So your little one is growing up, and you may be wondering if it’s time to begin adding solid foods into their diet. Every parent finds themselves in a mix of excitement and sadness when this issue comes up.
It can give parents a bit of remorse that their once tiny baby is not so tiny anymore. What it also does, though, is open up a whole new world of fun possibilities.
In the end, though, experimenting with new foods and figuring out ways to dodge projectile sweet potatoes is a rite of passage.
When Should You Begin Solid Foods?
So let’s start at the beginning. How do you know when it’s time to start serving solid foods? Well, it can depend on a number of factors.
As is the case with most important decisions involving your child, a conversation with your pediatrician is the first step. They will know your baby better than anyone other than yourself, and give their professional advice on what timing is best.
With that being said, the following are some traditional milestones in your baby’s development that you can look for when you’re considering solid foods.
Among the many things your pediatrician will look at when considering solids, weight will be a major factor.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you hold off until your child has doubled their birth weight and weighs at least 13 pounds.
You can’t expect your baby to eat anything solid until they can keep themselves upright. This means not only sitting up on their own, but holding their head up indefinitely as well.
This is important to prevent gagging and choking, so don’t try to rush things if your baby hasn’t accomplished these basics yet.
Making The Right Moves
Simply sitting up is a great start, but is not enough on its own to justify getting your baby on the solid food train.
The crucial last hurdle seems like an obvious one, but is sometimes overlooked by eager parents.
For a baby to eat solid foods, they need to be able to take the food off of a spoon with their mouth.
They also need to know how to use their tongue to move the food to the back of their mouth for swallowing. We adults often take for granted the fine motor skills involved in doing such routine tasks as chewing and swallowing.
Where To Start
The place most parents start is the grocery store. After getting the approval of their pediatrician, people go crazy buying everything in the baby food aisle.
Before a baby has had their first tiny bite, the parents have twelve different types of food, teething cookies, spoons, forks, bowls, cups, place-mats and bibs.
When you’re just starting out though, the only essential is a bunch of bibs!
There are no final rules for which foods to offer at which age. Every country, every culture, and each family will have their own unique variations.
With that being said, the following “toddler menu” is based on a lot of expert opinions and what real parents have found to work for their little ones.
Feel free to try the foods you feel are best and experiment with your own ideas, but whatever you do, do your research first to make sure it’s safe for babies first.
Remember that the hardest part about feeding toddlers is never you choosing the exact right food. Instead, it’s usually figuring out which foods your toddler will actually eat and not throw on the floor and walls out of rejection.
Keeping It Simple (Grains, That Is)
A baby’s digestive system is very much a work in progress during their first year. It is only able to process breast milk and formula at first.
At around the four month mark, this begins to change. Pediatricians suggest we start out by giving children the simplest of foods, namely single grain cereals.
Insider Tip: These single grain cereals are perhaps the messiest thing you will ever use! Even the tiniest scoop of them will scatter across a room and require a serious effort to wipe up from all over.
Once other foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats are introduced, it’s common practice to mix in rice or oatmeal as a thickening ingredient. Some foods mix better with certain grains than with others, so try a few variations and see for yourself how those work out.
A little bit goes a long way, so keep adding small amounts and mix it well until you reach the consistency that your baby tolerates best and enjoys the most.
By far the most popular first food for babies, rice cereal come in many varieties such as whole grain, brown rice, and iron fortified.
Whether using breast milk or formula, you will need to mix a tiny amount of rice cereal in with it. A general rule of thumb is to use 1 part cereal to 4 parts milk or formula.
Start off with a very runny mixture and slowly thicken it up as your baby seems able to handle it.
Much the same as rice cereal, oatmeal cereal is stirred in together with milk or formula in increasingly thicker versions. Some kids seem to prefer either rice or oatmeal, but either is a great opening menu item.
It often comes fortified with iron as well, which can be helpful for infants with a naturally lower iron intake who need to increase it.
Barley Or Rye Cereal
Though less frequently used, these grains remain excellent choices.
They are loaded with nutrients, and give parents yet another option if a baby is fussy about rice or oatmeal.
A Whole New World Of Foods
With your pediatrician’s approval, it is perfectly alright to try out foods other than simple cereals as a first food.
