Baby First Foods: Five tips for success when introducing solids.
How to introduce solid foods to your baby
For a complete guide on starting baby’s first foods and for safety assessment please refer to this detailed information by Healthlink BC.
The intent of this blog post is to help sleep-deprived parents out there hit the right mindset for starting solids.
Starting solids is both exciting and challenging. This is a precious time in the development of your child. After 6 months of navigating a newborn, some enter this new phase with the dread of more change ahead, others are excited for the novelty and the new arena of infant learning. Regardless of where your emotions may be, one thing is clear, having the right mindset and a consistent approach will help establish a good feeding routine. Here are 5 strategies to help you navigate this milestone with simplicity and hopefully a spoonful of joy.
1. Aim for Iron
When thinking about what is the most important food to give to your baby, I often find that parents overfocus on fruits and vegetables. Of course, they are well intended. Many families are keen to have their little ones like and accept fruits and vegetables at an early age. When clients learn that fruits and vegetables are not the most essential food to offer initially, but iron-rich foods they are generally surprised. This is because at around 6 months baby’s iron stores are running low and so it becomes an important nutrient to offer. Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, beans, nuts are great iron rich foods to start. And yes many of these are also allergens, look at point 2 below.
But how can I offer these foods to a 4-6 month old? Meat and poultry soups and stews are a great food to offer because you can cook for the whole family. Make sure to add little to no salt and few spices. These types of meals also allow for the meat to be very soft, tender and moist; making them easy to mince and provide with some of the broth. Of course, if you prefer you can puree them with some veggies to make your own baby gerbers. Pureeing food is not necessary, but it can help parents initiate the process while they explore their baby’s gag reflex and feeding preferences. Hardboiled egg yolks can be eaten as is, because the are soft. Nuts of course need to be given as nut butters, or flours if you bake, as well as blended into smoothies. Beans can be mashed or blended into dips and soups. As for fish you can simply bake it and it should flake nicely so that you can feed it with your finger; of course check for bones!
As a rule of thumb anything that can be very gently pressed in between two fingers is soft enough for a baby to press in between their gums. Yes, no teeth are necessary at this point. With time, the teeth will help them master harder foods.
2. Offer high- allergen foods, one at a time.
The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends offering allergens that are safely prepared at 6 months of age. Research has shown that introducing allergens at 6 months but not before 4 months may prevent allergies from developing. Providing peanut butter, nuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, dairy and eggs are good foods to introduce during this time. Of course, you start slowly, one food at a time and observe for any potential reactions.
As for dairy milk, it is recommended, if the infant is eating iron- rich foods well by 9 months, full fat dairy milk can be introduced then, otherwise it is best to wait closer to 12 months. This means that a balance of breastmilk or formula (or both!) may still be indicated to support nutrition. At 6 months of age, dairy can be introduced in the form of cheese and yogurt instead.
3. Try baby-led AND spoon-fed
Baby-led weaning is a popular technique these days that aims for babies to eat finger foods independently. Baby-led weaning has many advantages including increased autonomy, greater participation of babies in family meals, and greater exploration of foods. Of course, the main disadvantage is not all babies are developmentally ready to feed themselves, as result, safety and adequate intake of nutrition may be of concern.
Here is a good resource to discern if baby-lead weaning is right for you. It is worth remembering that there is great bonding that happens when a parent spoon feeds, so this can be a great way to start the process. Spoon feeding also allows for a greater variety of foods and textures- for example stews and soups which can be packed with nutrition and iron-rich foods are much easier to provide via spoon, as are porridges. As your infant acquires new skills, she will be able to feed herself different textures like these using her hands or a baby spoon; and yes, part of the art is to allow for the mess!
4. Mix and Match textures and flavors.
If you prefer to use a spoon-feeding approach, it is important to note that purees are not the only texture you can provide; that is a common misconception! In fact, slowly advancing variety in textures and flavors will ensure that your little one stays engaged in the food provided. Offering different kinds of foods and textures will also make feeding more successful, allowing your baby to start deciding what to eat of what is offered and how much. Variety in texture will also support the development of speech and language as eating and drinking tones the muscles which are used for talking. It is also encouraged to give liquids in an open cup versus a sippy or bottle; but don’t worry if you can’t always do that as it is messier and requires more hands-on supervision. The point is to try different things to help your baby learn and grow.
5. Eat when baby eats
So often parents forget to feed themselves or to model healthy eating. Eating as a family with your little one is of immense value to help them learn to eat and enjoy mealtimes. A big mind shift to support the foundation of family meals from infancy onwards is to cook the same meal for the whole family! Other than watching for excessive salt and avoiding fresh and cooked honey before 12 months (a recommendation to prevent botulism), simple family meals can be enjoyed from 6 months onwards. Sure, some meals may need to be adapted as your infant tries allergens or learns to handle different textures, but generally speaking, that does not require making different meals for different members. Add-on sides like cut-up fruits and vegetables, yogurt parfaits, or hummus and crackers to regular meals to increase variety in case your main meal isn’t very successful. Implementing Ellyn Satter’s Division of responsibility early on while introducing solids will help you streamline meals and avoid picky eating from developing.
Interested in learning about the different solid foods you should introduce to your baby? We’re here to help!
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Daniela O’Brien is known for her contagious smile, warm approachability and collaborative approach to nutrition counselling for individuals and families. Her non-judgemental, calm demeaner mixed with confidence and clear direction is especially helpful when families are struggling with meal planning challenges, picky eating, health issues and complex eating disorders. Daniela specializes in Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating, Weight Concerns, Pre/Post-natal, Infant/Kids/Family Nutrition and offers services in both English and Spanish.