I don’t know about you, but introducing our baby to solid foods was simultaneously very exciting and completely terrifying to me. Before James was even born, I had so many ideas about what I wanted his relationship with food to include or not include as he got older, but I didn’t really know how to get there. On top of that, we had such a hard time with allergies and acid reflux from the get-go, even with exclusive breastfeeding, that I found myself becoming very fearful about starting solid foods.
Maybe you’re feeling the same way, or maybe you have some questions about when to start introducing solid foods or how to introduce solids to your baby. I hope you find this article helpful and that it answers some of those questions. The bottom line, though, is there are many different ways to introduce your baby to solids, whether you start at 4 or 6 months, with purées or finger food, cereal or vegetables, etc. The key is finding what’s right for your baby in their own time frame.
WHEN TO START SOLIDS
There is a lot of debate about when you should start your baby on solids. Your pediatrician should be able to give you some great advice about when is the right time for your baby, but for most families, introducing solids should happen sometime between 4-6 months.
When you decide to start will depend on your baby’s developmental milestones and the type of feeding style you want to begin with: pureed foods, “baby-led weaning” (aka finger foods), or a combination of the two.
To begin with pureed foods, your baby should:
- be at least 4 months old
- be able to sit with support
- have neck and head control
- has lost the tendency to tongue thrust
- shows interest in food (may even try to grab your food)
To begin with baby-led weaning, your baby should have all of the above AND:
- be at least 6 months old
- be able to sit without support
- be able to pinch and chew food without choking
WHY WE CHOSE TO START FEEDING OUR BABY AT FOUR MONTHS
We started with purées at four months for several reasons. My three main goals with food introduction were: 1) not to decrease breast milk supply or baby’s breastmilk intake, 2) prevent food allergies/aversions, and 3) to encourage James to be an adventurous eater. All of our food introduction choices were motivated by those three goals. Because James already has some sensory issues (e.g. hates sleeves, lotion, loud sounds, etc.), and because we wanted to avoid food allergies and textual aversions, we decided to start with solids at 4 months. Additionally, James has bad acid reflux, and adding food can be a great way for reflux babies to get additional nutrition and to help keep stomach contents down.
When James turns six months and can sit independently, then we will start introducing baby-led weaning, so stay tuned for more on that next month.
PUREED FOODS: WHAT TO START WITH
There are three food groups that people recommend starting babies on if they begin with pureed foods: cereals, vegetables, or fruits. There are pros and cons to each. The compelling reasons to start with cereals are that they are easy for babies to eat and digest, they are unlikely to cause an allergic reaction and most babies like them. As an added bonus, they are pretty easy for parents to prepare at home.
We have not introduced cereals yet. Our pediatrician recommended starting with vegetables. This is also what I had read about and been strongly interested in after reading Bringing Up Bébe, my favorite parenting book that I read while pregnant (Be sure to check out my review of the book). The benefit to starting with vegetables was that it exposed James to a lot of flavors and textures that can be challenging for young children before he was already pre-disposed to sweeter flavors and before he really needed to eat the food for its nutritional value. Starting with vegetables was all about tasting, exploring, and learning the mechanics of eating.
The Order of Introduction
When introducing vegetables first, our pediatrician recommended going through all the green vegetables first, then moving to the orange vegetables, then moving to fruits and meats. (High-allergen foods like eggs and peanut butter come later at around 6-7 months, and cow dairy is avoided until 9-10 months). Note: even though avocado is technically a fruit, it is considered as part of the vegetable group here.
The foods we have tried, in order, so far, have been: avocado, peas (w/mint), spinach, zucchini, green beans, pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, and butternut squash. James is now 5.5 months old and we haven’t even gotten to fruits or meats yet (except for prunes to help him go to the bathroom more regularly). As a general rule, he is unsure about most new foods for the first couple of feedings but then is generally tolerant of them. We had an easier time with the orange veggies than the green. He LOVES sweet potato and pumpkin. Grainy textures are a bit of a challenge for him, so if you’re making your own baby food I recommend straining grainier vegetables like peas and carrots.
IS HOME-MADE BABY FOOD BETTER THAN STORE BOUGHT?
Most parents who are starting to feed their infant pureed foods wonder if store-bought baby food is healthy or make their own. Because I like cooking and want to have more control over what our baby eats, I intend to make most of our baby food, with the exception of some difficult to prepare puréed foods like pumpkin and apple.
We have already given James some store-bought baby food (BeechNut Organics and Natural Baby Food). Neither of us cared much for the green vegetable varieties of these products. I like the taste of fresh, bright green vegetables. Canned baby vegetables are boiled within an inch of their life and take on a funny smell (to me), so I’m not surprised that James wasn’t as much of a fan of them as he was of the veggies I made for him. (Update: At 6 months, James is much more tolerant of the store-bought veggie varieties.) Because green vegetables are easy to prepare, I’d much rather just make them myself. But for more difficult to find or prepare foods, or for foods that I don’t want to have to make a large quantity of, buying a jar or two for him to try has worked great. The BeechNut Organic pumpkin has been a huge hit.
Here’s a link to some of the top-recommended store-bought baby foods, if that’s a route you want to go.
Many people have concerns about the health and safety of store-bought baby foods, and those fears are warranted. Consumer Reports shows that there are indeed issues with top baby food brands when it comes to their heavy metal content. It is worth noting that rice products (including rice-based baby snacks) are the products that are the worst offenders.
Making your own baby food is a great alternative to store-bought if you want to have more control over what your baby eats, save money, and create opportunities for your baby’s meals to mirror those of the rest of the family. It does take some practice and some work, but it’s not that bad. If you do opt to make your own, try to buy organic whenever possible.
