Food | Infants & Toddlers| Baby Food | Cereal | Introducing Baby Food | Making Baby Food | Top 10
Introducing Baby Food
Introducing solids is an exciting time for both baby and parents. For more information about the actual food, including the typical "First Foods," please refer to the "Baby Food" article. I hope your baby happily eats anything and everything, but if you have some hiccups along the way, please refer below for some tips on introducing baby food. For a summary, please refer to "Top 10 - Get Baby to Eat."
When to Introduce & How Much?
Generally, for the first 6 months babies should be entirely breastfed or formula fed. Even once babies start eating solid food, “[t]hey still obtain the vast majority of their calories and nutrition from breast or formula feedings” (Greene, “Introducing”). When the baby is no longer satisfied after drinking a lot of breast milk or formula, usually between 4 to 6 months, a lot of parents start giving the baby cereal. (Please refer to “How Much” for the norm amounts babies drink.) Our son’s first doctor recommended giving our son some rice cereal when my son was four months old and seemed like he was very hungry, drinking 6 – 8 ounces every couple of hours. Iron-fortified infant cereals can help babies that “have increased caloric needs and are starting to deplete the iron they are born with” (Greene, When).
What are some signs the baby is ready to start solids? According to Dr. Greene,
- Baby still hungry after drinking (8-10 breast feedings or 32 ounces of formula in a day)
- Baby can lift and support her own head
- Baby weighs at least 13 pounds and has doubled her birth weight
- Baby has overcome the strong tongue-thrust reflex they are born with (“When”)
Please click on this link if you would like to take the Gerber Solid Foods Quiz to determine if your baby may be ready for solids. If you are introducing baby food before your baby is 6 months old, make sure you avoid food with a higher level of nitrates. You will also want to be aware of the foods that may cause constipation and/or you may want to avoid the main allergy foods.
Solids are generally introduced around 6 months and then by 7-8 months solid foods are eaten two to three times a day and then by 9 months solids are eaten three times a day (BabyCenter) sometimes with one or two snacks. Please refer to the "Baby Food" article which discusses some of the common "First Foods."
When you introduce food for the first time usually one to two teaspoons is given. Then gradually offer more food. My son's doctor explained that the baby food jars are designed according to how much the child typically eats, you will note that the size of the baby food container will increase as you go from 1st foods to 2nd foods, to 3rd foods. If you are making your own baby food, initially the amount in an ice cube tray is a good serving size.
It is good to scoop out a small portion of the food into a bowl and serve the baby from that bowl. Then if you need more you can use a clean spoon to scoop out more food from the container. Then if your baby does not finish all of the food you can put the original container (not the one she's been eating from) back in the refrigerator. I believe generally most food in the baby food jar should be used within 2-3 days once the jar is opened. Please check manufacturer instructions per container. Please refer to the "How Much Should Baby Eat?" article for more information. Always check with your baby’s doctor before introducing anything new to your baby.
Offer New Food Exclusively
Most research recommends to offer only one new food at a time and wait between 3 days to a week before offering another new food. I generally waited at least a few days when introducing each food as if you do offer multiple foods at once and your baby does have a reaction then you won't know what food caused the reaction.
A lot of people also recommend to start the baby on vegetables rather than fruit so the baby does not get use to the sweet taste of the fruit (Greene, Feeding 168-169). (Another reason to avoid additives like sugar.) I initially started our baby on both fruits and vegetables and our baby always loved vegetables especially green beans, peas, and sweet potatoes. For awhile, our baby wouldn't eat any fruits (possibly due to his acid reflux and the acidity of the fruit) and thus he actually preferred vegetables.
Dr. Greene recommends to serve a green vegetable at both lunch and dinner so once the baby is a toddler she expects to eat a vegetable at every meal. The main reason for always offering a green vegetable is that generally those are the "most difficult foods to learn to enjoy later" (Feeding 169). I read this book once my son was already in the toddler phase and was pleased that I had done this and I can support the fact that my son still does usually eat a green vegetable at both lunch and dinner. (Spinach is one of his favorites.)
