Introducing babies to solids is their first step into a life-long journey with food! It is so much more than simply transitioning from breast milk or baby formula to ‘mushy’ first foods. The importance of this transition to first foods is one of the many reasons pediatric and child nutrition experts have conducted extensive research on baby’s first foods by age.
Sadly, a negative experience during this crucial stage of your baby’s development and growth can set the tone for anxiety and tears at every mealtime.
As a parent, you will need to be flexible and sensitive to your baby’s level of readiness to explore this new environment. Since birth, breastmilk or formula has been the baby's primary life-giving source of sustenance therefore you may get resistance at first.
In some cases, it will take every ounce of patience, wisdom, and perseverance to ensure your baby builds a healthy relationship with food.
Teaching your baby to form a healthy relationship with food
In this article, we will explore tried and tested methods to introduce your baby to solid foods. So they hopefully will form a ‘healthy relationship’ with food as they grow older.
We will share exciting, colourful and adventurous meal planning ideas to ensure it meets all your baby's nutritional needs. Foods should be well-balanced and age-appropriate during these crucial developmental stages of your little one’s life.
The idea is for your baby to look forward to experiencing different tastes, textures, exciting colours, and eye-catching presentations during mealtimes.
Transition-readiness between 4 to 6 months
You will know if your baby is ready to be introduced to something a little more ‘solid’ than breast milk or formula by observing the following signs:
- Your baby can sit quite well and firmly hold up their head. Their head should not roll to the side or drop forward.
- Your baby is curious about everything around them and takes great interest in what you're eating. Sometimes they eagerly reach out their little hands making sounds with their mouth. They may even try to imitate your chewing actions. (This is an excellent reason to invest in a high chair. This way your baby can join the family at the dinner table during meals – even only as a curious spectator at first!).
- When placing the tip of a spoon into your baby’s mouth, they do not automatically push out their tongue and push the food away. It is called the tongue-thrust reflex. It’s one of many automatic reflexes that babies are born with but lose as they develop.
- Your baby still seems hungry after drinking the full quota of the day’s breastmilk or formula. (Around 8-10 breastfeeding sessions or 32 ounces of milk formula).
It’s a transition, not a total replacement period.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly advises breastfeeding (or baby formula) throughout the transition period. This is where the bulk of the baby's nutrition will continue to come from over the next 12 or more months.
What this means for you as a parent is not to be overly concerned about how much your baby eats. They certainly don't have to finish the whole jar of baby food in one sitting. If you mix baby’s first cereal, mashed banana or other pureed foods with breast milk or baby formula, it's a win-win!
Babies progress by repeatedly tasting foods and moving them around in their little mouths. According to research conducted by paediatrics expert Dr Gwen Dewar, babies are exploring a brand new world of tastes and textures. Parents should introduce as many new foods as possible during these early stages of their development.
Nutritional balance in baby’s first foods 4 – 6 months
Iron-rich foods are essential as the iron stores acquired in the womb and the little extra your baby gets from breast milk can become depleted.
Breast milk or formula can be mixed with any ONE of the following foods:
- Iron-fortified cereal (barley, oats or quinoa instead of rice cereal which contains too much starch.)
- Pureed bananas (a super fruit), apples, pears, peaches and avocado.
- Pureed peas, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin.
- Pureed meats such as chicken and minced beef. (Although these are proteins, they are also sources of iron and recommended by the USDA).
- Puree chopped skinless chicken breast or other meat – add sufficient liquid (sodium-free natural veggie stock).
- Introduce one food at a time with at least 3-4 days in between
- Introduce organic salt & sugar-free peanut butter thinly spread on a thin strip of soft white bread; cooked, mashed egg mixed with breastmilk or formula, and fish (look out for immediate vomiting or signs of a rash which can occur after a few hours).
Amounts per day
- At this stage, breast milk or formula provides the bulk of the nutrition (28 to 32 ounces per day).
- Of the pureed foods, 1-2 teaspoons increased to 2-4 tablespoons twice a day.
- 1 cup = 8 ounces = 240 mL
- ¾ cup = 6 ounces = 180 ml
- ½ cup = 4 ounces = 120 mL
- ¼ cup = 2 ounces = 60 ml
- 1 Tbsp = 0.05 ounces = 14.7mL
- 1 tsp = 5 mL
- Sugar, salt, or honey (honey can be especially harmful at this stage).
TIP: If your baby shakes their head, ‘no’, won’t open their mouth, or turns their head away after one mouthful, don’t panic and force them to eat. Take them out of the high chair to show them it’s okay. The experts recommend you skip a few days before trying the same food or cereal again – but keep on trying!
Introducing Stage 2 foods from 6 to 8 months
With your baby thriving and already showing a liking for certain foods, you can go wild and include as many foods in the colours of the rainbow to continue building your baby’s healthy relationship with food while providing high-quality, balanced nutrition.
