Every parent longs to witness their child’s first meal.
If we’re well-prepared, the process of exploring food can be a magical moment between our child and us. While there’s plenty of information out there, the one person who will guide you through this adventure is your baby. They’ll lead the way and you’ll follow.
When is the right time for solid foods? We have collected all the necessary information to take the thinking out of it and make starting your baby on solids stress-free and fun.
While some children show signs of readiness earlier, starting a baby on solids before the fourth month postpartum has been shown to pose a risk of particles going down the airway, causing aspiration.
It can also increase the risk of obesity, and prevent the baby from receiving the right amount of nutrients and calories.
But deciding when to start is a delicate balancing act. You don’t want to start too early, but you also shouldn’t start too late. Studies have shown that starting too late may cause iron deficiency, delay oral motor function, and slow the baby’s growth (2).
The wisest thing to do to avoid stress and anxiety is to wait until the sixth month and look for signs that the baby has developed enough to transition to a different meal plan.
Signs Baby Is Ready for Solids
At about six months old, a baby starts showing signs of being ready for solid foods.
Here are the cues to look for:
- Sitting up: Your baby should be able to sit up straight with a bit of support.
- Increased neck control: This is the key to preventing choking.
- Diminished tongue-thrust reflex: No more pushing food out of their mouths when offered, meaning the baby is learning to control the tongue-thrust reflex.
- Responsive lips: Your baby closes lips around the spoon when fed puree and keeps it in their mouth.
- Interest in food: They try to take a piece of finger food and bring it to their mouth when you give it to them.
There are plenty of myths about signs of readiness that can give first-time moms a headache. Here’s the reality: Just because the baby is watching you eat, it doesn’t mean that they’re ready for solids.
We’re simply the baby’s closest reference to the human experience, and they have no choice but to be amazed by everything we do.
Which Solids Should Baby Start First?
While there isn’t a set order, the most natural strategy is beginning with thin, runny or pureed food. Then you’ll move on to more textured options and finally introduce them to solid foods.
Once the baby is in the mood to explore, and all of the cardinal signs are in check, you’re both ready to start your discovery.
So you don’t hurt your baby’s gums, pick bananas, peaches, sweet potatoes, carrots, and boneless meat as a base. Anything soft will do. All prepared food — most of it has to be at this stage — should be tender.
Keep It Simple
Wheat-based meals should only have one ingredient and always be mixed with water, mom’s milk, or formula.
Start with tiny bites of only one type of food, and, as you follow their cues, increase the amount. Just make sure you’re always supervising them, as at this age, there’s still a chance of choking.
Starting Solids: A Month-by-Month Schedule
Family mealtimes and quiet times are both great occasions to start. You can also use this moment as an opportunity to begin a ritual of washing the baby’s hands before placing them in their high chair.
It may sound like a lot, making sure iron-rich foods and colorful fruit and vegetables are present in each day’s menu. You’ll also be introducing meat and moving from puree to more textured food at the appropriate moment. Still, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Here are some meal plans recommended for each developmental stage.
0 to 6 months
At this stage, all the baby needs for healthy development is breastmilk or formula, many times per day. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns us that during these first months, optimal nutrition is necessary, and poor nutrition is certainly harmful.
Human breast milk, or baby formula, is sufficient to start the gastrointestinal tract, aid in brain development, and meet the baby’s crucial nutritional needs (3).
4 to 6 Months
At six months, milk stops being enough to nourish the baby, and your little one is then ready for complimentary food (4).
In addition to the milk or formula, you start introducing one type of solid food per meal.
It’s an exciting new stage. Food becomes mashed and coarsely pureed, and the opportunity for variety opens up.
For breakfast, this can be iron-fortified infant cereal, mixed with breast milk or formula. After the sixth month, the baby’s requirements include an increase in iron.
Later during the day, the baby can snack on a soft mashed fruit or a cooked pear and taste full-fat yogurt.
For lunch, you want to cook and mash some pumpkin, carrot, or zucchini separately. Because of how nutritiously-dense fruit and vegetables are, they’re a key component to a healthy diet.
Starting the baby on them early during these first months of complimentary nutrition cultivates their acceptance of this type of food at a later age (5).
Before sleep, it’s still best to stick to milk. Remember, no solid food is going to make your child sleep better at this stage.
6 to 8 Months
From six to eight months, the baby gets to experience more texture and separately chopped bites as they transition to finger foods.
At this stage, babies can not only move around the whole house, and everywhere they shouldn’t, but also recognize how to put anything that interests them in their mouths. This is because their senses and their motor skills start working together— texture becomes a great source of entertainment.
It’s fine to keep giving them the same type of food, but you can go one step further and finely chop them, as the baby can now fully attempt that. Why not also introduce bits of toast? They go great with a bit of cheese for lunch as a late snack.
9 to 12 Months
Both the pincer grasp and their chewing skills are well-developed now, so nine to 12 months is a good time to move from finger foods to a “grown-up” menu (6).
