When to begin
Wait until baby is at least four months old to start on the solid stuff. He needs to have reached certain developmental milestones like holding his head up, sitting up with support and overcoming the extrusion reflex, which causes them to spit out solids. You’ll also want to get the okay from the pediatrician before you begin. She may recommend waiting until closer to six months to be sure your child is ready. Plus, a study published by American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that early introduction of solid food (before 17 weeks) may be linked to an increased risk of food allergies. The timing of baby’s first solid feeding will also depend on how well he’s gaining weight on breast milk or formula—and whether he may need added iron and nutrients to his liquid diet.
What to feed
So what should that exciting first taste of solid food be? For years, iron-fortified rice cereal, mixed with a generous helping of formula or breast milk, was the experts’ choice, but now both nutritionists and doctors say you can take your pick. “The order of introducing foods is no longer rigid—any order is fine,” says Jennifer Shu, MD, pediatrician and coauthor of Food Fights. “I’m a fan of starting with a root vegetable such as carrot or sweet potato, because they’re naturally sweet and puree to a smooth texture,” says Annabel Karmel, author of 40 recipe books and creator of the app Annabel’s Essential Guide to Feeding Your Baby & Toddler. “No-cook purees such as mashed banana or avocado are also fantastic and are packed full of nutrients.” Other popular first foods are pureed apples, pears, green beans, butternut squash, and oatmeal or barley cereal.
Just be careful about the consistency of baby’s food. “Start small and thin—your baby is used to breast milk or formula, which is a liquid consistency,” says Lara Field, MS, RD, CSP, LDN and founder of FEED, a pediatric nutrition counseling business. When transitioning to solids you don’t want to risk her choking, so start off with more liquid-y foods that will easily run off the spoon.
Once baby’s eating runny foods without any problem, you might want to introduce pureed beef or lamb (just be sure it’s very well pureed), which is high in that essential iron. “For breastfed babies, introducing meat early has some advantages, since iron is better absorbed from meat than it is from fortified cereal,” Shu says.
How to do it
Start without the spoon
To get baby used to the new flavors and textures, begin by dipping a clean finger into the puree and feeding her from your finger, which is softer, more familiar and less intrusive than a hard spoon.
Don’t expect baby to polish it all off
Baby may eat only a tablespoon or two at a time for the first few weeks as she adjusts to new textures and tastes. “Take it slow,” Karmel advises. “When you first start introducing baby to solids, it’s not about quantity—it’s just about getting her used to the idea of food.”
Watch for signs she’s done
Baby can’t say she’s full yet, so pay attention to her body language. If she’s grabbing at the spoon, spitting out food or clamping her lips shut, she’s probably trying to signal to you that she’s stuffed.
Be ready for a mess
There are bound to be spills, drips and splashes as you get the hang of feeding baby—and baby gets the hang of eating. But don’t let it stress you out. Keep washcloths or paper towels handy, and consider getting a wipe-clean drop cloth to lay down under the high chair to make cleanup a cinch.
Keep trying foods baby rejects
It may take several feedings before baby decides he actually does like pureed green beans, so keep trying. You can also mix a less-loved food in with a favorite to see if that helps entice him.
What to watch
Introduce new foods carefully
Go slow. Introduce something new every few days. That way, if your child develops an allergic reaction, it will be easier to find the cause.
Beware of a bad reaction
If baby develops a rash, vomiting, diarrhea or severe gas, it may be a sign of a food intolerance or allergy. Stop giving him the food immediately and call his pediatrician.
Hold off on milk and honey
Many babies have a hard time digesting cow’s milk, and honey carries a risk of infant botulism. if given to baby, so hold off until after the first birthday. (Other dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, are fine after nine months though, because the lactose in them has been broken down.)
Don’t freak about allergies
Unless you or your partner have severe food allergies, it’s okay to feed baby common allergens like wheat, shellfish, fish and soy. Just watch closely the first few times for signs of reaction.
PREP FOR MEALS
Buy baby food
Store-bought baby food may get a bad rap, but there are actually some healthy options available. See how to suss out the right ones for baby.
Count the ingredients
As you read labels, remember the fewer ingredients on the list, the better—ideally, the only thing applesauce should have in it is apples. Jarred baby foods may need a few preservatives to pro-long shelf life, but if you see several unpronounceable chemicals, it’s a good idea to avoid it. You can also ask your pediatrician to recommend some brands to try.
Check the protein levels
Many packaged “meat” baby foods actually have very little protein and iron in them, which means they won’t have the nutrients baby needs. You might be better off cooking up and pureeing your own chicken and beef.
Skip the salt and sugar
Babies don’t need salt or sugar—and baby food shouldn’t have them. Period.
DIY baby food
Making your own baby food is actually easier than it seems—just blend up a few simple steamed veggies, fruits or well-cooked meats and you’re in business. It’s also a way to maintain more control over what’s going into baby’s mouth, and may save you money over the pricey jarred foods. DIY-ing it may even help head off future picky eating (which toddlers are notorious for). “The type of food in premade baby food is actually pretty limited compared with all the different fruits and vegetables available at the grocery store,” says Bridget Swinney, MS, RD, LD and author of Baby Bites: Everything You Need to Know About Feeding Babies and Toddlers in One Handy Book. “Leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard are rich in lutein, an antioxidant important for eye health. You don’t see those vegetables in a jar. Infancy is a perfect time for babies to try many different foods to encourage them to eat a wide variety in the toddler years.” Every week, introduce baby to new fruits and veggies.
Ready to give DIY a shot? Keep these tips in mind:
While there are amazing baby-centric steam-and-puree systems out there (and many moms swear they make their lives easier), the pricey gadgets aren’t necessary for making baby food. Odds are you already have everything you need: a microwave or stove top to steam the foods and a blender, food mill or food processor to turn it into puree.
Make big batches
You don’t have to cook fresh baby food every night. Instead, make large batches of a single type of puree and freeze it in smaller servings—use ice cube trays for perfect one-ounce portions. Then, simply thaw out baby’s meal by placing it in the fridge and then warming it slightly on the stove. To change it up, you can mix and match purees every night—try apple and banana puree one night and apple and chicken another. Carve out an hour over the weekend and make all of baby’s food for the entire week.
Let baby have what you’re having
It’s okay to share your food with baby. She may not be ready for a bite of your curry or Buffalo wings, but if you’re serving something simple—steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes, grilled chicken—puree some of it for baby to try. Just remember to season your meal after you have set aside a serving for baby—spices (besides salt) are fine, but you might want to take it slow to watch for allergies.
Step it up a notch
Once baby’s eating the basics, challenge his taste buds while giving him the nutrition he needs. Introduce healthy options, like pureed acorn squash or zucchini or anything else you find in the produce section. You never know—he may love them for life.
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