If your baby continues to not want to eat, make sure there is no medical reason, like acid reflux or a food allergy. I started baby food when my son was six months and for the first two weeks my baby seemed to like it, opening his mouth wide. Then all of a sudden he would not eat the food at all. Soon as he saw the spoon coming near his mouth he would clench his mouth shut and shake his head side to side, similar to what he would do when he didn't want to drink his bottle. I made a doctor's appointment with my son's new pediatrician and the doctor felt very strongly that my son wouldn't eat due to his acid reflux. He associated pain with the food and thus did not want to eat it.
We started him on medication and within about a week to two weeks of being on the medication, my son started to eat again. He would only eat vegetables though, no fruit and before he stopped eating he loved the fruit. The doctor couldn't explain why he wouldn't eat the fruit. I felt the fruit was more acidic and thus hurt more than the vegetables but that was just my mommy instinct. Eventually, he was able to eat fruit again which was good as I liked to give my son pears or prunes with almost every meal to help with bathrooms.
My daughter would occasionally shut her mouth and not eat her baby food although I do not believe she had reflux. So just because your baby will not open her mouth to eat it does not mean she has reflux. She is simply saying, I don't want to eat this. My daughter would occasionally do this although if we could get some on her tongue she sometimes would change her mind and start eating the baby food.
How do you know if your baby is allergic to the food? Some signs are:
- Spitting up1
- Blood in the stool1
- Skin rashes1,2or diaper rash2
- Swelling of face or tongue2
- Congestion such as a stuffy or runny nose lasting more than two weeks2
- Wheezing or rattling in the chest2
Sears, Happy Baby
Even if your baby is not allergic to the food, your baby could become constipated when you introduce the food as a lot of the first foods can be constipating. If after changing the foods and your baby is still constipated or has very loose stools, "consider the possibility that your baby has a cow's milk protein allergy. It more commonly causes loose stools, but it is also often a cause of constipation" (Greene, Feeding 159). Some babies may experience a food intolerance which is not considered an allergy. According to Sears, symptoms of a food intolerance may be:
- Diarrhea (runny or mucous stools)
- Night waking or fussiness
- Upset stomach, vomiting, gas pains (Happy Baby 167)
According to Sears, the foods that account for the 90% of food allergies in children are:
- Cow's milk products
- Egg white
- Tree Nuts (almonds, cashews, and walnuts)
- Wheat (Happy Baby 167 - 168)
A lot of sources recommend waiting until over a year to start the allergy prone foods. Food "such as cheese, yogurt, baby cereals, teething biscuits, breads, egg yolk, mild fish like wild salmon or cod, and tofu" can be started around nine months (Happy Baby 168).
Offer When Hungry
If you have a baby that is a great eater, of both formula/ breast milk and solids then you may not have to plan out and schedule the meals as much.
Your baby may be able to obtain the necessary amount of formula/ breast milk by drinking it along with the meals and then possibly have a larger bottle in the morning and at night.
If your child prefers to drink (a bottle or breastfeed) and doesn’t want to eat solids then it may make sense when your child is the hungriest to first offer solids. "Children are most likely to accept new foods when they are especially hungry" (Sears 58). For me, my son was a “fussy” drinker since around 4 months (due to acid reflux) and continued to be a “fussy” drinker for most of the first year. (Please refer to "Feeding Tricks" for a fussy drinker.) Thus, I always had to offer a bottle first before giving solids because if he had solids then he would definitely not drink a bottle. In addition, due to the acid reflux, I had to make sure we spaced out the bottle from meal time instead of supplementing meal time with a bottle or sippy cup of formula or breast milk. With my daughter, she breastfed really well but occasionally did not want to eat her baby food. For her, it was best to offer the baby food first as she would always nurse but didn't always want to eat her baby food.
Due to my son’s various issues with still not drinking a lot and having to space out meal time so much we usually didn’t do much snacks until my son was over a year. Then once he was over a year, snack time was more “mini meals” usually snack time entailed healthy food such as a smaller portion of what he ate for lunch or dinner or some fruit, vegetables, or yogurt.
