What foods should I start with? What if my baby has an allergic reaction? How do I know my baby is getting enough important nutrients? Many parents approach introducing solid foods with great anticipation and some anxiety. These are only some of the questions parents ask themselves before the very first solid meal.
By the time they are 6 months old, babies need an additional dietary source of iron and zinc to complement the nutrition they are getting from breast milk or formula. They also may benefit from exposure to a variety of flavors, which has been shown to increase food acceptance as they get older.
Meat, eggs, iron-fortified cereals, beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables are great first foods that can be introduced in any order. Fish also may be introduced at 6 months to enhance dietary variety and provide an additional source of docosahexaenoic acid.
The best first solid food texture for most babies is a thin purée that can be prepared by grinding or blending food until very smooth and then thinning it with breast milk or formula. To make it easier to identify a trigger food in case of an allergic reaction, wait two to three days before introducing a new food and start with single-ingredient purées. Once the food “passes the test,” it can be added to other familiar foods to create mixed dishes. Baby food flavors also can be enhanced by adding spices and herbs.
Early on, eating solid meals is an opportunity for a baby to practice eating skills and experience new flavors. Keep starter portions small and only serve more if the baby is still hungry. There is no need to make sure the baby eats a certain amount; in fact, making babies eat more or less than they need may interfere with their ability to self-regulate.
Because babies kept on puréed foods for too long tend to have more feeding problems in the future, once the baby has mastered very thin purées, it’s time to start thickening them up and introducing lumps. To achieve a lumpier texture, mash food with a fork instead of a blender. Cooked egg yolks and soft raw or cooked fruits and vegetables can be fork-mashed to provide enough challenging texture for the baby to learn new eating skills.
Once the baby learns to handle mashed foods and lumps, you can introduce finger foods. Most babies are ready for finger foods at between 7 months and 9 months. Very soft cooked pieces of stewed meat or meatballs, boiled eggs, omelet, balls of sticky rice, pieces of cooked fish, tofu, cooked or canned beans, strips of toast, and small pieces of soft fruit and vegetables all make nutritious and easy finger foods.
Previous recommendations included delaying the introduction of common allergens such as nuts, tree nuts, fish and seafood, wheat, eggs, dairy and soy until the baby reached 12 months or older. In 2012, however, an expert panel of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology concluded there was no evidence to support delaying these foods past 4 to 6 months, once a baby has safely tolerated a few more traditional solid foods, such as iron-fortified cereal, fruits and vegetables. In fact, by introducing these foods early on, parents may protect their children from developing food allergies in the future.
Parents of children who have experienced eczema or with a strong family history of atopic disease should consult a pediatrician before introducing potentially allergenic foods. Cow’s milk is not recommended as a primary drink until 12 months due to its low iron content. Cheese and yogurt, on the other hand, can be safely introduced with other solids. And, while whole nuts present a choking hazard and chopped nuts are too challenging in texture for small babies, nut butters can enhance the nutrition of baby food if mixed into purées or spread on toast as a finger food.