For a snack, you can enjoy a thinly-sliced apple, skinless, and finely cut grapes, pear, kiwi, and cheese. For lunch, you can mix well-shredded chicken into a small plate of risotto.
At this stage, the foods that you enjoy, they can also enjoy, as long as they remain unseasoned and carefully cut (7).
Introducing Allergenic Foods
You might think avoiding foods like peanut products, fish, wheat, eggs, and soy is a good idea when introducing solids to a baby because of their commonly known allergenic nature. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) says differently.
Research shows that including such products in a baby’s diet — specifically between the ages of 4 and 6 months — can be beneficial for the prevention of any food allergies of that nature.
The trick to easing the products into the baby’s diet (while also being careful not to attack their immunological defenses) is, as imagined, by doing it gradually.
Traditional and accessible foods should be introduced at first (think cereal, meats, pureed veggies, and fruit) — then, following the child’s responses, include one or two allergenic products.
Although some babies do need several safety measures when it comes to potential allergies, there are many products designed specifically to introduce allergens to a child’s immune system. These products might come in the form of finger foods or stir-in powders that contain a blend of allergenic protein.
The following are indicators of potential allergies (8).
- The baby has close direct relatives with food allergies (a sibling with a peanut allergy).
- Any levels of eczema (from moderate to severe) that persist after treatment.
- Any food allergies already previously detected on the baby — or a positive result for an allergy test.
Signs of a Food Allergy
It’s usually during this period of development that most allergies get identified. Commonly, babies tend to be allergic to the same food groups as their parents. Or they may develop allergies that their parents don’t have.
In infants, signs show up shortly after consuming the food, and the foods most associated with allergic reactions are milk, eggs, and peanuts (9).
The most common signs of a food allergy to look out for are:
- Swelling of the lip, tongue, or face.
- Vomiting or diarrhea.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Coughing and wheezing.
- Hives or welts.
- Rashes and flushed skin.
- A child who starts scratching their mouth.
You must pay attention to allergic reactions. In cases of swelling, severe vomiting, or difficulty breathing after eating, call an emergency number immediately. In less alarming cases, such as a rash or redness, inform your general practitioner or your child’s pediatrician.
Balancing Solids With Breastfeeding or Bottle-Feeding
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics and contrary to what it may seem, the introduction of solids shouldn’t be synonymous with the end of breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. The gradual inclusion of food intake is a part of the child’s maturity development, and it’s essential to increase their autonomy.
The gradual introduction of solids is especially beneficial for both the parent and the child — that is, considering how a baby’s independence also means less need for constant care.
During the baby’s first six months, specialists recommend breastfeeding as the only source of nutrients. The same applies for the subsequent six months as well, with the gradual addition of solids (10).
Iron-fortified solids and cereal work well when paired with breast milk, but the following specifics might help you through the process:
- 0 to 4 months: Stick to exclusively breast milk or formula. You can expect your baby to drink 2 to 4 ounces, and you’ll feed them whenever they appear hungry.
- 4 to 6 months: You’re still sticking to breast milk or formula. Your baby will need anywhere from 6 to 10 feeding per day, and will likely want 3 to 6 ounces per feeding.
- 6 to 7 months: Most recommendations are that a daily intake of solids is not necessary in the beginning, making it an “every few days” frequency. Continue with breast milk or formula — 5 to 9 feedings per day at 4 to 6 ounces per feeding.
- 7 to 9 months: According to the expressed interest by the baby, solids should be added daily. A maximum of two meals a day is the recommended amount, and if a parent is considering adding juice, it’s best when diluted with water and no more than three to four ounces a day. Breast milk or formula should be given 5 to 8 times per day, generally at 4 to 6 ounces each time.
- 9 to 12 months: Solids should increase and babies should start feeding themselves with their solid intake. By their first birthday, they should even be ready to start drinking cow’s milk (11). Until then, expect 4 to 6 feedings of breast milk or formula per day, at 4 to 8 ounces each feeding.
When we’re dealing with babies, nothing is guaranteed.
Find out what happens if there’s a hitch in the process and what you need to know.
What If My Baby Hates Solids?
Your baby not loving the idea of solids right away is not only possible, but it’s also normal and expected.
Transitioning to solid food is not an instant process, and every baby is on their own timeline. Rejection of food might be due to teething, being full, tired, or because they’re not ready yet for the amounts you’re currently giving them (12).
As you attune yourself to their cues and remain patient, they will inevitably develop their taste palate and make you aware of it.
What If My Baby Hates Certain Foods?
Most babies go through a period of not liking a particular food, no need to worry — it may take a couple of tries before they can appreciate it. In the meantime, you can always make them a pureed version of a meal you know they love, and wait until the next meal to try again.