Develop Good Habits Early
Research suggests breastfeeding and feeding fresh or frozen baby food could help your child develop good eating habits. Breast milk is an "easy in, easy-out" food, helps infants' brains grow due to the "unique brain-building fats," can "help make the baby's own immune system develop," and it also helps babies prepare to enjoy regular food since "mother's milk actually carries flavors from the foods she eats" (Sears 49).
Our doctor also recommended if buying jar food to buy the organic baby food since she said that it will actually help when you transition to regular food since she felt it tastes more like "regular" food. This is probably because some of the non-organic brands have additional, unnecessary ingredients which I wanted to avoid anyway.
By serving fresh, frozen, and/or organic baby food you help introduce the true flavor of food to your baby. "These early encounters with solid food are a window of opportunity for shaping young tastes. If your baby and toddler eats only freshly prepared, unsalted, and unsweetened foods, your child will prefer these foods" (Sears 51).
Once my son was eating more "adult" food, I tried to continue to serve healthy food and avoid junk food. As recommended in The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood, I try to avoid serving my son any food which contains:
- "high-fructose corn syrup
- hydrogenated oils, or 'trans fats'
- any color additive with a number symbol attached to it (e.g., blue #1, yellow #5, red #40)" (53).
Since I buy almost all organic food, it is easy to avoid these ingredients. If you start to read ingredients in food and you are not buying organic food, you may be surprised about how many food products have high-fructose corn syrup and color additives added to them.
Don't think that snack time, means unhealthy food. I try to give my son healthy snacks such as a "mini meal" of what we had for lunch, or a piece of fruit, vegetables, or yogurt as a snack. The only time I give him pre-packaged food is usually when we are traveling in the car. Then he may have unsweetened cheerios, animal crackers, or cheese crackers. Once my son was chewing well, another good alternative for the car was a banana or piece of cheese. I really try to limit the amount of packaged food and when I do buy it, I try to buy the organic version since it generally has less added ingredients and/or preservatives. Please refer to the "Healthy Snacks" article for more information.
Offer 10 Times
The key is perseverance, when giving your baby new foods. You may be lucky like my friend's baby that ate anything and everything. My baby initially didn't like most things but I just kept trying and by the tenth time or so he would eat it. Research shows that "[m]any young children must be offered a food 8 to 10 times before they will try it" (Cason).
A key example where it took ten times before my son liked something was yogurt. He always would spit it out. I found out that he did like the yogurt baby melts, and so I would give him a few of those and then try real yogurt. Eventually, he realized he did like the yogurt and it became his new favorite food. Once he loved yogurt, for a couple months he wanted yogurt at least every day, sometimes twice a day.
Tricks of the Trade
If you have to, use some tricks, like letting your baby watch a favorite baby DVD. For our son, as much as he drank a bottle or breastfed best in a quiet, calm place with no distractions when it came to eating baby food, the more distractions the better. Thus, from age 6 months - 12 months I generally fed our son while playing one of his favorite DVD's either a Baby Einstein or Tiny Love DVD.
Then all of a sudden, we no longer needed to play a DVD at meal time. It was probably because he started enjoying meal time more and was more actively involved in the process as he was better able to feed himself and or interact with the food. My son by 1 1/2 years ate exceptional well at all meals, feeding himself with a fork or spoon. On a rare occasion, we will still played a DVD, our favorites at 1 1/2 were Barney or Sesame Street. At meal time, after clinking our glasses (my son would say "Cheers") and we'd sit and "talk" and enjoy our meals together. When my son hit the 2 year old mark is when we avoided having the TV on at meal time. At that age, instead of the tv helping with getting him to eat it did the opposite as he would watch tv and forget to eat. I would occasionally use it as a reward after he finished a good meal, he could watch a favorite show such as Mister Rogers or the Wiggles.
For my daughter, I found if she was tired she didn't eat well but if I would pick her up and hold her on my hip, she would finish her baby food. Sometimes when she would close her mouth and not let me feed her baby food, if I could get a little on her tongue then she would change her mind. Other times it worked best to hold the spoon in front of her and wait for her to open her mouth rather than forcing it into her mouth. Eventually she would get curious and open her mouth.
