When and How to Start Feeding Solid Foods
Introducing solids can be stressful for parents and caregivers. With the current formula shortage, this topic seems to be even more relevant as many parents face difficult decisions on how to consistently feed their babies.
When to start?
Babies generally start solids around the age of 6 months; however, timing may vary depending on your baby’s development. It is crucial that your baby can sit upright and support his or her head with little to no support. Your baby should also show interest in food by opening their mouth during feedings, showing curiosity or reaching for food that others are eating, or showing signs of hunger after meeting formula/breast milk recommendations.
How to start?
There are a variety of ways to progress from formula/breast milk to solid foods. Consider your comfort level, your baby’s ability and interest, and available food options before deciding which method might be best. The two most common methods are advancing by stages and baby-led weaning, but a combination of the two can be used.
- Advancing by stages slowly introduces baby foods based on their texture and complexity. Stage one usually consists of single-ingredient purees. Stage two includes one or more foods that are strained instead of pureed, which provides a thicker texture. Stage three includes one or more foods that contain small chunks to promote chewing. And lastly, stage four is when table foods can be introduced. Commercially prepared baby food has recommended ages included on the packaging, however, remember to base the decision on your baby’s readiness.
- Baby-led weaning is the process of introducing solid foods starting with age-appropriate versions of the food the rest of the family is eating instead of commercially prepared baby food. Start by offering soft foods that are cut into finger-sized pieces. Ideal first foods can include spears of banana, avocado, roasted or steamed vegetables, and small chunks of ground meat. While baby-led weaning does not rely on purees, foods like yogurt, oatmeal and baby cereal should also be included. Foods that are offered should be bland and exclude or minimize added sugar, salt and other seasonings.
How much is my baby supposed to eat?
It can be challenging to determine how much a baby is eating as their diet diversifies. The best way to ensure that your baby is eating enough is to create a meal and snack time routine where food is offered about every three hours. Understand that your baby’s appetite will vary meal to meal and day to day; this is normal. Offer a variety of foods and allow your child to self-regulate their appetite. Aim to provide meals and snacks undistracted at the table so that your child can focus on the meal. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s intake or growth, talk with your pediatrician or a registered dietitian.
Other important information
- Avoid foods that are choking hazards. Cut foods up into appropriately sized pieces. Common choking hazards include nuts/seeds, raw fruits and vegetables, whole grapes, hot dogs, peanut butter, marshmallows, popcorn and other foods that may be challenging to eat.
- Include iron-rich foods such as fortified cereal, meat/chicken, beans, cooked eggs and other iron-rich foods.
- It is not recommended to give children under the age of 12 months fruit juice. If fruit juice is offered, it should not be more than 4 oz (1/2 cup) per day.
- Cow’s milk should not be introduced before the age of 12 months.
- Honey should not be offered before the age of 12 months.
Haley Billings is a pediatric registered dietitian. She works with nutrition concerns such as failure to thrive, selective eating, tube feeding, obesity and more. She loves working with families to improve health and quality of life while minimizing stress around food and meals at home. She also works at Oklahoma State University for a program that offers trauma-informed training for teachers. A PhD candidate for Human Development and Family Science, she serves on the board of directors as the Public Policy Chair for the Oklahoma Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can contact Haley via email at firstname.lastname@example.org