Introducing solids to your baby is an exciting milestone for families. It’s a sign of your baby’s growth and development and a celebration of how much they’ve already changed in the few months you’ve had with them.
I know for many mamas, introducing solids can feel a bit daunting and exhausting to wrap your head around. Until now, feeding your baby has been really straight forward. It’s either been bottle or boob. And you’re probably feeling like you’ve finally got the method that’s right for your family down pat.
Introducing solids is like diving into a whole new world. When should you start? What foods should you give them? What method should you use when introducing solids? What about allergens?
Ah! I remember feeling pretty stressed about the whole endeavor.
Well mama, I want you to take a deep breath. Relax and let this milestone be a time that is laid back and full of fun exploration for you and your baby. With this complete guide to introducing solids you will feel ready to tackle this time in your baby’s life like a pro!
Part 1: The Basics of Introducing Solids
In this section, we’re going to cover a few of the key things you’ll want to know about feeding solid foods — before you even get started.
This article has been reviewed for accuracy by Pegah Jalali, MS, RD, CDN.
When Should a Baby Start Solid Foods?
While there is some discrepancy around exactly when to start solids, the AAP and World Health Organization guidelines advocate for exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months. That means no food before the age of 6 months.
When it comes to guidelines on beginning solids, sources report a window between 4-6 months of age. Clearly, this doesn’t line up. For that reason, it’s always best to discuss this important stage with your baby’s pediatrician and look for signs of readiness.
Based on my experience and research, I wouldn’t start my baby on regular foods before the age of 6 months. And I would only do it when they are showing signs of readiness. My second baby wasn’t ready until about 7.5 months, despite many disappointing attempts on my part.
How Do You Know If Your Baby is Ready for Solid Foods?
- They are able to sit upright with minimal assistance. This is important because a baby that is reclining or being held up entirely by the back of their chair is at a much higher risk for choking. They will also not be able to swallow well.
- They’re losing the tongue-thrust reflex. In order to be successful with solid foods, you baby needs to be able to move food to the back of their mouth and swallow. Prior to 6 months, your baby will tongue thrust anything other than liquid out of their mouth. Losing the tongue-thrust reflex is also a sign of their maturing digestive system
- AND, they show an interest in food. If they meet the first two requirements (e.g. they can sit upright on their own and they are losing the tongue-thrust reflex), and they show an interest in food, you might have a ready eater on your hands. Usually, right around the 6 month mark your baby will begin to be interested in what you’re eating, grab for your food, and be interested in the eating process. Together with the other two requirements, this is a great sign and opportunity to start solids!
Is Food Before One Just for Fun?
You’ve probably heard the saying, food under one is just for fun. The idea behind this is that most of your baby’s nutrition still comes from breastmilk or formula until they are 12 months old. The thought is that feeding solids, for now, is mostly about exposure to new foods and experience to new textures.
But is this true? It depends. If your baby is being breastfed or gets European baby formula, your baby probably needs more iron than your breastmilk or their formula can provide. (Not to mention, vitamin D, but that’s a different subject.) In this case, the bulk of your baby’s nutrition and calories will still come from a liquid diet, but introducing solids is an important opportunity to prevent anemia in your baby.
If your baby is fed a US formula, they may not be as likely to develop anemia because US baby formula tends to be over-supplemented with iron. So, again, the answer to the food before one question is really – it depends on your baby’s main source of nutrition.
This study from 2010 looked at iron deficiency rates across different populations of infants and children in Canada and found a prevalence ranging from 12-64% of the population!
In addition to food under one addressing your baby’s iron needs, food under one is also very important to develop their ability to chew and swallow. This process takes time and should be approached gradually between 6-12 months. However, if put off too long, you may need professional intervention from a food therapist to get your older baby or toddler to learn the skills necessary to eat solid foods.
What Nutrients Do Babies Need?
We’ve established that most of your baby’s nutrition and calories comes from breastmilk or formula until they are around 12 months. But I also just mentioned that in some areas breastmilk and formula fall short. While it’s especially important to be mindful of adding iron to your baby’s diet via their solid foods, let’s look at all the nutrients to focus on as you introduce solids.