- Continue with the Stage 1 food groups for 4-6 months, pureed and mixed with breast milk or formula as required;
- Add a wider variety of protein and fibre: pureed or mashed tofu and legumes such as black beans, fava beans, black-eyed beans, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, etc.
- Add some dairy products: pureed or softened pasteurized cheese, unsweetened yoghurt or cottage cheese.
- Finger foods: thin strips of bread spread with any nut butter (if your baby is not allergic), thin wafers or crackers.
- Spice things up: Award-winning author and psychiatrist Dr Daniel Amen believes some herbs and spices should be in the medicine cupboard for their unique plant-based health-building properties. It includes thyme, turmeric, saffron, rosemary, sage, oregano, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
- Add warming spices: Don’t forget a touch of garlic, ginger, mild peppers, the likes of Anaheims and Poblanos, as babies can taste it in their mother’s breast milk.
According to Dr Gwen Dewar, breastfed babies may develop a healthier relationship with food and are less inclined to become picky eaters due to the differentiation of tastes they detect in breast milk.
Amounts per day
- Continue with 28 to 32 ounces of breastmilk or baby formula
- Gradually increase grains and cereals to 2 to 4 tablespoons
- Increase fruit and vegetables to 4 to 8 tablespoons of each
- Gradually increase Protein-rich foods to 2 to 4 tablespoons
Chewing and speech development
A good variety of textures teaches your baby to ‘chew’. This chewing action supports speech development as well as self-feeding.
Introduce exciting combinations of foods from 8 months
As your baby adapts to the tastes of the different foods and textures, you can start introducing a blend of two or more foods to make it more interesting, colourful and create interesting textures. It will also be thicker than stage one pureed foods.
Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist Gabrielle McPherson recommends the following power-packed combinations. But you can experiment with some more creative food combinations according to your baby's preferences and nutritional needs.
- Oatmeal and prunes/apricots: Cook sulphur-free prunes and apricots in water until soft. Puree and store in a small jar. Stir into well-cooked oatmeal and add breast milk or baby formula.
- Avocado and Pineapple: blend one avocado and two-thirds cup fresh or frozen pineapple. (Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, folate, calcium, Vitamin C).
- Beef & Quinoa: Cook beef with herbs/spices of choice, drain fat and blend with an equal part of cooked quinoa in sodium-free vegetable stock as required. (Rich in Protein and Vitamin B).
- Salmon and Sweet Potato: Fresh broiled or canned salmon and roasted or cooked sweet potato blended with veggie stock or other liquid. (Omega-3, protein, calcium, vitamin D; with fibre, folate, and potassium in sweet potatoes)
- Peas and Pear: Steam peas and pear for 8 to 10 minutes and blend when cool. (Rich in fibre, iron, calcium, choline, potassium, and Vitamin C).
- Lentils and Mango: Boil red lentils and cool. Peel and steam chopped mango and blend with lentils – the vitamin C in mango helps absorb the iron in the lentils. (Packed with protein, fibre, zinc, calcium, folate, potassium, and phosphorous).
- Yoghurt, Blueberry, and Flaxseed: Blend together natural, unsweetened whole milk yoghurt, blueberries, and some flaxseeds (Calcium, protein, antioxidants, Vitamin K, plus Omega-3 fatty acids and fibre from flaxseeds). Nutritious, colourful smoothie!
- Apples and Peanut Butter: Peel, dice, and steam apples; cool and blend. Mix natural, organic peanut butter with warm water until smooth and combine with apples. (Loaded with protein, magnesium, choline, and vitamin C).
(Do check first whether your baby is allergic to tree nuts or discuss with your baby’s pediatrician).
Introducing Stage 3 foods from 9 to 12 months
You’ll be surprised how quickly time flies by when you and your baby are enjoying this exciting new journey of exploring ‘exotic’ tastes and textures.
Don’t be surprised if most of the conversation around the dinner table comes from the general direction of the baby's highchair. And when you blink, you will be even more surprised to notice your little darling is starting to look more like a toddler!
You would have noticed your baby’s hand eye coordination has improved. Other signs that they are ready for finger foods and self-feeding include:
- Baby picks up items with their forefinger and thumb (called a pincer grasp),
- They can move items confidently from one hand to the other,
- Tries to self-feed using a spoon,
- Can move their jaw in a chewing motion,
- Swallows food confidently without gagging,
Finger foods and spiced up old favs for 9 to 12-month-olds
- Continue with a coarser version of the combination foods but serve with a few extra bite-sized pieces of the same ingredients sprinkled on top, i.e., fruit, steamed veggies or tiny strips of chicken, beef, fish, or tofu.
- Asparagus and Cheese Frittatas: yummy, nutritious, and versatile.
Mix 3 beaten eggs, ¼ cup diced asparagus, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, three diced cherry or sundried tomatoes (soaked in olive or seed oil), 2 Tbsp chopped spinach or kale (optional), 2 Tbsp whole milk, herbs or spices.
