When to start solid foods
Breast milk provides all the nutrients your baby needs for about the first 6 months of life. That’s why experts recommend waiting until your baby is 6 months old to introduce solid foods. Since some babies may be ready for solids sooner, the best advice for parents is to watch your baby, not the calendar.
Clues that your baby is ready for solids include:
- sitting with little or no support
- holding her head upright and steady
- showing an interest in food by watching what you eat and grabbing food from your plate
- chewing (with her gums if she has no teeth) or moving food to the back of her mouth and swallowing (showing no signs of the tongue-thrust reflex: pushing food out of her mouth, which is a defense against choking)
- using a “pincer” grasp to pick up small, soft foods between her thumb and forefinger
Once solid foods are started, parents should consider them an addition to—not a substitute for—breast milk or formula.
Which foods to try first
Parents of children with a family history of food allergies should talk with their baby’s health care provider about which foods to introduce and when.
For other babies, begin with small amounts of iron-rich foods, such as meat or iron-fortified cereal, once a day. (Some experts recommend starting with meat rather than cereal.) Other good first foods for your baby include mashed or pureed sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, avocado, apples, pears, bananas, and peaches.
You can buy ready-to-eat canned baby food (start with “stage 1” foods, which are pureed to a smooth consistency), or you may opt to save money and control ingredients by making your own baby food. Whether you choose meat or cereal, first foods should be soft and easy to swallow (avoid large chunks and sticky textures). (Learn more about solids to offer first here.)
Most babies are ready for finger foods—anything they can pick up and put in their mouths by themselves—by 9 months old. Cut the foods into small pieces that are easy to swallow and offer only a few at a time–even smaller foods such as grapes should be cut into quarters to prevent choking.
How to start feeding
Before you begin a feeding, place your baby in a highchair or baby seat that allows her to sit upright but offers no head support. At mealtime, don’t use a stroller, car seat, bouncy seat, or swing that allows a baby to lean back.
Babies typically prefer bite-size pieces they can pick up. If you offer foods by spoon, touch your baby’s lips with the spoon and wait for her to open her mouth.
Watch your baby’s cues. If she refuses to open her mouth, turns her head away from the food, leans back in her chair, or pushes the spoon away, it may indicate that she’s not hungry or isn’t interested (yet) in the food being offered. It’s not rocket science, but cues can be subtle. Never force your child to eat. The ability to self-regulate food intake is an important part of weight control from birth to age 5. Talk with your child’s health care provider if you have any concerns about her growth.
How to instill healthy eating habits
Introducing solid foods is the first step toward helping children develop healthy eating habits that include a balanced, nutritious, low- sugar, low-salt diet. The more refined sugars (candy, fruit juices, pancake syrup) and processed foods (potato chips, crackers) your child eats, the less room there is for healthy foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy.
Tips for making mealtime enjoyable include:
- limiting distractions
- restricting phone calls
- turning off the TV
- serving appropriate portions
- eating with your child
Help picky eaters try new foods by eating them along with your child. All children (even the best of eaters) go through picky periods. Don’t allow these times to make mealtimes stressful for the entire family.
Encourage your baby to explore the wonderful world of food by tasting, touching, squishing, and smushing. What better way to teach your child that mealtime can be healthy, happy, and even entertaining!