Plenty of information exists about when to transition babies to solid foods. There’s no shortage of guidelines from websites and books, and parents and grandparents often have suggestions for “what works best.” Still, transitioning babies to solid foods can be a confusing and anxiety-ridden time for parents. (I’ve been there myself!)
This Nutrition Note tries to bring some clarity to the process, with a few basic guiding principles — most importantly, patience and flexibility.
As you know, breast is best, and from birth to fours months of age, babies should only have breast milk or formula. Their little digestive systems just can’t handle any more than that.
Between 4-6 months of age, your little one may be ready to take the next step if she can sit up in a high chair, show interest in food, hold up her head, seem hungry after the normal feeding schedule (8-10 feedings, or 40 ounces of formula) and move her tongue back and forth. Just remember — there’s no rush to starting solid foods.
Many parents start with iron-fortified cereal, but there’s no rule saying that it can’t be something slightly more inviting. Here are three important guidelines as you begin:
1. Keep baby’s first foods simple, mild, and digestible
2. Introduce them one at a time
3. Start “meals” with breast milk or formula, since they’re nutritionally superior to solids.
FOODS TO CHOOSE: Rice, millet and barley are excellent and mild grains. Also excellent are sweet potato and yam, cooked apples and pears, bananas, avocados and zucchini. If baby won’t eat on the first few tries, don’t worry. Try again a few days later.
FOODS TO AVOID: To begin, you may want to steer clear of foods like beans, peas, broccoli and cauliflower, egg whites, strawberry and wheat, because of their gassy or allergenic qualities.
If you want to make your own baby food, this is the time to start. The book, Cooking for Baby, with recipes by Lisa Barnes is a fantastic guide.
Baby only needs a tiny amount to start — just one teaspoon of pureed food or cereal mixed with 4-5 teaspoons of breast milk or formula. Gradually increase to one tablespoon of pureed food, or cereal mixed with breast milk or formula at meal times twice per day.
6-8 MONTHS is the time to start introducing more protein foods — pureed meats (i.e., chicken, beef), tofu, beans, and legumes (black beans, edamame, chickpeas, lentils). At this stage, most babies will eat pureed foods over the course of 2-3 meals per day, including cereal, fruit, vegetables, and a small amount of protein foods.
Each baby is different as far as the amount they eat. Total amounts per day tend to range between 3-9 tablespoons of cereal, ¼ – ½ cup of fruit, and ¼ – ½ cup of vegetables.
For most babies 8-10 MONTHS of age, mashed (instead of pureed) fruits, vegetables and beans, and small pieces of finger foods such as, ripe banana, cooked pasta, and O-shaped cereal are new opportunities. While cow’s milk is still discouraged, soft cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese are often welcome additions.
Total amounts per day tend to fall in the ranges listed here:
- ¼ – ½ cup iron-fortified cereal
- ¼ – ½ cup fruit
- ¼ – ½ cup vegetables
- ¼ – 1/3 cup dairy
- 1/8 – ¼ cup protein foods
Closing on one year (10-12 MONTHS), babies will continue to eat approximately the same amount of food throughout the course of a day, with the addition of some combination foods, such as macaroni & cheese or casserole-type foods (about 1/8 – ¼ cup). They may even try to start using a spoon. Eggs and boneless fish are good additions now, as baby enjoys finely ground meats and mashed beans, and bite-sized veggies and fruits.
What About Food Allergies?
Postponing foods like eggs, fish and peanuts does NOT prevent food allergies. However, you may want to delay their introduction if your family has a history of food allergies or your child has eczema. (For more info, see our Nutrition Note on Common Infant Food Concerns.) Whatever you decide, be sure to introduce new foods one at a time and wait at least three days before introducing the next new food. If you have any questions or concerns talk with your Kids Plus Provider.
Introducing solids and trying new foods is an adventure for everyone. Recall the first time you tried sushi or perhaps another, more unusual food – it’s a lot like that for your little one, on almost every one! Most importantly, be patient and flexible. Baby’s growth and development don’t follow an exact time line — so we, as parents, shouldn’t either.
For additional guidance, check out this web site from the American Dietetic Association.
Anne Marie Kuchera, one of our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultants, is a registered dietician and board-eligible national certified counselor.