Starting solid foods with your baby is an exciting time, but it can also be a stressful experience for parents. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the details of what types of food and how much food our children need. My advice for parents on this journey is to first relax. Feeding is a skill, and skills are developed through observation and practice. They develop at different times for different people. Like other things your baby is learning, he or she won’t be perfect at it right away and that’s okay. Breast milk or iron-fortified formula is still providing the necessary nutrition your baby needs, so you can feel comfortable while your baby learns.
How do I know my baby is ready?
Babies are ready to start purees and solids when they show interest in food and can sit upright and unassisted in an infant chair. This typically occurs around 6 months, but some babies are ready at 5 months, and some at 7 months or beyond. This is important because it demonstrates that your baby has the skills needed to manage food without choking. Feeding your baby solid foods too early can be dangerous.
What types of foods do I start with?
Most babies start with thin purees and move to thicker purees with time. When moving from purees to other foods, try things like mashed banana, small pieces of soft fruit, cottage cheese, yogurt, bread, cereal or other soft foods. As your baby shows signs that he or she can manage these foods, you can move toward small portions of foods that your family eats. If your family doesn’t have food allergies, you do not have to feed a single item at a time, and it is okay to add spices for flavor. If the food tastes good to you, your baby will agree!
You can also start introducing foods like yogurt, soft cheese, peanut butter and eggs early. We used to wait to introduce these, but early exposure has been shown to decrease the risk of food allergy. If your family has a history of severe food allergies, discuss with your pediatrician what approach is safest.
What foods should I avoid?
Avoid foods that have excess sugar or salt in them. These should be “sometimes foods” to avoid developing a preference. Avoid raw honey and unpasteurized food and drinks, as they may contain harmful bacteria. Finally, avoid foods that could cause choking, like hot dogs, nuts, raw carrots, grapes or popcorn. If you feel that you child is ready for these, make sure to feed them under close supervision.
What if my baby doesn’t like the food?
The key to introducing new food is to focus on the fun. Your child should learn about food by using their five senses. Provide foods with a variety of tastes, sounds, smells, textures and colors. It may take from 10 to 20 or more exposures before a child accepts a new food. Try not to be discouraged, stay calm and continue offering variety at each meal and throughout the day. Your child will find comfort in your consistency and may accept the food after multiple exposures. Don’t assume that spitting out, gagging or throwing food is a sign that your baby doesn’t like it. Throwing food teaches cause and effect, and gagging teaches your baby how to move things from the back of the throat to the front. Remember that your baby is learning, and his or her skills will improve as the baby practices and grows.
Mealtime is messy.
Meals should be a sensory experience for your baby. You can feed some with a spoon, but let your baby try to eat with his or her hands or a small spoon independently. Cut up pieces that are small enough for your baby to manage and let he or she touch, squish, taste and even spit out food – it’s all part of the learning experience.
My baby has changed so much in the first year, what is different about feeding after 12 months?
Using the five senses becomes even more important as your baby is learning about the world and beginning to make judgements about things. Stay consistent in your expectations – you decide what and when your baby eats, and he or she should be able to choose from what is offered and determine how much to eat. It is important to honor your child’s hunger and fullness, so the baby can learn to trust his or her body. Try to establish meal and snack times that are regular but flexible and teach your child to sit at a table or in a designated area while eating.
When can my baby start to drink milk?
At 12 months, your baby can begin to transition from breast milk or formula to whole cow’s milk. This transition should match your baby’s interest and willingness. Cow’s milk provides essential nutrients, so with 2-3 servings per day, your baby will continue to get the nutrition needed to grow and develop. Health experts recommend water and cow’s milk as the primary beverages for children from 1-5 years of age. Dairy is also part of a healthy diet throughout life, so drinking milk with your child supports your health and models healthy eating habits, too! Be consistent—if you offer milk with meals and water with snacks, your child will know what to expect moving forward.
What about milk alternatives? Are they healthier for my baby?
Plant-based “milk” beverages (such as almond, oat etc.) are very popular but are not recommended due to their wide variability in nutrient content. Your baby is growing quickly and needs nutrient-rich foods.
What other things should I remember when feeding my toddler?
Toddlers are becoming independent, which means they are often testing limits. It is normal for toddlers that once ate everything to become “picky eaters.” This is part of normal development and should not cause concern. Continue giving repeated exposures to new foods and focus on providing options that you are comfortable with, while letting your child use his or her new-found independence to make choices from those options.
Lose the stress and remember your child is learning
Chances are your child is very in-tune with your reactions. Try to stay calm during mealtime, and don’t worry about an individual meal. Focus on the nutrition that your child is getting throughout the day and week. When you feel frustrated, remind yourself that you wouldn’t expect your child to be perfect at other skills right away. When learning to swing, children must first learn to sit and balance, then to hold on while you push, and ultimately develops the ability to swing alone and pump their legs. Developing the skills to maintain a healthy diet is the same; you can help them learn by supporting variety, nutrition and fun.