However, most of the time the six month mark is when the real variety comes to the menu. By this time, baby’s digestive capabilities are much more advanced, and the likelihood of adverse reactions goes down.
At this stage everything your baby eats will be either strained or a puree.
Remember that babies often need multiple exposures to a new food before accepting it, so don’t give up at the first flung spoonful.
Stockpile wash cloths and paper towels, then give your kid some of these common six month old foods a try.
A huge crowd pleaser in many households, this vegetable is sweet, hardy, and easy to digest for many babies.
If your little one enjoyed the taste of sweet potatoes, you could even have them give yams a try too.
Just be sure you serve them cool and mashed up. Your baby could burn themselves if you serve warm sweet potato or yams, and they won’t be interested in what you have to offer if you’re serving it cold.
This cousin of the sweet potato is more of a bland choice, but is a good alternative when you’re looking for a starchy food.
As far as fruits go, apples are found in all kinds of baby foods. They’re basic, easy on most stomachs, and even a little bit sweet.
Speaking of sweet, you rarely will have to struggle while offering bananas. Infants naturally enjoy sweet tastes, and banana is the king of sweet.
Not to mention the fact that bananas are one of the most easily digested foods a baby could eat.
Not the most fibrous fruit you could choose to offer your little one, but a banana comes packed with important vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium and manganese.
A commonly overlooked fruit, parents grow to love it as much as their kids do.
It is sweet enough to be a crowd pleaser, but its real superpower lies in helping out when your baby gets constipated.
Searching for something a little different? Plums aren’t as popular as bananas or apples, but they have a pleasant mix of tart and sweet flavors.
The infamous broccoli is a cause of countless mealtime standoffs, but comes packed with great vitamins that will help your baby grow. Try, try, and then try again with this one.
These can often be a problem to get kids to eat, but they are another staple choice when trying to mix in vegetables.
The meats at this stage need to stay bland and pureed, but they can be used. Chicken is as generic a meat as you can find, and is an excellent source of protein.
Mix up your meat menu with some mushy turkey. It has a bit more flavor than chicken, but is still bland enough to be well tolerated.
Fruits, Vegetables, or Meats? Which Is The Best First Food For Baby?
There are many competing theories about which food group is best to offer a baby first.
Each has its strong supporters, but none of them have a lock on any evidence to back up their reasoning. So which is right? Let’s take a quick glance at their arguments.
People who push for fruits first often cite how babies have natural sweet tooths.
It is often easier to tempt kids with sweet treats, so why not use the same method of getting picky toddlers to first try solids?
Sometimes in agreement with the “fruit first” crowd, veggie folks argue that if you don’t start out with vegetables then your baby will only ever want fruits.
No reliable studies seem to prove this, but Team Veggie is convinced, and will work hard to convert you to their team.
While not as typically chosen as a first food, meats are often suggested for breastfed babies.
The argument goes that since breastfed babies have lower iron levels than formula fed kids, meats are a great way to supplement their iron.
Scientists are not sure yet if lower iron levels in breastfed babies is actually a problem that needs correcting. There could be some natural biological reason for keeping a lower iron level early on in infancy.
Consult your child’s doctor with any concerns you have, but trust your parental instincts as well, especially when you sense that something’s not right.
All food choices seem to be valid options, so test them out and see for yourself how your baby likes them – but again, always do research beforehand and make sure that anything you plan on feeding your little one is baby-safe first.
The Three Day Rule
What if you’re starting solid foods and your little one is putting up all kinds of resistance? They try a food and eat some, but then refuse any more at all that day. It may be tempting to move on to a different food right away.
Be patient and give your child at least three days with a new food to allow time for any allergic reactions to present themselves.
As you go through the list of foods to offer your child, you must always be alert for any signs of adverse reactions. This can be anything from a minor rash or blemish, to vomiting or anaphylactic shock. For serious medical concerns, seek immediate help from a doctor.
However, what if the reaction is mild such as a red splotchy patch appearing during a meal then disappearing soon thereafter? Your pediatrician may simply recommend for you to wait a couple months and then try the food again.
Toddlers can often grow out of mild allergies as their body and immune system further develop.
Time For Finger Foods
Once your baby is a pro at purees, you may be wondering when they can move on to some more advanced food options.
As at each of the previous stages, though, there is no magic age or milestone that proves your child is ready for finger foods.
