This is a topic that I always love talking to parents about. My simple process usually seems so revolutionary to new parents, yet it was ingrained in me during my residency training.
Allow me to pull back the curtain and share with you my go-to method for healthy food introduction.
And yes, it IS funny when babies eat lemons, even if it seems like torture 😅.
How do I know they’re ready?
If breastfeeding, it is recommended to exclusively breastfeed your infant for at least 6 months, but some kids (including formula fed babes) are ready for foods as early as 4 months. There are generally 3 things I tell parents to look for when it comes to food introduction:
- They show interest in food
- They can keep their head up when sitting in a high chair
- They open their mouths and lean forward when food is offered
It’s important to wait until they are interested in food before you try, as it likely won’t be successful otherwise. Head control is an important indicator that they have the muscle control needed to safely consume food (i.e. to avoid having it go down their airway!). Opening their mouth and leaning forward are also important muscular indicators that they are ready to consume solid foods.
Once you notice one or more of these indicators, it’s time to give it a try!
How do I do it?
There are tons of ways to introduce foods, but I think it’s important to start “bland” and go sweeter.
Starting with oat cereal is a good and simple way to begin. All you have to do is mix either warmed formula or expressed breast milk with oats and spoon feed it to your infant. You want the consistency to be smooth and very mushy to make it easy for them. Since it will mostly taste like what they’ve had exclusively for the past 4-6 months, it’s an easy way to transition to a different texture.
After starting with oat cereal, move to the single vegetables. Make sure to check out the ingredient label of the baby food you’re buying!! Some, believe it or not, will add unnecessary sugar. My wife and I are big believers in organic fruits and vegetables as non-organic versions can have trace amounts of pesticides. If you want the best, however, make your own baby food (which I discuss in an upcoming article). That way you know EXACTLY what your little one is eating!
It’s important to not give too many new foods too fast so you know if your child has a reaction to something. I recommend no more than 2 new foods a week, or no more than 1 new food every 3-5 days.
From the single vegetables you can move on to the fruits. As you add more and more to their arsenal, you can start exploring combination foods. This can include meats such as fish or beef as long as they are the right consistency. Food that is easily crushed with a fork is generally the benchmark I give to parents for infant safe food. If you cook it long enough, it will eventually get “mushy” enough for them to try eating.
A lot of people avoid the 8 most common “allergic” foods, but this is no longer recommended. These foods are eggs, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, and shellfish. We used to recommend avoiding some of these foods until they were older but now recommend consuming them as infants. So unless you have a family history of an allergy to one or more of these foods, make your baby some mushy shrimp! 🍤
The goal is to get from 100% formula/breastfeeding at 6 months to 3 meals/day with a couple of snacks and a couple of bottles of milk or breastfeeding sessions by 12 months. Some kids progress quickly to thicker foods, then lumpy food, then more solid foods. Lumpy foods could include small slices of banana or small pieces of avocado. More solid foods include small pieces of grapes, berries, or strips of hot dogs or sausage. Watch for signs of choking such as coughing, gagging, or spitting up. Always feed small portions and encourage them to eat slowly. As most of you could attest, expect a mess!
What foods do I avoid?
It’s really important to avoid any foods that may be a choking hazard. Some are obvious (hard candy), but others aren’t so much.
Fruits and vegetables that are considered choking hazards include uncut grapes or berries, whole pieces of fruit (including canned), hard raw fruits such as apples or vegetables such as carrots (should be cooked down), cooked or raw whole corn kernels, or dry fruits such as raisins.
Other things to avoid include tree nuts that are whole or chopped or nut butters by themselves. Big or tough chunks of meat, hot dogs that aren’t sliced into strips, and fish with bones are definite no no’s when it comes to feeding your infant. Big chunks of cheese aren’t easily broken down and are choking hazards as well.
Finally, hard candies or other candies that have to be chewed are significant choking hazards for kids. Even marshmallows can be a choking hazard as they are difficult for saliva to break down.
Many of these foods still aren’t appropriate for kids 12-24 months. This includes carrot sticks, whole grapes or large pieces of apples/carrots raw, tough meat, round sliced hot dog, chunks of peanut butter, popcorn, chips, or hard candy.
Avoid these foods and monitor your children while they’re eating to avoid running into a scary situation.
Feeding your infant can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be! Don’t go too fast, start with vegetables, and don’t be scared of the more “allergic” foods. Always watch your child when eating, and avoid foods that might cause your kid to choke.
You can do this, and so can your kid!
Have any thoughts on feeding your kids, including tips/tricks? Share below 👇.