parent. If you’ve systematically introduced one new food at a time in the early stages, you would have developed a good understanding of what your baby likes and, equally important, what doesn’t suit her. It’s a slow process and a lesson in patience. Go with the flow and give her plenty of loving encouragement!
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. AAP News And Journals.|
|2, 6, 10, 15, 26, 28.||↑||Starting Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|3, 9, 11, 17, 25.||↑||First Foods For Babies. La Leche League International.|
|4.||↑||Working Together: Breast Feeding And Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|5, 16.||↑||Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. AAP News And Journals.|
|7.||↑||Nwaru, Bright I., Hanna-Mari Takkinen, Onni Niemelä, Minna Kaila, Maijaliisa Erkkola, Suvi Ahonen, Anna-Maija Haapala et al. “Timing of infant feeding in relation to childhood asthma and allergic diseases.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 131, no. 1 (2013): 78-86.|
|8.||↑||First Foods For Babies. La Leche League International.|
|12.||↑||Starting Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|13.||↑||Working Together: Breast Feeding And Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|14.||↑||Baby Care – Weaning. Better Health Channel.|
|18.||↑||Working Together: Breast Feeding And Solid Foods. Healthy Children.org, American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|19.||↑||Baby’s First Foods. Government of Western Australia.|
|20.||↑||Sharma, Hari, and Christopher S. Clark. Ayurvedic Healing: Contemporary Maharishi Ayurveda Medicine and Science Second Edition. Singing Dragon, 2011.|
|21, 22, 27.||↑||Your baby’s first solid foods. NHS.|
|23.||↑||Lucarelli, Jennifer. “Super Baby Food: Your Complete Guide to What, When, and How to Feed Your Baby and Toddler.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 46, no. 5 (2014): 456-e1.|
|24.||↑||Baby’s First Foods. Government of Western Australia, Department of Health.|
|29.||↑||Baby’s First Foods. La Leche League International.|