- Iron: found in dark leafy greens, spinach, legumes, tofu, red meat
- Zinc: found in many meats, seeds, lentils, spinach, asparagus, quinoa
- Omega-3: found in fish, seaweed, nuts and seeds
- Vitamin C: found in a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Vitamin A: found in most orange-colored fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens, cheese
- Vitamin D: found in salmon, some yogurts, some fortified cereals
Should You Feed Your Baby Organic Food?
When choosing what to feed your baby when introducing solids, many mamas wonder about choosing organic foods vs. conventional foods. At this point, the jury is out on whether organic foods offer more nutrition than conventional foods. However, choosing organic foods does significantly reduce your baby’s exposure to pesticides, antibiotics and hormones.
According to Amy Marlow, the author of Happy Baby: The Organic Guide to Baby’s First 24 Months, babies are more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides because the toxins are stored in fat (which babies have more of) and because they eat more per pound of body weight than adults (source).
If prioritizing all organic ingredients and foods feels overwhelming or financially stressful for you and your family, but you have a keen interest in decreasing your baby’s exposure to pesticides and chemicals used to grow conventional foods, I recommend checking out the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists each year.
This can help you prioritize where to spend money on organic and where conventional might be okay when your budget is tight. For example, a non-organic orange is preferable to an organic cracker, or to a food pouch almost any day. Don’t obsess over only giving organic food; just make it a priority whenever possible and try to live by the 80/20 rule.
Part 2: How and What to Feed Your Baby
Here’s where we’re going to talk about the best approach to start feeding your baby solid foods. And we’ll also cover some frequently asked questions about solid foods.
Three Different Methods For Introducing Solid Foods to Your Baby
There are different schools of thought out there about the best way to introduce solids. Everyone has a different opinion on the subject, too. But no one method is better than the other. It’s most important to find a method that works for your family and allows you to be consistent in your approach to introducing solids.
The three main ways to introduce solids are:
- Purees to Solids: This tends to be the most common approach to introducing solids here in the US and is mainly rooted in tradition. In this approach, you will start your baby’s introduction to solids with very thin purees fed via spoon. Gradually, you will increase the consistency to thicker and chunkier purees. By 8 or 9 months you will introduce soft finger foods and continue to transition to more solid foods.
- Baby-Led Weaning (BLW): This is an approach to introducing solids that is gaining more popularity and mainstream attention in recent years. In this method, you would skip purees altogether and immediately start baby with very soft finger foods (think banana or avocado). The idea is that baby has greater control over how much they eat, has immediate exposure to more textures, and can work on fine motor skills through self-feeding.
- Mixed Feeding: This approach is basically a combination of the first two. With mixed feeding you will utilize purees as well as opportunities to self-feed finger foods right from the start. Many families find this to be the most practical approach for them.
Remember, despite what anyone says, there is no right or wrong approach here! It’s all about what is right for your family. So when you’re trying to choose one of these methods, some things to consider are:
- The time you can spend preparing your baby’s food. Will you have time to make separate meals for your baby? Or are you comfortable with store-bought baby food? Or would you prefer to serve your baby from the same food you cook for yourself and your family (and even when you order take-out)?
- Your baby’s interest in different types of foods and textures. If you start your baby on BLW and your baby doesn’t seem ready, you may want to switch to purees. Or if your baby isn’t taking to eating from a spoon and seems more independent, you could focus more on BLW.
- Your personal comfort level around introducing solids. Are you a little nervous about introducing solids? When doing Baby Led Weaning, you may encounter gagging. I know I personally couldn’t handle the gagging, so I switched back to purees.
- Your baby’s sensitivities. If your baby has had eczema, allergies, or digestive issues, you may want to play it safe and stick with one-ingredient puree recipes until you’ve established which foods your baby can tolerate directly. Because BLW can typically involve feeding your baby a variety of foods at one time, it doesn’t give you the ability to identify your baby’s reactions to a specific food; when feeding purees, you can start with one food at a time like peas or carrots for 2-3 days. More on this below.
What’s The Best Time of Day to Introduce Solid Foods?
In the beginning, it’s best to introduce solid foods in the morning and daytime. This is especially true for foods that are completely new to your baby. By introducing foods in the daytime you will be able to better watch for possible reactions like hives, swelling, gas, constipation, or other general discomforts. In the event of a full-on allergic reaction, it will be much easier to get your baby the help and attention they need in the daytime.
