Don’t introduce solid food until your child shows a readiness for it—usually sometime between six months and a year old. The current American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommend that breastmilk be a baby’s primary source of nutrition for the first year and that solids not be introduced until a baby is at least six months old.
First feedings should be small. Until your baby is a year old, food should be viewed as a way to accustom your baby to new tastes and textures and to joining in at mealtimes—not as a source of nutrition. Think of solid food as a condiment rather than as the main course.
Continue to breastfeed your baby as much as she wants. Offer your breast before meals, so that she gets most of her calories from breastmilk.
KEEP FOODS SIMPLE
Keep foods simple for at least the first few months, to enable you to detect any food sensitivities your baby may have. Introduce each new food alone, rather than in combination with other foods. Feed each new food for three to five days, just a spoonful at a time, and watch for any reaction.
Allergic reactions might include:
- a rash around the mouth or bottom
- red eyes
- ear infections
A mild reaction means you should hold off on serving that food for a few months. A severe reaction should be discussed with your health practitioner.
Start with foods that are low in protein and easy to assimilate, such as:
- Fruit. Fruits are a good first choice because most babies will be attracted to their sweetness. Bananas are perfect—you can mash them up for a child under nine months, and cut them into small pieces for an older child. Apples and pears can be served stewed and pureed, or grated in small pieces. Peaches and apricots can be mashed or diced. Bits of melon and blueberries make good finger food. Wait until your child is over a year old to serve citrus fruits, as they can be allergenic. Dried fruits such as raisins should be avoided, since they can cause choking and can get stuck between the teeth and cause cavities.
- Vegetables. After your baby has become accustomed to a few fruits, try serving vegetables. Start out with the sweeter, orange varieties: sweet potato, carrots, and winter squash, cooked and mashed. Potatoes, peas, and green beans can be served mashed or diced. Avocado is one vegetable you can serve raw. Wait until your baby is a year before offering corn and tomatoes, as they can be allergenic.
- Grains. Whole grain cereals contain protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and essential minerals, as well as a hearty flavor and aroma. After your baby is tolerating fruits and vegetables well, you can introduce whole grain cereals, starting with a single grain at a time, and later mixing grains. Oatmeal, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and millet are good grains to start with. Wait on wheat; it is a common allergen.
- Nuts and Legumes. While your child is breastfeeding, he does not need a lot of additional protein. After a year, however, when solid food begins to make up more of his diet, good sources of protein include tofu, beans such as chickpeas and pinto beans, legumes such as split peas, hummus (chickpea and garlic paste), and seed and nut butters such as tahini (sesame seed butter), and almond butter. Peanuts are one of the most allergenic foods; although peanut butter is a perennial children’s favorite, it should not be given to children before they are two or three.
- Chicken, Fish and Eggs. Animal proteins are the most difficult foods to digest. They are probably not necessary, if at all, until a child is walking and making more physical demands on himself. If you do serve meats or fish, they should be boiled or cooked until very soft, then chopped or flaked finely. Because egg whites can be an allergen, do not give them to your baby until he is over one year old.
- Dairy Products. Cow’s milk, which is highly allergenic, should never be given to a child under a year old, as it is high in protein and minerals, which can put a strain on an infant’s immature kidneys. Yogurt can be fed to infants, however, as it contains bacteria that make it easier to digest.
HOW TO PREPARE
Foods should be mashed with a fork or put through a food mill until still chunky. A baby who is six months or older should not need to have her food pureed or liquefied. Once your baby is able to pick up small objects between her thumb and forefinger, give her finger foods; just be sure the pieces of food are small enough that they will not present a choking hazard. (see “Foods Babies Can Choke On” below). And do not ever leave your baby alone while she is eating, in case she does choke or gag.
FOOD BABIES CAN CHOKE ON
- Apple chunks or apple slices
- Dry cereal
- Hard candies or cookies
- Hot dogs or Tofu dogs
- Meat chunks
- Potato Chips
- Raw Carrot Sticks
- Rice Cakes
- Whole Corn Kernels
- Whole Nuts
- Whole Berries
COMMON ALLERGENIC FOODS
Wait until your baby is at least a year old—two to three years old if allergies run in your family—before introducing these foods:
- Egg Whites
- Nuts, especially Peanuts
DIY BABY FOOD IDEAS
Serving homemade food is simply a matter of taking a little of the fresh food you are eating yourself, and pureeing it for your baby. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Keep a baby food grinder at the table and grind foods from your plate that are appropriate for your baby.
- Steam fresh fruits and vegetables (no need to add more salt or sweeteners) and puree to the desired texture in a food processor or blender.
- Freeze individual portions of baby food in ice cube trays or recycled small jars and defrost one serving at a time.
- Make your own whole-grain baby cereal by toasting a grain like brown rice, millet, or quinoa in the oven or a skillet. Grind the grains in a food processor or coffee grinder reserved for that use, immediately before serving them (grains begin to lose nutritional value within a day or two of grinding). To make cereal, simmer a few spoonfuls of ground grains in a half-cup of water. For older children, dress the cereal up with sliced fruit, yogurt, or maple syrup.
- Consider leftover rice a natural baby food. Stir in a little breastmilk, or heat it with a little chicken stock.
- Make polenta for the family, topped with tomato sauce and cheese, and serve the baby’s plain.
- Oven-roast zucchini, potatoes, yams, and carrots with a little olive oil until soft.
- Mash sweet potatoes mixed with quinoa—a soft grain—for a nutrition-packed meal for a baby or toddler.
- Reserve some vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, lentils, or parsnips to puree for the baby when you are cooking stews, roasts, or soups for the family. For an older baby, you can puree a small portion of the stew or soup.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She founded Mothering.com in 1995 and was its editor-in chief until 2012. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place. Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three.