In the beginning, feeding your baby is relatively simple. Whether they are breastfed or formula fed, it’s a pretty basic menu. Around 5-6 months old however, your baby may begin to show signs they’re ready for more variety.
Knowing what to feed your baby, how to do it, and when can be a little tricky. Babies, as you probably already know, are not all alike. Some will transition to solid foods quickly and easily. Others will take their time and still others will be quite particular about what they’ll eat, when, and how much.
That’s why we spoke with Jessica L. Garay PhD, RDN and FAND. Dr. Garay answered common questions parents have regarding introducing solid foods, how to do it, and food allergies.
When Should I Introduce Solid Foods to My Baby?
Look to your baby for cues that they’re ready to expand their palette beyond breast milk or formula. Dr. Garay advises, “There are several signs of readiness, including being able to sit up unsupported with good head and neck control. They should also be showing an interest in eating and possibly mimicking you when you eat.”
Depending on how your baby reacts to solids, you may need to take it slow at first. Some babies are completely happy eating one food morning, noon, and night. Once you’ve seen how your baby reacts to solid foods, you can continue to expand their options. In fact, Dr. Garay told us, “Between ages 6-12 months old, parents can gradually introduce their infant to different types and textures of solid food. At 12 months old, infants can begin consuming cow’s milk in addition to solid food.”
What Exactly Can My Baby Start Eating?
Introducing your baby to solid foods doesn't necessarily mean they’ll immediately start to eat what you eat. In fact, at this stage of the game it’s all about baby steps. Dr. Garay shared some important insights with us, “Care has to be taken to avoid choking hazards among infants, such as grapes, hot dogs, nuts, and raw vegetables like carrots. Because of food safety concerns, honey and undercooked eggs should also be avoided until the child is at least 1 year old. Prior to 1 year of age, cow’s milk should be avoided because an infant’s digestive system is not equipped to digest the protein from this type of milk. Fruit juice or other sugary beverages should also be avoided since they do not provide a lot of nutritional value.”
Speaking of safety, allergies are a topic on many parent’s minds. According to the CDC, approximately 8% of children in the U.S. have a food allergy. How do you know if your baby has a food allergy? “Regarding food allergies, the thinking about this has changed in recent years,” Dr. Garay shared. “Instead of avoiding common allergens, it’s now recommended to introduce these items during infancy. Small amounts of foods such as peanut butter or cooked egg can actually help reduce the risk of a food allergy developing. If there is a family history of food allergies, or if the infant has eczema or other allergies, consult a pediatrician first before giving allergen-containing foods.” If your baby shows mild signs of a food allergy, speak with your pediatrician. Mild signs of an allergy can include a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, mild cough, and hives.
How Do I Make the Move To Solid Foods?
When it’s time to add solid foods to your baby’s diet, there are two common approaches. Dr. Garay explained both options to us. “Baby-led weaning is a feeding approach that provides small amounts of the food the family is eating to the infant, taking care to avoid choking hazards. For example, if the parents are eating a dinner meal of baked chicken, rice, and cooked vegetables, the infant can be provided with small amounts of these food items on their high chair. Parents do not have to spoon feed the infant, but rather allow the infant to attempt to grasp the food and feed themselves,” Dr. Garay shared.
The second, and more traditional option, Dr. Garay explained is puree feeding, which “provides blended fruits, vegetables, and possibly grains or meats in an easy to swallow thick liquid. These purees can be purchased already-made, or parents can make their own. Historically, purees were sold in jars, and parents spoon fed them to the infant. Nowadays, many companies make purees in single-serve squeeze pouches that the infant can learn to use by itself.”
Regardless of which approach you choose, and even if you opt for a blended approach, Dr. Garay said, “working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has expertise in child feeding can be very helpful.”
If a registered dietician isn’t an option Dr. Garay also shared additional resources for parents, “Ellyn Satter is a well-respected child feeding guru with a website and several books. The website and social media accounts for Kids Eat in Color also have wonderful examples and ideas for feeding children of all ages.”
In the end, Dr. Garay told us, “feeding an infant can be surprisingly simple - a good high chair is really all you need to get started!” Here’s to expanding your baby’s palette and watching them explore all the flavors or textures of the food available to them. Bon appétit baby!