Another thing to consider is that you’ll have the best likely outcome by feeding your baby at a time they aren’t tired, hungry for formula or breast milk, or cranky. NYU Pediatric Dietitian Pegah Jalali recommends feedings 20-30 minutes after a milk feeding, so that your baby isn’t so hungry for food that they get frustrated while you’re trying to feed them solids.
Most babies won’t recognize solid foods as a means of quenching their hunger for several months; it will take a lot longer for them to connect the dots between eating solid foods and their tummy no longer being hungry.
What Are The Best First Foods for Babies?
So where to start? It’s tricky to decide exactly what to introduce first! Most current research emphasizes starting with whole foods (fruits, vegetables, and meats) instead of the traditional cereals.
In general, babies have a palette that prefers sweet tastes. For this reason, some people choose to start with vegetables with the hopes of avoiding pickiness towards vegetables over time. Others choose to start with something sweeter to make the first introduction to solids more successful. And new research suggests that meat is a perfect first food because it helps your baby get their dietary intake of iron and zinc.
There’s no real evidence to support going with vegetables first. Either way, as long as you’re serving a good variety of whole foods during these first 6 months, the foods you serve likely won’t affect your baby’s taste preferences in one direction or another.
Because solid foods are so new to your baby’s digestive system, it’s helpful to start with foods that are known to help with constipation (or at least not known to cause it). Constipation and gas are the most common side effects your baby will experience when they first start eating real food, and this is completely normal. It’s also a good opportunity to introduce 30 mL of water at meal times in an open cup. Just run this by your pediatrician, of course.
Some great choices for first foods include:
- Sweet potato
- Butternut squash
- Sweet peas
- Chicken thighs or legs
- Grass fed ground beef (shop here)
Once your baby is easily digesting these blander options (usually by 7-8 months), you can start to widen their choices to most any fruits and vegetables. Just continue to adhere to the 3-5 day waiting period, and be sure the food is prepared in a way that is safe for your baby.
Why You Should Skip Grains and Baby Cereals
Your own mother or grandmother might be eager to have your little one start solids with a rice cereal. But today’s research shows no advantage to this method — it is truly rooted in tradition.
Some pediatricians still suggest starting with a baby cereal because cereals are fortified with iron. Babies need 11mg of iron per day for normal growth and development, and by the time they’re ready to start solid foods, they’ll no longer be getting adequate iron from breastmilk. But the iron found in rice cereals isn’t as easy to digest as the meat naturally found in meats, beans, eggs, and other foods.
Not to mention, many rice cereals have been shown to contain significant amounts of arsenic present and may not be safe for your baby’s delicate body.
And if you needed another reason NOT to give rice cereals or other grains to your baby, here’s one more thing you should know. To properly digest grains, your body needs to produce the enzyme amylase. Most babies will not produce enough of this enzyme until after their first birthday. One sign that they are ready for grains and are producing this enzyme is the emergence of their first molars.
While they can be an easy first food or a convenient vehicle for mixing in other foods, grains are not a significant source of the nutrients your baby needs before their first birthday. Fruits, vegetables, and foods high in healthy fats are a far better starting point.
Foods Your Baby Shouldn’t Eat
Some foods should not be given at all before 12 months of age, such as:
- Honey: honey should not be given to babies under 12 months. This is because of the risk of bacteria found in honey resulting in infant botulism. Young babies are more prone to botulism because of their immature digestive systems
- Raw cheeses and eggs: these should be avoided for similar reasons. Their immature digestive systems put them at greater risk for food-borne illness
- Cow’s milk, almond milk, goat’s milk, etc: these are best saved until after your little one’s first birthday. Their digestive systems aren’t yet mature enough to handle the proteins, minerals, and enzymes in these types of milk. Remember breastmilk or formula should still be your baby’s main source of nutrition and calories!
- Added salt and sugars: Your baby’s kidneys aren’t ready to handle any additives at this point.
Foods that pose a choking risk to babies under one (according to the CDC):
- Whole corn kernels
- Uncut grapes, cherry tomatoes, berries, cherries or other spherical foods
- Raw fruits and vegetables that are hard (carrots, apple, broccoli, etc.)