One more thing — your baby will show you when they don’t want anymore. Don’t force-feed the baby, even by “playing airplane,” distracting or tricking them into eating more. Once they become more interested in their surroundings, stop opening their mouth, or spitting bites out, they have finished their meal.
It’s usually due to benign reasons that babies reject food, but if you’re worried, you can always speak to your pediatrician.
Is Juice Okay for Babies?
It’s completely normal to want your child to try the foods and drinks that you love. If your personal choice is juice and you want the baby to try it, you can let them have up to 4 ounces a day, but only if it’s 100 percent fruit juice.
Juice is best kept for after the child turns one, as it causes weight issues, diarrhea, and tooth decay. It’s better to stick to breast milk or infant formula for the time being.
Can I Prepare Baby Food at Home?
Yes! Making baby food at home can significantly align with your budgeting goals and decrease food waste — two prominent concepts in a new mom’s life. While buying prepackaged purees is also excellent, a food processor or a blender in the first months of solids can be of great help (13).
Other bonuses of food prep include knowing everything that goes into a meal, and having the option to create new flavor. Plus, you can allow the baby to feel more involved in the meals that the rest of the family is having.
Keep In Mind
Tips for Preparing Homemade Baby Food
To preserve the nutrients and the sanitary environment for the baby, you should prepare the food thoroughly and choose the right cooking methods (14).
You don’t have to waste food by throwing it out every time there are leftovers from a meal. Eggs aside, you can freeze and refrigerate almost anything, as long as you separate by food groups and have already cooled it off.
It’s vital to prepare, cook, and keep food separately as this ensures the bacteria from one type of food doesn’t transport to the others. The flora of a baby’s stomach is sensitive, and you want to take care of it properly.
Produce needs to be rinsed, peeled, and, if necessary, pitted. Vegetables or hard fruits must not be served raw. Baking or steaming them before placing them on the table makes them not only safe for consumption but tasty, and it preserves their nutritional properties.
Meat is an excellent source of iron but does not contain as much fiber as produce, which is why you should always serve it boneless and tenderized. Doing so ensures it’s easy for the child to digest.
Cooking well (no lower than 165 degrees Fahrenheit) for chicken is a must (15).
Eggs are an excellent source of protein. When starting, babies should begin by only eating the cooked yolk. The yolk is the safest part of the egg, as there are fewer allergens in it.
Serve the egg immediately or shortly after preparing it and don’t give the baby leftover eggs.
When pureeing, mixing formula or breastmilk with the food is going to help you achieve a nice texture that will go easy on the baby’s tract and make them more receptive to a taste they recognize.
How Many Times a Day Should Babies Eat Solids?
The amount and frequency of feeding the baby depend on their age. As the baby begins eating solid food, how much and how often is necessary and doable will increase as they get older. To start, feed the baby 1 to 2 tablespoons of food twice a day and amp that up naturally as they grow older, always only until full (16).
For the period between the fourth and the sixth months, only serve solids as a snack. Later, when purees, chopped, and finger food become the main dish, breast milk and formula are just a side but still required.
Will Eating Solids Help My Baby Sleep Better?
Solid food does not help the baby sleep better. Calorie-wise, the initial intake of solids is not sufficient to create a feeling of fullness.
If the baby starts waking up more frequently than usual, it’s safer to give them more formula or breast milk than to introduce them to solids prematurely.
Other Tips for Feeding Babies Solids
As your journey into the world of solids begins, things can get quite messy — literally.
That’s why feeding the baby with a spoon will not only minimize your cleaning time but also help your baby start learning about the way they’ll be eating when they grow older.
For extra attention, you can give the baby another spoon to hold in their other hand. Bringing a spoonful of every first solid food to the baby’s mouth, and being there with him for the taste (approval sounds!) can build a magical experience.
Start by introducing solids at one meal a day, then slowly work your way up. The morning is an excellent time to start since the baby is often hungriest at that time.
While your baby is by now old enough to hold their head and neck still, there’s still some risk of choking. To avoid choking, bear in mind these tips:
- No bottled solids: Don’t give oats or solids to your child in a milk bottle.
- Soft is safe: Always make sure that food is soft, chopped into small pieces, and easy to swallow.
- Avoid unsafe foods: Don’t offer the baby nuts, popcorn, candy, and hard foods that you can not introduce safely.
- Keep baby stable: Keep the child in the chair sitting upright with the safety straps on to help keep them stable.
Also, keep a no-expectations mindset for the first time introducing a portion of solid food. Pushing away or entirely ignoring what’s in the spoon are normal reactions.
Food For Thought
Moving from an exclusive breast milk or formula diet to a solids-based one is a long process.
It’s also a fascinating new phase for your child.
Every month, new and different foods are needed, so it’s a good idea to go back to this guide whenever it becomes overwhelming.
And remember, you were once just as tiny as your baby, and you had no teeth to help you out. Be patient and stay calm, knowing that in their own time, your baby will become a fully grown-up eater.