Heat oven to 3750 F (1900 C). Whisk eggs & milk and add the rest of the ingredients, tossing lightly. Fill muffin cups halfway up & bake for 12-15 minutes in the centre of the oven.
- Charcuterie Plate: On a colourful plate, arrange bite-sized pieces of cheese, halved berries of any kind, steamed or grilled carrot and sweet potato sticks, banana skinned and broken into small pieces wafers and crackers. (You can also replace hard cheese with a tiny bowl of cottage cheese as a dip in the centre).
- Macaroni & Cheese: Give this old kiddie’s fav an upgrade with added sweet potatoes, corn kernels, peas and carrots. Use white cheese and whole milk or formula for the cheese sauce.
- Beef Stew: Can be made with barley or any lentils and add in colourful veggies like peas, baby carrots, even chopped dried apples and peaches. Add any of the herbs and spices. Chop meat and veggies into bite-sized chunks and serve with soft strips of bread or toast soldiers (plain toasted strips of bread).
- Broccoli and Cauliflower drop: Steam and mash broccoli and cauliflower. Add an egg, wheat or almond flour, shredded cheese and herbs of your choice. Mix ingredients, drop little balls onto a cookie sheet and flatten with a wet fork. Bake at 3500 F (1800 C) until golden brown. Serve with applesauce or salsa made with organic tomatoes (add sulphur-free dried fruit).
- Fish and Chips: Grill boneless white fish with a dash of lemon and herbs with strips of sweet potato or pumpkin chips. Cut fish into thin strips or bite-size cubes.
- Rice/Pasta Bowls: To cook rice or pasta, you can add any cubes or strips of protein, steamed peas, broccoli, carrots or dried fruit and add some unsweetened apple sauce, low-sodium soy sauce or coconut amino sauce.
- Snacks: Arrowroot cookies, diced fruit and banana broken into pieces, toast soldiers spread with nut butter (if your baby hasn't shown any allergic reaction to tree nuts).
- Gourmet morning or anytime health smoothies (feel free to experiment further)
- Organic peanut butter (salt & sugar-free) banana, whole milk, breastmilk, or formula.
- Banana, raspberries, strawberries, mango, full-fat plain yoghurt, whole milk, breastmilk, or formula.
- Avocado, banana, spinach, apple, full-fat plain yoghurt, whole milk, breast milk, or formula.
How much should your 9-12-month-old baby eat per day?
(Meals will vary according to your baby’s development and size but at least 2-3 meals per day with a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack – smoothies are versatile & nutritious).
- 24 to 30 ounces of breast milk or formula (about 3 to 4 feedings per day)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup cereal and grain products (mixed with breast milk, formula or whole milk).
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup bite-sized fruit
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup raw and steamed vegetables
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup protein-rich foods meats, cheeses, fish.
- Fresh water in your baby's cup at mealtimes.
Increase meal servings according to your baby’s appetite after reaching the 12-month milestone, and your baby is eating heartily.
Your baby’s first foods should continue to match their development and age. As you’ve noticed, setting the foundation for a positive experience with food for your baby turns any parent into a ‘foodie expert’ overnight.
Even in this modern age, we still need to adhere to the five essential food groups. There are no hard and fast rules about in what order you should introduce your baby's first foods. The most important rule is to introduce one food at a time so that your baby can adapt to the new tastes and textures. Allergens should be introduced earlier- from 4 to 6 months instead of one year.
Make this journey with food flexible, enjoyable, and exciting for you and your baby, and your rewards will be a happy, healthy baby.
Can I start my baby on first foods earlier than four months?
Well, the rules have certainly changed in favour of introducing solids earlier – now between 4 to 6 months. Research has shown it helps babies adapt more readily to new foods and tastes as they develop.
However, pediatric experts warn against introducing solids to babies younger than four months old due to the higher risk of choking. If they can't keep their body and head steady, swallowing becomes difficult and choking becomes a threat.
Studies have also suggested that starting babies on solids earlier than four months may increase the risk of allergies. The baby may also want to drink less breast milk or formula, and at this stage of their development, it should be their primary source of nutrition.
Various studies conducted into the phenomenon of babies’ facial expressions during an introduction to a new food have proven that they make faces in reaction to different tastes.
In one study, babies were given pureed green beans for the first time. The researchers observed the following facial expressions:
- Squinting – 95%
- Waggling their brows – 82%
- Raising their upper lips – 76%
- Wrinkling their noses 42%
These babies all looked disgusted with green beans, and the more intense the facial expression, the slower they ate.
However, after repeating the same feeding pattern for eight days, these babies overcame their dislike for pureed green beans and ate three times as much as during their first introduction.
To answer your question – Yes, don’t force your baby when they makes faces. But continue feeding them the same ‘offensive’ nutritious food over time until their taste buds adjust and they gets used to the taste.