Introduction to solid foods
It is often a daunting task moving a baby from milk onto solid foods. Many parents dread the change but in fact there is no need. With some planning, preparation and quite a lot of patience, the whole transition can be made a lot smoother for the baby and the parents too!
When to start?
As every parent knows, babies do not come with a manual as every child is different. When one baby is ready to move onto solids can be very different from another baby so you must forget what your friends are doing with their little ones and start to move to solid foods when you think the time is right for your child.
Usually a baby is ready for the move to solids around the time they are 6 months of age. Your baby’s development and behaviour will help you judge when they are ready and some signs to look out for include –
- They reach for your food
- They sit well when supported
- They have an increased appetite
- They have a curiosity about what you're eating
If in doubt or if you want reassurance then it is best to discuss the move beforehand with your doctor or health professional who will be able to advise you.
What foods to choose?
It is a good idea to choose foods that are easy to digest to start with as this will be a lot more pleasant for your baby. Pureed or mashed fruit and vegetables are a good choice. Sweet potato, peaches, banana and carrots are great as they are easy to puree and are naturally sweet so more palatable to your baby. Other popular first fruit and vegetables include potato, pumpkin, apple, pear and avocado. Some fruit and vegetables do not require cooking first (e.g. banana and avocado) but the others will so steam or boil them, then puree them. Do not add salt or sugar to your baby’s food. It is much healthier to avoid them plus it allows your baby to get used to the natural flavours of the food.
Baby rice is another popular first food as it is similar to milk. You can mix it with water or milk and you can add it to your pureed food too to make it more filling. Be careful to read the packet when you buy baby rice as some can contain sugar which is best avoided.
There are some foods that it is not recommended you feed to your baby for the first 12 months and these include nuts, soft cheese and shellfish. Speak to your health professional for a comprehensive list.
How to feed them
Firstly, keep the whole process as relaxed as possible. This will make it a lot more enjoyable for you and your baby! Also try to time the food around when the baby is hungry. When you introduce solids, feed your baby milk first then give them the solid food. It is a good idea to start with just a small amount of food on the tip of the spoon. They may not like the spoon so you can let them smell and taste the food or wait until they are keener to try something solid!
Try 1-2 teaspoons of food to start with then slowly increase the amount according to their appetite. They will tell you when they have had enough and common signs include pushing the spoon away, not opening their mouth and spitting the food out. Usually it will take longer to feed them initially so set time aside and take it slowly. Let your baby enjoy the process and explore the food - this will help you with their eating in the long run so it is worth spending the time on them now.
Always supervise feeding time and never leave your baby alone with their food. This will make the whole experience more enjoyable for them and also reduce the risk of choking too. Make sure your baby is sitting up at mealtimes so a highchair is a great option.
Do expect some mess! Babies will dribble and spit food out so bibs are a great idea to protect their clothing. It is also likely that food will end up on the floor so you may want to put a mat or newspaper under the high chair or at least move the highchair off any carpets to make it easier to clean afterwards.
Be patient! You will find some days are better than others so just take your time – do not rush it. All babies are different so do what is in your baby’s best interests. If you are worried then speak to a healthcare professional.
Moving to finger foods
Once your baby is happy with food purees, you can introduce finger foods. Typically this is around 8 months of age but there are no hard and fast rules – it will depend on the child. Finger food will encourage your baby to chew which will also help when with their speech as both develop the same muscles.
Contrary to what many believe, babies do not need to have teeth to move onto finger foods. Their gums are very hard and can easily cope with certain foods. It is important that the finger food is soft enough so it is easy to break up and swallow.
Finger foods should be something that your baby can pick up on their own and hold easily. Take your time and introduce the new foods slowly. If your baby doesn’t like something then try it again a few weeks later as their tastes change frequently.
Avoid very hard foods, foods with bones, pips or stones as they are a choking hazard. As with pureed food, never leave your baby alone when they are eating – they must be supervised at all times.
Good finger foods include –
- Steamed carrot sticks
- Florets of cauliflower and broccoli
- Sticks of watermelon
- Cooked pasta shapes
- Toast fingers – babies love to suck on toast
- Soft meatballs
- Soft cubes of cooked potato and pumpkin
Time saving tips
It can seem daunting moving to solid foods but here are some time saving tips to help you with the transition?:
- Cook some extra vegetables when you make your meals for the rest of the family and store them in the fridge so they are ready for your baby the next day
- Make purees in larger volume and freeze them so you have them on hand. You may want to freeze them in ice cube trays so that they are easily accessible and easy to defrost
- When you are feeding your baby out of the house, Sinchies reusable pouches are a great way to transport purees and make feeding so much easier too
- Look into having a fruit and vegetable box delivered each week. This will save you shopping time and also will encourage you to try different fruits and vegetables that are in season
Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.