Starting your baby on solids is an exciting time for both baby and you, but did you know that how you introduce foods to them now can actually influence the how well they’ll feed themselves later? Laying the ground work for lifetime of healthy eating begins at an early age, and for new parents there can be a higher priority.
Before you start your baby on solid foods check with your pediatrician first. Typically, 4-6 months is a good time to introduce new foods, textures and modes of feeding because this is when an infant’s digestive system is more developed and their appetite and nutritional requirements are no longer met with breast milk or infant formula alone. Though breast milk and formula remains your baby’s primary source of nutrition, at this stage solids are supplemental and therefore they can be added gradually.
How can you tell if your baby is ready for solids? Here’s what to look for:
- Is your baby's tongue-thrust reflex gone or diminished? This reflex (which looks like your baby is sticking his or her tongue out at you) prevents infants from choking on foreign objects, and it enables them to push food out of their mouths.
- Baby’s feeding behavior has progressed from sucking to biting to chewing.
- Your baby can support his or her own head. To safely eat solid food an infant needs good head and neck control and should be able to sit up.
- Baby demonstrates greater interest in food. A 6-month-old baby who stares and grabs at your food is ready for some food variety themselves.
What types of foods should be introduced first?
Begin with iron-enriched rice cereal, which is gluten free and the least likely to cause an allergic reaction. Also, because it is bland it is a simple way to introduce solids for the first time.
Introduce vegetables next. As a new parent, your natural inclination might be to go from rice cereal to fruits because they are sweet and your baby will probably love the taste of a sweet fruit. However, this is a definite “no-no.” Instead, first start with vegetables that tend to be on the bitter side, such as broccoli, summer squash and green beans. Expect that it may take time for baby to warm up to broccoli, and that’s okay. But if you start off with sweet foods such as bananas, you’ll have even more difficulty introducing the bitter vegetables your baby needs. Think about it: if you had a choice between something sweet or something bitter which would you go for? Remember, a baby who learns to love vegetables is much more likely to grow up enjoying vegetables. That’s why you’ll want to introduce vegetables before fruits.
Once you have successfully introduced vegetables your baby is ready for fruits and then meats. By 12 months your baby should be eating from all of the food groups and be ready for foods that are chopped rather than pureed.
Try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! Remember every new taste is exciting and intense for your baby. Just because your baby spits something out or makes a yucky face doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t like it. You may need more than a few tries before your baby gets used to a taste.
Keep it simple. Introduce one new food at a time and do it early in the day. That way if your baby has diarrhea, vomiting, or develops a rash after eating, you’ll pretty much know which food caused it.
Hungry babies make for cranky feedings! Feed your baby first either with breast milk or formula and then try a spoonful of rice cereal. Why? Delivering a mouthful of completely new food will probably confuse and even frustrate your baby. Let them fill up first on what they are used to and then introduce a spoonful of rice cereal.
Sanitation is a must!
SAFE- Always spoon baby food into a separate bowl and refrigerate the unused portion in the baby food jar. Discard whatever is left uneaten in the bowl and then properly sanitize the bowl and spoon.
UNSAFE- Never feed your baby directly from the baby food jar. A baby’s mouth has germs and dipping the spoon back into the jar will contaminate what’s left for the next feeding.
Thinking about making your own baby food, but worried that it will be messy and a hassle? Check out the Beaba Babycook BPA Free Baby Food Maker - an all-in-one steamer, blender, warmer and defroster that makes it easy to prepare fresh, healthy meals for baby.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.