Dr. Flanders’ Advice on Introducing Solid Foods to Babies
Most babies are ready to expand their food repertoire beyond breast milk and formula at around 4-6 months of age. But until 12 months of age, the main source of balanced nutrition should continue to come from breastmilk and/or formula. The goals of introducing solids are for baby to explore food, develop some feeding independence, and take part in the social experience of eating together as a family. Keep in mind, therefore, that the amounts and varieties of food consumed by their baby are not at all important until after 12 months of age.
Which foods should I choose?
The first foods chosen by parents can vary tremendously from culture to culture and from family to family. There is no “best first food” to start with. Literally any single food item (other than honey) can be tried. With that in mind, start with foods that have the consistency of a soft puree – e.g. like smooth yogurt. Other options include finely pureed meat, well cooked and pureed legumes, pureed fruits/vegetables, very soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert. Introduce new foods one at a time, waiting about 3 to 5 days before trying another. Consider pureeing the healthy foods that you and your family eat so that everyone at the table is enjoying the same meal. You may also choose to use commercially prepared baby foods.
How do I feed my baby solids for the first time?
Start by offering solids once daily. Initiate the meal by allowing baby to explore the food: squish it in her hands, slap it on her face, throw it on the floor. This is how babies ‘get to know’ and become comfortable with their food. Trying to teach your baby not to throw food or not to make a mess will only interfere with the process. Wait until age 2 or 3 before teaching table manners. Once a comfort level is established, load a very little bit of food on the tip of a soft spoon and present the tip of the spoon to baby, just below her lower lip but not touching. Give baby the time and space to open her mouth, move her head forward and eat the food from the spoon. Avoid pushing the spoon into her mouth as some babies interpret this as ‘forcing’. If she readily eats what’s offered, then keep going until baby conveys to you that she’s done. If baby is uninterested or rejecting what’s offered right off the bat, then quickly call it a day and try again tomorrow. Some babies need to try a food many times before accepting it.
How many times per day?
This is entirely up to you. Some families keep it to once a day. Others like their children to eat solids with the family at every meal. There are no absolute rules here. In all likelihood you and your baby will soon work out together the most suitable schedule. In the second year of life it will become more important to establish scheduled meal and snack times. Until then, feel it out and choose what works best for you and your baby.
What about water, milk, and juice?
In the first 6 months of life, babies should not drink milk and juice as these are not suitable alternatives to breastmilk/formula. Although water is not harmful, it is not necessary. Beyond 4-6 months as your baby begins to eat other foods, you can start to offer water occasionally. Juice is not necessary and thought by most reliable authorities to be unhealthy for all babies and children. Juice is essentially sugar and water. It has very little nutritional value. Furthermore, it can fill up babies’ small stomachs decreasing their appetite for more nutritious foods. Too much juice can also cause early childhood tooth decay and contribute to the development of childhood obesity. If it is important to you that your child drink juice, make sure you offer no more than 4 oz, or 120 ml per day. After 12 months of age, it is appropriate to discontinue formula and introduce homogenized cow’s milk (12-18 ounces or 350-500 ml per day).
Are there foods that are unhealthy or that I should avoid feeding my baby?
Avoid giving babies sugary drinks or foods, such as candies, soda/pop or energy drinks. This gives them calories without any nutrients and leads to obesity and/or malnutrition. Don’t give honey to babies under 1 year old, as there is a risk of infant botulism (food poisoning). Don’t give foods with textures that are too advanced. Examples of advanced textures include:
- Multiple textures – eg. Soup with noodles, purees with chunks.
- Rice – Rice scatters in the mouth making oral control difficult.
- Foods requiring significant chewing – eg. Large pieces of tough meat, raw vegetables, chunks of hard cheese
How do I prevent my baby from choking?
- Always supervise babies and children while they are eating. They should be sitting down.
- Don’t feed your baby peanuts, nuts or popcorn.
- Dice or slice round foods such as wieners or grapes.
- Grate raw vegetables such as carrots to make them easier to chew.
- Remove pits from fruits.
- Cook hard fruits and vegetables to soften them.
- Chop or scrape stringy meat and add broth to moisten it.
If you live in Toronto and would like nutrition support for your child, feel free to learn more about the Kindercare Pediatric’s clinical nutrition programs.