As you all know, feeding toddlers can be seriously tricky. And feeding babies can be too, especially since there can be such mixed messages about how to do it. Starting solids with baby lead weaning and purees is the easiest approach for both parents and babies. Here's why.
When we introduced our second baby to solids, she was just shy of 6 months, but had been showing signs of interest whenever we had her sitting with us at the table. She was also almost able to sit up by herself and was able to bring food to her mouth, which meant that she was hitting the developmental milestones for starting solids. And while I had been less than enthused about this milestone in the weeks leading up to it (likely based on the fact that she's likely our last little one) we all got super excited once she started tasting foods.
How to Start Solids with Baby Led Weaning and Purees
Follow baby's lead.
I started off mostly doing baby-led weaning, where we offer bigger pieces of foods that she can feed herself. So think roasted sweet potato sticks, roasted sliced apples, and sliced very ripe pear. But even more important to me is following her lead as far as interest goes—and once I realized that she MUCH prefers to eat off of a spoon, I added in more purees. There are days when she's really into tasting whatever is on her highchair tray and and makes all sorts of happy eating sounds. And other days, she simply closes her mouth and turns away from the get go. I respect her choice and simply end a meal if she seems like she'd rather be doing something else.
Some babies take to solids in a flash and others slowly work up to actually eating. My goal is to have her actually eating by about 8 months, so between now and then I'm thinking of it more like tasting. So I offer a range of flavors over the course of the week to lay a foundation for when real meals start happening. Typically, I offer foods 1-2 times a day and we'll increase that as time goes on. Part of that is simply due to our schedule (and her frequent napping) and part of it is me wanting to make sure that she's getting plenty of time to adjust to this milestone. Babies who are just starting solids still get their primary nutrition from breast milk or formula, so you absolutely do not need to worry about how many calories they are eating. (You may want to emphasis iron- and zinc-rich foods though.)
It's not unusual for a baby to eat 1 teaspoon- 1 tablespoon at a meal. Portions for little people are similarly little, especially when doing foods with thicker consistencies.
Because they are often easier to eat, she seems to prefer them, and I feel more comfortable sending them to the babysitter, we are doing some purees. That said, I keep them slightly thicker and often with a bit of texture to get some of the same benefits as BLW, and I let her self feed from a pre-loaded spoon. (I should clarify: She insists on feeding herself, so the food needs to be thicker to stay on the spoon to make that possible!) We've also done plain whole-milk yogurt and watered down nut butters, which have a really nice texture for new eaters. We're also doing occasional pureed marinara sauce with ground grass-fed beef or lamb as a solid source of iron since iron stores in babies start to run out at this age and they need to get it from their diet.
(Did you know that introducing peanut butter early can reduce the likelihood of developing a peanut allergy? Read more about introducing nut butters early here. And always avoid whole nuts and thick amounts of straight nut butter as both are choking hazards.)
Time it right.
Because a hungry or tired baby will have no patience for eating—especially given that they don't yet know that food will make that hungry feeling in their tummies go away—I try to offer solids either right after a nap, assuming she doesn't need to nurse, or about 30 minutes after I nurse her. And if things seem too chaotic or busy, or if she's cranky or teething or not feeling well, I back off and don't worry too much about it that day.
Know what to offer.
Think whole foods, in simple forms, without much added to them. You can of course mix foods as you like, but it can be good to start with single ingredients at first to make sure that there aren't any reactions. (The standard medical advice is to wait 2-3 days between introducing new foods.)
- Produce: The easiest way for me to think about what to feed T each day is to first and foremost focus on produce of all kinds, with all sorts of flavor profiles. I try not to just give her sweet things during the day, so foods like beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes are often in the mix.
- Meat, Fish, and Eggs: Darker meat and poultry have some of the nutrients, particularly iron, that little ones need and they tend to be more flavorful than white meat. For early eaters, try it pureed (like in a soup or marinara sauce) or offer bigger pieces that they can suck on. Very soft scrambled eggs are also a good early food, though you may need to break them up into tiny pieces and serve it on a spoon to help baby get used to the texture.
- Dairy: You'll want to avoid cow's milk until your baby turns 1 since it is harder to digest than breast milk or formula, though whole milk plain yogurt is good, as are some soft cheese like goat cheese crumbles. We go easy on dairy to give her body a chance to adjust (it could be constipating) and use yogurt more than anything else since it contains beneficial probiotics that make it easier to digest.
- Whole grains: While you may not want to start with baby rice cereal (or maybe you do!), whole grains are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and B vitamins. I either cook grains until very, very soft or grind them in my blender before cooking so they cook up like porridge. So far we've tried oatmeal, cooked in water with a little cinnamon and pureed blueberries, and quinoa mixed with pureed butternut squash. If a grain ever seems too solid or sticky, simply thin it with a little warm water.
- Beans and Legumes: Well-cooked beans have an awesomely soft texture that is ideal for babies, either simply mashed up or served in hummus or a pureed bean soup. They are also a good source of fiber, iron, and other nutrients (that vary by type of bean). If using canned beans, just be sure to rinse them well to remove any added salt.
- Fats: Avocado, egg yolk, nut butters, and ground up seeds (say, mixed in yogurt) are excellent nutrient-dense foods for babies. Try offering sliced avocado, or a little mashed up on a spoon—which may be less slippery for baby to hold. Babies and toddlers need about half of their calories to come from fats until they are 2, so don't shy away from it!
- Flavorings: Babies are usually very open to trying all sorts of flavors—I wish I'd taken a photo of T when she first tried beets!—so you can also flavor their food with herbs, spices (just not too spicy), healthy oils, and citrus.
Know what to avoid.
Avoid added sugars, excessive added salt, anything fried, things that are crunchy or chewy, whole nuts, honey, and cow's milk. And choose more whole foods than packaged ones (other than store bought baby food). Baby should also be sitting upright in a highchair for meals to avoid additional choking concerns. (If your baby has or had eczema or any other allergies, talk to your doctor about whether you need to use more caution when introducing potentially allergenic foods.)
Prepare for success.
On the weekend when I'm doing my meal prep for our dinners, I make a few things for baby. I typically roast a few different veggies and make one (small batch) of puree. We've been doing roasted sweet potato, roasted butternut squash, roasted broccoli, and roasted bell peppers and lots of applesauce and pureed peas. I also bring something for T to eat when we go out for a meal or when we'll be out of the house for an extended period of time. I love the Beaba Snack Containers (shown above) for packing snacks for all of us—including myself and my 4 year old. Roasted Apple Slices are a favorite on-the-go baby snack right now.
The information in this post is not meant to be a substitution for medical advice. Always talk through starting solids with your pediatrician.
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