And before you know it, your baby’s diet grows from just one food to so many!
Thinking about the next chapter of your little eater’s life can be a lot. What should I feed them? OK, what else should I feed them? How do I know they won’t choke? How do I know they’re eating enough? How do I know they’re not eating too much? And on, and on, and on.
But, fortunately, many of the common fears and myths about starting babies on solids are just untrue, or designed to make you think you need to buy special foods and tools to raise a healthy eater. For the most part, your baby can eat *most* of what the rest of the family eats, provided it’s a safe size and texture. You can make your own baby food easily, with no special “baby food maker”. And babies are excellent at regulating their own appetites, meaning they will (for the most part) stop eating when they are full.
1. Wait for baby to be ready
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that most babies begin the introduction of solid foods around 4 to 6 months of age. Prior to 4 months, your baby’s digestive system is not mature enough to handle solid foods, and introducing solid foods before 4 months may put your baby at higher risk for developing food allergies.
Besides age, there are other signs that your baby will show that indicate they may be ready for solid foods:
- Good head control
- Can sit upright while supported
- Loss of tongue thrust
- Desire to eat solid foods
You should always talk to your pediatrician before introducing solid foods and discuss any concerns you have around your baby’s weight, allergies or other medical concerns.
2. Practice good food safety
Babies and young children have immune systems that are still developing, so they are more prone to foodborne infections. You can help keep your baby free from these types of infections by practicing good food safety.
Principles of good food safety include:
- Clean: Wash your hands and baby’s hands prior to preparing food. Clean all surfaces used to prepare food (cutting boards, knives, bowls, etc) often.
- Separate: Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs separate from foods that are ready to eat. Do not reuse any utensils, cutting boards or other cooking tools after they have come into contact with raw meat, poultry, fish or eggs.
- Cook: Cook meat, poultry, fish and eggs thoroughly. Do not serve raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or eggs to your baby.
- Chill: Store any leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours of being cooked.
- Store: Homemade baby foods can be safely stored in the refrigerator for 1 day or in the freezer for 1 to 2 months.
- Reheat: Reheat foods from the refrigerator or freezer until they are thoroughly heated, then let stand until they are cool enough to eat.
- Unpasteurized foods: Never serve your baby unpasteurized (“raw”) milk or juice.
While your baby is learning how to chew and swallow solid foods, they are at risk for choking.
Avoid foods that are choking hazards for babies 6 to 12 months of age, such as:
- Whole corn kernels (cooked or raw)
- Uncut cherry or grape tomatoes
- Pieces or raw hard fruit or vegetables
- Whole pieces of canned fruit
- Uncut berries, cherries, grapes or melon balls
- Uncooked dry fruit such as raisins
- Whole or chopped nuts and nut butters (nut butters can be thinned with water, breast milk or formula, or spread thinly on a cracker. Do not serve large globs of nut butters.)
- Tough or large chunks of meat
- Hot dogs, sausages
- Fish with bones
- Large chunks of cheese, including string cheese
- Cookies, granola bars
- Chips, pretzels, similar snack foods
- Whole kernels of cooked rice and other grains
- Hard candy, jelly beans, marshmallows, chewing gum
Always supervise your baby while they are eating. I highly recommend that all caregivers complete an infant and child CPR class that covers choking.
3. Be a responsive feeder
Babies are surprisingly excellent at regulating their own appetite. They tell us when they are hungry. They eat to fulfill their hunger. And they stop eating when they are full. How many of us adults can say the same? Not many, I bet (and I’ll be the first to admit that I am not great at it either). For many of us, we tend to mindlessly snack out of boredom, loneliness or stress. We eat to the point where we feel overstuffed and then we regret our choices. If this is you, take a look at the principles of mindful eating or intuitive eating, which can help you become more aware of your body’s hunger cues and overcome eating for reasons other than hunger.
You can help your baby develop healthy eating behaviors by helping them understand their appetite and how to regulate it. This is done through responsive feeding. It’s a simple approach, but it does require you to trust your baby, which can be a little challenging and stressful.
Hunger cues are signs that your baby is hungry and wants more food, which include:
- Reaching or pointing to food
- Gets excited when food is offered
- Opens their mouth to accept more food
- May sign for “more” food
Fullness cues are signs that your baby is satisfied and done eating, which include:
- Slows their pace of eating
- Plays with food, throws food
- Turns head away from food, pushes food away
- Clenches mouth shut
- May shake their head “no”
Responsive feeding means you offer food when baby is hungry and complete the meal when baby is full. Don’t try and get baby to finish their plate of food or take more bites when they are full. Even if it looks to you that baby has not eaten enough, it’s important to remember that every meal is different. Your baby may eat a lot for breakfast and very little for lunch or dinner. Or your baby may eat very little on Monday and Tuesday and eat a lot on Wednesday. Look at your baby’s overall pattern of eating for a week, and most of the time you’ll find that, on average, they are eating enough.
If you have any concerns about your baby’s appetite or how much they eating, do not hesitate to talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric registered dietitian.
4. Offer a wide variety of foods
Are you struggling to think about what to feed your baby? For the most part*, your baby can eat exactly what the rest of the family eats.
*Foods that you should avoid are:
- Honey (raw or cooked) if baby is under 1 year old
- Choking hazards
- Foods that are unsafe (such as undercooked meat, poultry, fish or eggs)
- Foods that baby is allergic to
- Excess salt and sugar
Other than those, babies can enjoy all the same foods that you do!
The more different kinds of food you expose your baby to, the more likely they are to be adventurous eaters when they get older. Most kids will go through some periods of picky eating but you may be able to lessen the blow.
One of the most wonderful gifts you can give your baby is to cook them foods from your family’s background. Let your baby try your mother’s or grandmother’s famous recipes. Expose them to the foods of your culture. Show them that food is exciting and flavorful and fun. You teach your baby about colors and animals and shapes. Don’t forget to teach them about flavors too!
5. DIY puréed baby food
There are lots of baby food jars and pouches available at the grocery store. The quality has definitely gotten better over the years but these foods really don’t compare to fresh, homemade baby food. Store bought food may contain preservatives, including an acid like lemon juice, which isn’t bad for your baby, but it does affect the flavor of the food. Plus, store bought baby food is expensive, and can cost $1 to $2 per meal. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but compared to the cost of homemade baby food, it’s expensive!
Some key tips to remember:
- Use a blender, immersion (stick) blender or food processor to make baby purees
- Add water, breast milk or formula if you need to make your puree a thinner texture.
- Freeze your purees in ice cube trays (they are the perfect 2-tablespoon serving sizes). Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and label. This will keep in your freezer for 1 to 2 months. Then simply defrost and heat as many cubes as you need. Mixing and matching fruits and veggies is easy and quick.
- You won’t need as much puree as you think. Many babies are only eating pureed foods for 2 or 3 months before transitioning to more solid textures and finger foods. When my daughter was starting on purees, I only had to make 7 or 8 ice cube trays of food and that lasted until she was on to more solid textures.
- Cooked baby cereals (oatmeal, rice, mixed grain cereals) also freeze wonderfully in ice cube trays!
6. Keep mealtime fun, calm and positive
Above all else, remember, you are doing great, even if your kid doesn’t eat kale, açaí and quinoa. Mealtime is about more than eating, it’s about your baby learning to use all their senses to explore the world of food. Talk to your baby about the food you are eating and let your baby touch and smell the food. Get messy! And most importantly, have fun!