When should you start?
Around 4 months you can start giving little tastes of the foods you’re eating – a dab of your pasta sauce, a tiny taste of your oatmeal… just nothing that poses a choking hazard.
Which foods are best?
Consistency is key. Steam or roast the veggies first. Start off with more runny purees and gradually make them thicker. Good first foods to puree include:
- sweet potato or yam
- winter squash or pumpkin
- oatmeal (finely ground)
- cooked apples & pears
- chicken & turkey
- smoothies – even the ones you drink, provided you don’t add supplements. My kids loved green smoothie this recipe in slushy and popsicle form.
Which foods should I avoid?
Literally nothing is off limits, with the one exception of honey. (Honey may contain botulism spores, which can be harmful to the immature digestive system.)
There’s no need to salt the foods you make for baby, since they get plenty of sodium from breast milk, formula and foods that naturally contain it. But you can certainly offer tastes of your food even though it’s salted. In fact, I often puree whatever we’re eating (spaghetti and meatballs, salmon and asparagus, etc.) and give it to my 8 month old.
Try to avoid anything with added sugar and even 100% fruit juice. You don’t want your baby to get hooked on that super sweet flavor. They’ll discover M&Ms before you know it and then all your good intentions will be corrupted.
What about allergens?
Even common allergens like peanut butter and eggs are fine to introduce early on. In fact, I recommend it. The latest research shows that early introduction is actually associated with lower incidence of allergies, which is the opposite of what our parents were told.
If your baby is sensitive and you’re worried about allergens, just pay attention and try to intro only one allergenic food every few days so you can quickly identify and eliminate any triggers. You can try reintroducing again in a few weeks. The most common food allergens are:
- Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, Brazil nuts)
What about cow’s milk?
I recommend avoiding cow’s milk for the first year. Cow’s milk is hard to digest and can interfere with iron absorption. Yogurt and cheese are okay, because they’re easier to digest. But don’t go crazy on these. A lot of kids are sensitive to dairy, which can manifest as frequent colds and eczema. One 4 oz serving of yogurt and a few small pieces of cheese a day should be fine.
How to tell if baby is ready
Read the baby’s cues, but by 6 months, most babies are ready for more than their liquid diet. If they’re reaching for your food and seem curious about the process, they’re probably ready. Make sure baby can sit up (at least assisted) and hold their head up well. If not, they’re not ready for the muscle coordination of swallowing solids.
If you’re like me and are super paranoid about choking, you can use a mesh food holder, like this one, to introduce foods like apples, watermelon, and cooked sweet potatoes.
When you first start, food is just for tasting. As the weeks and months go by, let the baby eat as little or as much as he/she wants. Some babies eat just 4 oz of pureed food a day, while others can eat 6x this much. Breast milk or formula should make up the majority of their diet for the first year.
What about water?
As soon as the baby starts eating solids, you can introduce a sippy cup along with the food. If your baby is underweight, your doc might recommend waiting to introduce water so it doesn’t start replacing the milk the baby still needs. Introducing water (not juice!) from an early age sets your child up for a lifetime of healthy hydration.
Shortly after babies discover how great this whole eating thing is, they’ll want to start taking control. You can offer finger foods right away (after 6 months). Just make sure they’re soft enough to gum and not too sticky to swallow. Good options include:
- chunks of banana and avocado rolled up in baby cereal (so it’s not too slippery)
- chopped plums, pears & peaches
- cooked carrots & squash cubes
- diced cheese
- scrambled eggs
- O-shaped cereal
- mashed canned beans
- diced chicken & turkey
- pieces of cooked noodles
Sample schedule 8+ months
All babies are different, but a typical day might look something like this…
7am: Awake, breast milk: 6-10 oz
8am: Breakfast: ¼ cup baby oatmeal + ½ mashed up banana + ½ tsp nut butter
10:30am: Lunch: 4-8 oz pureed food (like chicken & sweet potato)
12:30pm: Breast milk or formula: 6-10 oz
3pm: Snack: 4 oz whole milk plain yogurt mixed with 2 oz apple sauce
5:30pm: Dinner: 4-8 oz pureed food (like peas & carrots, rice & lentils)
7pm: Breast milk or formula: 6-10 oz