Another trick is once your baby likes some baby food, when your baby doesn't like something new you could always mix a little of the new food with food she does like. This sometimes worked for my son. Then gradually increase the new food until the serving is all new food.
Remember that color and texture of the food may affect whether your baby likes it or not. If you are buying jarred baby food, the texture from 1st foods to 2nd foods does not change that much but as you move to 3rd foods it is usually much chunkier. My son did not like to eat "chunky" food with "smooth" food. He would immediately spit out the chunks of food. If I took out the "chunks" i.e. pieces of chicken or vegetables he would eat the pieces of food, he just didn't want to eat the pieces when it was mixed with the smooth baby food. For my son, I think it may have even been a survival instinct in that he didn't want to choke on the "chunkier" food as he would quickly swallow the smooth food.
Lastly, make sure your baby is well rested when serving meals. My baby always ate best after a nap.
Please refer to "Top 10 - Get Baby to Eat" for an overview of tips to try.
Teach by Example
One of the best ways to introduce new food to your baby is to eat with her. She is picking up on a lot more than you even realize. When my son was around 14 months he really wanted to eat whatever I was eating. I always tried to eat healthy food, but knowing he wanted to eat exactly what I was eating encouraged me to eat even better. Sometimes, I would even put extra food on the side of my plate as I knew he would start pointing to my plate indicating he wanted some of my food even if it was the exact same food he was eating.
I think eating with your baby also encourages her to eat with a fork and spoon. Although remember she will pick up on other good and possibly "bad" habits. My son loved to drink his soup out of his bowl after he saw me do it.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun and enjoy the amazing "First Foods" time together. Remember to involve your child in meal time. Initially, this means letting her play in the food. At the beginning she will be just as interested in touching the food with her hands as she will be with feeling the texture of the food in her mouth.
Then, once she is able to use a fork or spoon let her feed herself. When my son was learning to feed himself, I would let him do it but also I would alternate and feed him as well. Usually, in order to make sure they also eat the food, some assistance from mommy and daddy helps.
At 1 1/2 years old I still let my son play in his food to an extent. He enjoyed pouring it from one bowl to another. At 1 1/2 years old as long as he would take bites in between playing with the food, I let him play. Generally at 1 1/2 years old, once he started playing with his food, usually it indicated he was finished eating and we usually would end meal time. By the time my son was around 2 years old we tried to eliminate "playing" with the food and continue to instill good eating manners.
Meal time may be a messy process but also an enjoyable one. Please refer back to "Top 10 - Get Baby to Eat." Don't forget to take some pictures! Here is one of my favorites:
BabyCenter. "Sample Baby Schedules for 5- and 6-Month-Olds." BabyCenter. 15 Dec. 2009.
---. "Sample Baby Schedules for 7- and 8-Month-Olds." BabyCenter. 15 Dec. 2009.
---. "Sample Baby Schedules for 9- and 10-Month-Olds." BabyCenter. 15 Dec. 2009.
Cason, Katherine and Julie A. Haines. "The ABS's of Growing Healthy Kids: Picky Eaters." Penn State
College of Agricultural Sciences: Nutrition Information and Resource Center
(2001). 16 Dec. 2009. <http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/uk081.pdf>.
Greene, Alan M.D. Feeding Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Program for Healthy, Safe Nutrition During
Pregnancy, Childhood, and Beyond. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.
Greene, Alan M.D., and Cheryl Greene. "Introducing Solids." drgreene.com. 1 Dec. 2009.
---."When Can Babies Start Solids?"drgreene.com. 1 Dec. 2009.
Sears, Robert W. MD., F.A.A.P. and Amy Marlow, MPH, RD, CDN. Happy Baby: The Organic Guide to
Baby's First 24 Months. New York: Harper, 2009.
Sears, William M.D., Martha Sears, R.N., ames Sears, M.D., and Robert Sears, M.D. The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood: 10 Ways to Get Your Family on the Right Nutritional Track. Boston: Little,
Last updated August 2011; November 2009