If your baby is approaching 6 months of age and/or is showing the developmental signs of readiness to start solids, you’re probably starting to think about starting solids and what types of solid foods are best to give your baby.
It can be overwhelming to think about what types of first foods you can give out of all the different types of solid foods that are out there! Making sure that you’re giving them the best first foods, not only in terms of their nutrition but also in terms of safety, is going to be top priority.
In this blog post, I’m going to be covering all of the things that you need to consider when offering food to your baby in the first couple months of starting solids. As a registered pediatric dietitian in the field for over 11 years, I can provide you with the best list for first foods to focus on, that are also going to be easy to prepare and will ensure you’re setting your baby up for a healthy start on their solid foods journey.
And if you’re interested in starting solids using a more gradual approach, beginning with purées and increasing in textures as you and your baby are ready to, check out my free workshop! I’m teaching you all about my Texture Timeline™ which is an exclusive tool to My Little Eater™ and used to move your baby from easier to more advanced textures.
Do babies need infant cereal as baby food?
No, babies don’t need to start on baby cereal as a first baby food.
Can it be used? Sure!
But do they have to? Absolutely not.
The reason for the common recommendation to offer infant versions of any cereals (rice, oat, mixed grain, etc.) is because they’ve been fortified with iron, which is an important nutrient for babies.
We do really want to focus on iron for babies when talking about an ideal baby menu, especially because babies’ iron needs are incredibly high. And beginning at around six months of age, babies’ natural iron stores start to deplete. This means they do need to be getting iron in from outside sources – AKA solid foods – in order for their body to grow healthily.
But there are so many other high iron foods outside of just iron fortified cereals that babies can have. Solid foods that aren’t only going to provide them with the iron that they need, but also will give them that much-needed flavor and texture exposure that’s going to be so incredibly important, especially during the first few months of starting solids.
In fact, between 6 and 9 months of age babies need as much exposure to as many different textures and flavors of solid foods as we can possibly give them. That is because this period of time is known as the “critical window of opportunity” for developing taste and texture preferences.
In other words, the more foods that are offered to baby during this time and the least repetition in their menu… the better their outcome for picky eating prevention and oral motor skill development.
So, while infant fortified cereal is a great option, it shouldn’t be the only option, nor does it have to be the very first food your baby gets. Focusing on providing a variety of solid foods is going to be much better for them in the long run.
How many days should you wait between introducing new solid foods?
There is absolutely no need for babies to have to wait 3 to 5 days in between the introduction of new solid foods. This is an old recommendation that is based on no research and was initially told to parents as a way to be able to track any reactions to different foods.
However, now we know with much more certainty that the risks of developing food allergies or reactions to foods that are not on the highly allergenic food list is extremely low. And the repercussions of waiting long periods of time between introducing new solid foods (and preventing baby from experiencing a variety of solid foods in a shorter amount of time) is much worse than the very, very minimal risk of developing a food allergy to – let’s say – chicken.
Is there a specific order for introducing first foods for baby?
No, there is no specific order that solid foods need to be introduced to your baby. Many blogs online incorrectly claim that vegetables should be offered before fruit, that meat or grains shouldn’t be offered until a couple months into starting solids, or that mixed meals need to be introduced after single ingredient foods.
The truth is, babies have already been tasting a multitude of flavors from breast milk, and if they are being started on solid foods around 6 months of age (and when all developmental signs of readiness to start solids have emerged), your baby’s digestive system is ready and able to handle all types of proteins, fat, fiber, and yes – even gluten.
Concerned about your baby’s ability to digest grains? Read this for the lowdown on how and why babies can digest grains and starches at 6 months of age.
A note on food allergies
It’s now recommended that babies be introduced to highly allergenic foods as close to 6 months of age as possible as research indicates this helps to decrease the risk of developing food allergies.
This doesn’t mean that it has to be done within the first couple days or the first week of starting solids. But you do want to make sure that you introduce potentially allergenic foods early on in their starting solids journey.
This could mean introducing an allergenic food within the first week and then maybe a few days later introducing another highly allergenic food. Or it could mean introducing one highly allergenic food every couple weeks until your baby has gone through all 10.
Once again, there is no specific order for which allergenic food to introduce before the other. However, you do want to introduce the highly allergenic foods in isolation from other highly allergenic foods.