MAKING YOUR OWN BABY FOOD: PRODUCT GUIDE
1. A High-Power Blender.
I have tried making baby food several ways–food processor, blender, food mill, and hand mashed–because I’m an over-achiever or something. When making your own baby food, I feel a blender is hands-down the best way to go. We are using my mother-in-law’s Ninja and it is working GREAT! I think a Vita-Mix would also work excellently.
The reason I prefer the blender to the food processor or food mill when starting solids is that it grinds the pieces much more finely into a texture that is easier for baby to swallow. Maybe as he gets older this won’t be an issue, but at 4 months it was.
2. A Fine-Mesh Strainer/Chinoise.
Even after using the blender, we had to strain grainier vegetables (like carrots) to get them to a true pureed consistency that James would tolerate. As a general rule, for these types of foods, always strain twice.
3. A Hand-Masher/Mortar and Pestle.
If you’re making a small quantity of something small like avocado or banana, a hand-masher like the one in this kit works great. It also means fewer dishes, which is always a win.
4. Baby Food Freezer Trays
These baby food freezer trays are amazing! They have a line on them to mark where to pour for 1 oz. portions and because the tray is silicone, you can remove one cube at a time if you want. We make a tray of one food and pop them all into freezer storage bags to take out one at a time and it’s working great.
5. (Optional) A Baby-Food Cookbook
This isn’t a necessity, especially at the beginning when you’ll only be cooking and serving a single ingredient, but it can be helpful if you want ideas for creative combinations/recipes or a more comprehensive guide on what to feed the baby and when. We use The Big Book of Organic Baby Food by Stephanie Middleberg and I really like it.
OTHER PRODUCTS YOU’LL NEED WHEN STARTING PUREES
Whether you decide to make or buy your own baby food there are a few other products you’ll need when you introduce purees to your baby.
- A high chair (w/ placemat). We use the Inglesina Dining Table Chair. Pros: doesn’t take up a lot of space, soft structure is easy on baby’s skin, comes with an easy to wash tray, and baby gets to sit with us at the table, Cons: more difficult to clean than a traditional all-plastic chair.
- Spoons and bowls. The most important thing to look for in a spoon is that it’s small and soft for baby’s little mouth and sensitive gums. I’ve been using the ones in the baby food kit I linked above and they’ve been awesome. We haven’t really needed bowls yet, I pretty much just use little freezer jars/Tupperware to serve his food in since he eats so little. We do have some Munchkin ones that suction to the placemat for when he’s a little older though.
- Bibs, lots of bibs. Feeding a baby solid foods is a messy affair. We’ve had to start giving James a bath every day now that he’s eating solids, and at the very beginning, I pretty much took him straight to the bath right after eating. I fell for the Instagram trap and started with the Mushie bibs right away because they were pretty, but I think that was a mistake. James DOES like chewing on them, but he hates having them around his neck and when he starts chewing on them in the middle of a meal it spreads the mess rather than containing it. Maybe these will be better as he gets older, but right now, cloth bibs are working better than silicone. But because NOTHING can be easy with our baby, finding a cloth bib that James will tolerate hasn’t been easy either. Most of the bandana ones don’t seem to fit him right (they are tight on the neck and bunch up in the front awkwardly) and anything that velcros come right off. Oddly enough, the one we have had the most success with is this one from Storiarts that a friend got him for Christmas. He likes it because the fabric that goes around his neck is narrow (IDK, insert exasperated shoulder shrug here). The only downside is that I think he will grow out of it quickly. Hopefully, by then he’ll be ready for the Mushie bib. (Update: At 6 months, the Indi bibs have become some of our favorites)
THE EXPERIENCE: WHAT TO EXPECT (OR NOT, IF YOU’RE LUCKY)
James is, to say the least, a challenge when it comes to new experiences. I kid you not, for the first couple weeks of our journey with solid food, he barely ate more than a couple of bites a day. If we got him to sit in the high chair for more five minutes, get a bib on and off, and spoon a couple of mushy peas down his throat before he fell apart in total melt-down, it was a victory. He STILL only wants to eat solid food once or twice a day and he only eats .5-1 oz. a sitting. I have no idea if this is normal or not, but that’s what we’ve experienced.
About two weeks into starting solids, he did start to “get it” more. He stopped pushing the food out, he started opening his mouth for the spoon, he became more tolerant of the bib and high chair, and he started to seem more excited about the prospect of eating. That being said, it’s still a bit of a struggle. For that reason, I am so glad we started when we did. If you have a challenging baby, starting solids earlier rather than later may be a great way to relieve some of the pressure, because you can be certain that your baby will still be able to get all of their necessary nutrients from formula or breastmilk if introducing solids takes longer than expected.
- Have an extra spoon for baby to play with. It prevents them from trying to grab or throw the spoon with the food on it.
- Time feedings so that baby is hungry, but not TOO hungry and at a time of day when they’re in a better mood.
- Divide jarred baby food into smaller portions and freeze some to avoid having to throw excess away. Most baby food is good for 2-3 days, but at the beginning, it may take you 4-5 days to go through a jar.
- Use feeding as a chance to practice baby sign language, such as “more” or “all done.”
Starting solids is a fun milestone to get to with your baby, or at least, it has been for us. It hasn’t been without challenges though. There have been tantrums, there were batches of spinach that went right into the trash can, I cried a couple of times, but it’s all good. The most important thing is to just take it one day at a time and have grace for yourself and your baby. Whether you decide to start with purees or finger foods, at 4 or 6 months, buy your baby food or make it, introducing solids should be fun for both you and your little one.
I’ll be updating more about our solid food journey when we start incorporating more food groups and when we start baby-led weaning next month. Stay tuned!