No milestone is more impressive than watching your little one learn to chew and digest new foods; transitioning from only tolerating breast milk or formula to eating whole meals in what feels like an instant.
From the parent’s perspective, managing that growing diet can feel like an incredibly daunting task. How are you supposed to know what to give your baby and when? It’s not like your child will be able to say, “Hey Mom or Dad, I’m sick of these carrots, give me some mac and cheese!”
But have no fear – even without being able to talk, your baby will give you lots of signals as to what they are and are not ready for.
Combining these with some basic knowledge about what foods work well at what ages and you’ll be prepared to introduce your child to all the foods they’ll eventually come to love. Let’s take a look at what this process looks like step by step.
Newborn to 6 Months: Exclusive Breastfeeding or Formula
As you already know, your newborn baby will be perfectly happy and healthy with just breast milk or formula for roughly the first six months of life.
Your baby is still learning to use their tongue, and their mouth has a strong gag reflex that will cause them to spit out any solid food they attempt to eat.
During this time, we’re waiting for the baby to be ready to tolerate the mushed foods in the next phase.
Giving your child solid foods during this stage is not recommended for a few reasons.
First, their gut is not fully developed and may have a difficult time digesting and absorbing the nutrients causing diarrhea or stomach upset.
Introducing foods too early has also been associated with an increased risk for celiac disease (an intolerance to gluten- a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats), eczema, and diabetes.
Six Months: Introducing Mushy Foods
Babies may begin to show signs that they are ready for solids right around this age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until about six months of age to start solids. This is because your babies intestines are now fully developed and they have the enzymes needed to help break down and absorb these foods.
Here are a few signs your baby is ready to begin the journey to solids.
- Sitting upright
- Able to reach for, and grab food items off of a fork
- Showing interest in foods and reaching for whatever you’re eating
- No longer using the tongue-thrust reflex, or naturally pushing foods out of their mouth
Unfortunately, baby-led weaning is not discussed in this article. However, I encourage anyone interested to do some research! It’s a fascinating topic and essentially allows you to skip over the pureed stage.
If you prefer to go the pureed baby food route, or spoon-feeding your little one, here are a few foods to try at this stage.
- Iron-fortified cereal or puffs
- Oatmeal made with whole milk or dairy-free alternative
- Mashed fruits
- Mashed vegetables
- Lightly pureed or shredded/diced meats
This is a time of culinary exploration for your child, so pay close attention to how they’re reacting to new foods and try to introduce one new food every 3 to 5 days to their diet.
Just because they don’t like a particular food at first does not mean you need to take it away as an option. It may take upwards of 20 tries before your child comes to enjoy or even get the courage to touch a certain food. Don’t feel discouraged!
Seven Months to 10 Months: Transition Period
Once your baby has gotten the hang of the mashed and soft foods, it is time to slowly move them up to more solid fare. We’re not going all the way to regular foods just yet.
Instead, we’re looking for foods that will easily give way as your child chews (well, actually gums their foods).
- Bananas or soft stone fruit like peaches, pears or nectarines
- Scrambled eggs
- Finely diced meat, fish or poultry
- Cooked, diced vegetables
- Starches such as puffs, pasta, iron-fortified cereals or diced cooked potatoes
During this time, we want to see the baby gain more confidence with chewing and swallowing. Keep trying to introduce new foods on a consistent schedule, so your baby gets experience with a wide variety of items.
Ten Months to 12 Months: Combination Foods
Begin to add in simple combination type foods to further help develop their palate. As always, it’s essential to avoid anything that poses a choking hazard, like nuts, sausage, or whole grapes. Instead stick with softer foods like:
- Macaroni and cheese
- Yogurt with soft fruit
- Pasta with sauce
- Cooked, mixed vegetables in larger pieces
Continue to encourage your child to feed him or herself by practicing with their hands or even baby utensils. They will try to mimic your actions at the dinner table.
Eating together allows your child to mirror your actions, watch the way you chew, and observe mealtimes etiquette.
What to Avoid the First Year
Throughout the process of introducing your child to food, there are certain items you’ll want to avoid. We’ve already mentioned that choking hazards should be avoided – anything that has small, hard pieces needs to wait until your child is a competent eater.
You’ll also need to avoid honey for the first 12 months. This product can contain botulism, or dangerous toxins made by bacteria, so it’s best to keep it away from babies.
You should also talk with your pediatrician about any other foods you might want to avoid because of your specific family history.
Trial and Error
Your baby will love getting to know all the delicious foods available to them. This period of your child’s development is incredibly important. Make sure that you’re introducing them to new foods and that you’re learning what your child likes and doesn’t like.
Have fun, and soon you’ll have another little eater sitting at your table!