- Dried fruits like raisins
- Whole or chopped nuts
- Tough or large chunks of meat
- Hot dogs, sausages meat sticks
- Large chunks of cheese or string strings
- Granola bars and cookies
- Crunchy “snack” foods (chips, pretzels, etc.)
- Hard or chewy candies
*These foods should be avoided completely, prepared with extra care and attention, or saved until your baby is a more experienced eater.
Introducing Solids: Allergen Awareness
Perhaps the scariest aspect of introducing solids to your baby is knowing how and when to introduce common allergens. Food allergies are to be taken seriously, and it’s best to approach these foods well-informed and prepared just in case of a serious reaction.
The top 8 allergens are:
- Tree nuts
In addition to these top 8, other common allergens include: corn, sesame seeds, mustard seeds, and strawberries.
When Should You Introduce The Top Allergens?
The question on every mama’s mind that is getting ready to introduce solids: when do I introduce these top common allergens? In the past, pediatricians advised parents to hold off on introducing allergies, but recent research suggest that exposure to these foods early, in an age-appropriate preparation can decrease their risk of developing an allergy and/or help with early detection.
In other words, you should not hold off on introducing these foods! But at the same time, stop and ask if your baby is ready, first. If your baby has eczema or is showing signs of struggling with solid foods, you should probably wait until their system has calmed down. Your doctor or allergist can advise you on your personal situation.
When you are ready to introduce these foods, just be sure to:
- Make sure your baby is well and not getting over being sick so that you can properly monitor their symptoms or reactions
- Introduce allergenic foods during the day so that you can monitor your baby and see your pediatrician or get medical care easily, if needed
- Serve them in a format that is safe and age-appropriate for your baby
- Wait 3-5 days to introduce any other new foods (to help monitor reactions)
- Only give your baby a small amount of the top allergenic foods at first
- Once you’ve determined an allergen food to be safe for your baby, incorporate it into their regular diet to prevent potential development of an allergy.
Potential Allergic Reactions to Look For
I’ve heard it said in the allergy community that there’s no such thing as a minor allergy – only a minor reaction. And I think that makes sense: all reactions should be taken seriously.
Allergic reactions to foods can vary from extreme and life-threatening to minor discomfort. One thing for sure is that an allergic reaction to food will be consistent and happen with every exposure to a particular food, potentially getting worse over time.
If your little one has a minor reaction and you are unsure if it’s an allergy, discuss the symptoms and scenario with your pediatrician. They can give advice on how to approach the food in the future to determine if it’s an allergy or not.
What are some potential allergic reactions to look for?
- Loose stools
- Mucousy stools
- Smelly stools (usually sour)
- Runny nose
- Facial Swelling
- Respiratory issues
*If your child is having a severe reaction to a food, or you are in any way concerned for their immediate safety after being exposed to a food, call 911 right away!
Part 3: Everything You Need to Start Feeding Your Baby
As you wander into the wonderful world of feeding your baby solids, you will surely come across the variety of store-bought, premade baby foods out there. But is store bought baby food ideal when introducing solids? In short, no.
Store bought baby food is definitely less desirable than making your own baby food, especially when you are first starting out. I know what you’re thinking — making your own baby food seems really hard or time-consuming. But, hear me out.
(And, don’t worry I list the brands of store-bought baby food that I recommend below.)
The problem with many store bought baby foods is the prevalence of acrylamide, heavy metals, BPA, and even carcinogens. In fact, one study by the Clean Label Project found that over 60% of products claiming to be BPA free tested positive for BPA!
It’s so difficult to know exactly what’s in those premade jars and packets, when even the claims on the label can’t be trusted. Making your own baby food really is the safest and most ideal route. That gives you a chance to control the ingredients you use, avoid preservatives, and know exactly what’s in your baby’s meal.
How Do You Make Your Own Baby Food?
This leads us to your next question– how should I make my own baby food? It’s really not that complicated.
For Baby Led Weaning: If you choose to introduce solids using Baby Led Weaning you will be simply chopping soft foods into manageable sizes, steaming certain fruits and vegetables for a softer texture, or smushing things like peas and blueberries to prevent choking.