However, the list below names some general guidelines to help you and your pediatrician make the decision to move forward.
- Watching other people eating and showing interest
- Grabbing at objects around them (bowls, spoons, toys)
- Sitting upright and unassisted
- Pinching small objects between thumb and forefinger
When your baby starts exhibiting these behaviors, usually at around six to nine months old, then it’s time to upgrade their menu again. As your child develops, the list of possible foods becomes nearly endless.
The following are merely some popular examples to get you started.
Soft Fruits and Vegetables
Whether raw or steamed, fruits and vegetables are excellent for little fingers and hands to pick up.
Many fruits are soft enough to eat raw, but others will require some cooking preparation.
Boiling foods will leech out tons of nutrients into the water, though, so consider steaming as a healthier alternative.
Some foods hold a great deal of heat in their center, so always taste test it yourself for any burning risk. Whichever food you choose, also test to be certain that it can be mashed and chewed easily by your child.
Safety Tip: In order to check whether a food is safe, cover your teeth with your lips and try chewing it yourself.
Avoid any cheeses that are too hard, as they will pose a choking danger to children.
Overly pungent cheeses should also be skipped, since a baby’s sensitive system might struggle to digest it. This can lead to rashes and diarrhea.
Stick with simpler cheeses such as cheddar, american, or mozzarella, and keep the pieces small.
Puffs and Cereal
Check any diaper bag anywhere in the world, and there’s a very good chance some type of puffs will be in there.
These airy cereal treats come in a great many flavors, so you can always find some which your child will like.
They weigh practically nothing, and they dissolve within seconds. This makes puffs an ideal early finger food with very little choking risk.
Breakfast cereals are very similar to puffs, but not all of them are appropriate. Avoid any cereals that are crunchy with sharp corners, as well as anything that doesn’t dissolve easily.
Another diverse category of grabbable food is pasta.
It comes in endless different shapes and sizes which your toddler will enjoy. There are even whole grain or vegetable based types if that’s what you prefer.
Stay away from long noodles that may get stuck in the throat while swallowing, or just cut them up into bite sized pieces. To ensure your pasta is easy to chew, cook it for a minute or two more than the al dente instructions.
A World Of Possibilities
At around one year of age, kids finally get the go ahead to eat whatever they want (within reason, of course). This means nowhere near as much allergy concerns or digestive restraints.
Of course, many children will try some or all of the following foods at a younger age. But with few exceptions, the one year milestone is traditionally when pediatricians no longer have concerns about avoiding any of the following foods.
Until this point, babies require no other liquids than breastmilk or formula.
Now that they’re growing older, other milk and dairy can be introduced.
If you do choose to start milk, opt for whole milk only until your child reaches two years of age. Their developing brains needs the extra fat, so don’t rush to using skim or reduced fat milk just because it sounds healthier.
Yogurt is also safe now, but stay away from kinds which are packed with sugar. Yogurt melts are an excellent combination of dairy treat and on the go finger food.
Along with puffs, these are helpful when out at a restaurant and waiting for the food to arrive.
This staple food item is avoided early on out of fear for mercury intake. This is a valid concern at any age, but one year olds are better able to handle normal doses from occasional fish.
Be absolutely sure to remove any bones from your baby’s fish meal!
Scrambled eggs are pretty common even as early as six to nine months, but all varieties are now good to eat. The only concern you might want to heed is making sure to cook any egg yolks enough to kill bacteria.
Other than that, let kiddo join in on all the breakfast fun!
Goodbye, rashes. Hello, OJ!
Citrusy foods are way too acidic for kids under one year old. They can cause uncomfortable rashes and wreak havoc with tiny tummies.
At the one year of age mark, baby’s body is developed enough to break down the acid in foods like pineapple, grapefruit, or lemonade.
Wrapping It Up
Feeding your little baby solid foods is a major step forward in their life.
It will make you anxious about rashes and allergies. It will drive you crazy when struggling to get them to eat new foods. And it will definitely get you messy as your toddler figures out this whole new process for eating.
Enjoy this time in their lives as much as you can. No matter how crazy things may get, they need you to keep at it.
Offer them every type of food you can think of if it’s safe to do so and they’re old enough to handle it. Who knows, you may even get inspired to try some new foods yourself!