For Purees: If you are interested in making your own purees, here’s the method I use and love:
- Step 1: Steam ingredients on the stove top by boiling water and using a stainless steel steaming basket
- Step 2: Put steamed fruits or vegetables into a blender or food processor. Add a little water to help get the blender moving and blend until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Step 3: Allow it to cool and serve to baby with a spoon.
Purees can be stored in the fridge or frozen in 1 oz. servings for easy use in the future (a tray like this works great!). You can also use small 4 oz. canning jars to store them in the fridge or freezer. I often also used canning jars for traveling with baby purees and small portioned meals for my kids.
As your baby shows tolerance for more ingredients, you can try sautéing or roasting ingredients and adding minimal spices and herbs to expand their palette. You can also gradually change the texture of your homemade purees to be thicker or chunkier as they become a more experienced eater.
Introducing Solids Checklist: Feeding Essentials for Your Baby
Here are all of the feeding essentials you’ll want for your baby before starting solids. Knowing what feeding method you plan to use helps cut down on some unnecessary purchases.
High chair: You can find a variety of high chairs, including low-profile high chairs, counter-height high chairs, chairs that will grow with your child, and even chairs that you can use with your baby from the newborn phase. Consider how hard a high chair is to clean as well as the materials used in the seat and on the tray. We loved our Stokke, but check out my complete list of non-toxic high chairs for recommendations.
High chair splash mat: To help make cleaning up after your baby easier, consider getting a high chair mat to place under the high chair. You can also use an old towel if you don’t mind getting spaghetti sauce or purees all over it.
Bibs (2+): Bibs will come in handy, especially when you’re feeding purees. Fabric bibs are convenient because they can be thrown in the wash but they may not protect your baby’s lap from falling food. A silicone bib with a little pocket can be useful and effective against dropped food, and you’ll likely only need one because they can be hand-washed.
Baby spoons (3+): If you’ll be feeding purees, you’ll definitely want to have a set of baby spoons. Choose from silicone spoons (or these) or stainless steel baby spoons, but avoid plastic spoons. I also don’t care much for bamboo spoons because of the possible need for glues.
Plates: Your baby won’t need his or her own plates or bowls if they are using their own high chair that comes with a tray, but they’ll eventually need these as they get bigger. You can use silicone plates or silicone placemats, but be sure not to use these with hot foods so there’s no risk of anything leaching from the silicone. Once your baby starts eating more food, or eating more independently, you can get a set of small baby bowls or stainless steel toddler plates.
Silicone or mesh feeders: Mesh or silicone feeders can be a great way to encourage self-feeding and a way to expose your baby to new textures.
Snack containers: For when you’re out of the house with a baby is ready to eat finger foods, a snack container is perfect for allowing your baby to self-feed. Consider using baby snack food containers for younger babies and silicone food storage bags for toddlers.
Bento boxes: Once your baby starts eating more food, you can begin to pack snacks and lunches for them in a stainless steel bento box. Bring along an ice pack when needed.
Helpful books: In addition to the advice in this article, I know I always love having a book at the ready in the kitchen to answer a question, inspire some baby food meal prep, or give a little more in-depth info. Some of my recommendations include: Baby Led Weaning, The Big Book of Organic Baby Food, and Super Nutrition for Babies.
The Best Organic Store-Bought Baby Food Brands
But listen, mama. I get it. I know there are times when life gets busy, you’re unexpectedly away from home with the baby longer than you expected, or your partner used the last of your homemade stash without telling you.
Sometimes you have to buy premade food for one reason or another.
When browsing these types of store-bought options look for baby food that is organic and doesn’t have additives like citric acid or other non-food ingredients. My go to brands are Serenity Kids and Once Upon a Farm. Serenity Kids is shelf-stable and can be thrown in the diaper bag, while Once Upon a Farm requires refrigeration. Both are great brands!
Part 4: Tips and Best Practices to Help You Succeed With Introducing Solids
We all want our babies to grow up enjoying food, listening to their bodies, and making healthy choices. Family mealtimes are important for social and emotional growth and development, too as your baby gets older. Establishing healthy mealtime routines right from the start is important to mealtime success as they grow.
What can you do to set your baby up for success with solids? And how can you raise a healthy eater? Here are 9 tips to follow!
Rule #1. Sit with your baby during meal times. This is for their safety, to prevent them acting out, and to establish a family meal routine that is important as they grow. Be present with your baby when they are eating. When at home try to do all feeding in the same spot (be it a high chair or even a kids table in RIE/Montessori spirit). Avoid feeding your baby in the car or stroller.
Rule #2. Always let your baby be in charge of eating. Your important role is choosing what to serve your baby and providing them with a healthy variety of options. But they are in charge of their body! This is important for letting them develop a strong sense of hunger and fullness cues.
This means respecting when they are finished, resisting the “one more bite” urge, and always providing more if they ask for it. Humans are born with the amazing ability to respect their body’s cues and needs. Often this becomes out of whack and undone as we grow due to lack of respect to what our body is telling us.
As your child gets bigger, you can begin to set necessary limits on things like sweets and not snacking between meals.
Rule #3. Let go of all expectations. Try not to feel nervous or like you “have” to be reaching certain milestones with feeding. Having a relaxed approach and watching your baby for cues and readiness will help you baby feel relaxed about meals too. Personally, I remember being nervous when introducing solids with my first baby, and he definitely reacted to that. Once I was able to relax and reset my expectations, he responded so much better and ate more.
And with my second baby, I was very eager to introduce solids around the six month mark. But he just wasn’t ready. So we waited, and didn’t really get going with solids until almost an entire month later. Go at your baby’s pace.
Remember: be relaxed and make mealtime a positive experience where your baby gets to experiment with new foods and textures, and where they get to sit down with you or their caregiver.
Rule #4. Try to be consistent and regular with mealtimes. Remember, your baby doesn’t have to eat if they don’t want to. But sitting them down with food once a day, then gradually upping to 2-3 times per day, is important exposure and opportunity for your little one to get comfortable with solids. Jalali also suggests that a good rule of thumb is to start with one meal around 6 months and work your way up to serving three meals around the age of 9/10 months. Remember to be easy on yourself with this process – it’s not about how many meals your baby gets per day, but the quality of the meal experience.
Rule #5. Set mealtime boundaries. If your baby throws their food, teach them from a young age that the meal is done. Take away their plate calmly and say “Ok, all done” and get up from the table (unless you’re still eating, of course). Eventually, your baby will learn not to throw their food.
Rule #6. Repeat exposure is key. Be persistent with those beans and vegetables. You may need to serve the same food 10-20+ times before your baby eats it. Don’t give up! Repeat exposure will help get your baby to continue eating foods, even as their palate expands.
Rule #7. Embrace the mess! Sensory exposure and integration is one of the most important parts of introducing solids and eating for your baby. Resist the urge to clean your baby until the meal time is complete. Feeling the “mess” on their face, hands, and body is great for their sensory development
Rule #8. Use sign language with your baby during meal times to help them communicate with you. Baby signs for more, all done, eat, and drink are all easily taught. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your baby will start using them.
Relax and Enjoy the Process of Introducing Solids to Your Baby
With this complete guide to introducing solid foods, I hope you are feeling more relaxed and excited about this process. Watching your baby learn to eat is fun and often hilarious. They’ll make facial expressions you never knew they could make, they’ll surprise you with the foods they love, and their messes will make for some awesome photo ops.
Having a stress-free attitude towards the process will lead to greater success. Your baby will pick up on your cues. So have fun, get in the kitchen, and rock this, mama!
Founder and CEO | The Gentle Nursery
After learning about the toxic chemicals found in mainstream baby products, Yasmine created The Gentle Nursery to help other parents make healthy choices for their babies. With a 10-year background in research, analytics, and leadership for a Fortune 100 company, Yasmine applies the same principles and attention to detail to every article she writes and researches. Yasmine’s advisory team includes an amazing team of moms, medical professionals, chemists, and other experts that help ensure accuracy and perspective.
Yasmine is also the creator of Biomeology Prenatal Probiotics and the author of The Baby Registry Handbook. Yasmine’s driving mission is to help reduce the rates of disorder, disease, and trauma in mothers and children and to inspire others to lead a healthier, happier, and non-toxic life. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, a doula in training, and is currently studying to become a Functional Nutrition Coach.