To learn more about introducing highly allergenic foods, what they are and the recommended protocol for how to do it, click here.
What makes a good first food for baby?
We’ve already established that babies need high iron foods in order to be healthy. Ensuring that every meal has at least one high iron food is going to be of importance when developing your baby’s menu of first foods.
That being said, it’s okay to ease into solids with simple, single ingredient first foods just to get your baby used to the experience. Most people love to start with sweet potatoes, banana, and avocado. They’re soft and they’re very easy to prepare.
Remember, while those foods are great to start with, they aren’t the only solid foods that your baby can have. Nor are they the only food that your baby should be exposed to for the first little while.
Variety is the name of the game – plus the nutrients that fruits and vegetables provide are not nearly enough to cover all of the requirements for babies in the first year of life.
As your baby becomes more used to eating solids and meal times in general (a few days to a week in), you can start to branch out to more elaborate menus that include a high iron food along with a high calorie food, as well as some type of produce (fruit/vegetable).
Examples of high iron foods include:
- Cooked spinach
- Sunflower seeds
Examples of high-calorie foods include:
- Full fat cheese
- Full fat yogurt
- Coconut oil
- Peanut butter
- Almond butter
- Chia seeds
Examples of produce include:
How to safely serve baby's first finger foods
It’s incredibly important to make sure that food is safely served to your baby and is served in the right size and texture to reduce the risk of choking.
It’s also important to note that the risk of choking on purées and finger foods is exactly the same when parents are educated on how to do each safely.
As a general rule, you want to make sure that finger foods are large enough for your baby to hold, if they’re self feeding on finger foods, and that it is soft enough that you can squish it between your thumb and forefinger with ease.
To learn about how to safely serve all foods to your baby from every food group, check out the Baby Led Feeding online course.
If you’re doing purées, you’ll want to watch for signs that your baby is able to chew and swallow that texture easily, and if so, move them onto more advanced textures in a timely manner to avoid picky eating and getting stuck on the same texture of baby food.
To learn more about how to progress your baby onto more advanced textures and finger foods, how to overcome your fear of gagging and choking, and how to ensure that you’re doing this all within a timely manner, check out our free workshop called ”Baby Led weaning – but make it purees! How to move from purées to finger foods without the fear”.
Best first foods to introduce to babies
Now that we have some of the basics, let’s go over some of the best first foods to introduce to your baby.
High iron food
Before you turn your nose up at sardines, hear me out. Sardines are one of the best first foods for baby that you can offer. For one, they’re so easy to prepare. Just open up a can and serve.
Sardines are an excellent source of protein and omega-3s, which are very important for your baby’s brain development…plus…they’re one of the lowest mercury and safest fish to offer to your baby (see our ultimate fish guide for a complete list of the safest and healthiest fish for babies & toddlers).
Sardines are also extremely soft and easy for your baby to chew, and fall within phase 2 of the Texture Timeline™. Despite the smell, most babies LOVE the taste of sardines, and exposing them to the flavor early and often will only help you in the long run.
See the video below for how to serve sardines based on the texture phase your baby is in (as a puréed baby food or finger food).
High iron/high calorie food
Eggs are one of the top first foods for baby because they are so nutrient-dense. The yolk in particular contains a lot of fat and iron, both of which are very important for your baby’s growth and development.
Eggs can be made into a puréed baby food with a little bit of breast milk or formula, or they can be served in a baby omelette, as a fried egg strip, or thinly sliced hard boiled egg. Each of these fall on different phases of the Texture Timeline™.
High iron food
Chicken is another great first food that is going to provide your baby with lots of iron – particularly the dark meat, like chicken thighs or drumsticks.
I love getting babies used to the taste of chicken and other meat early on, as well as practicing chewing the complex texture of chicken so that they can learn how to consume it in decent quantities before their iron stores are depleted in full.
Chicken can be puréed into baby food or offered as very soft pulled pieces of chicken through cooking methods like a slow cooker or braised chicken or even baked chicken thighs or drumsticks. Don’t be shy with spices, and make sure to keep the skin on while cooking to keep it extra juicy and moist (remove before serving it to baby).
High iron food/high calorie food
Lentils are an amazing non-heme iron source. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based sources of iron, which isn’t as easily absorbed as animal-based sources of iron – however – they are still very important and contribute significantly to your baby’s overall iron stores.
Pair non-heme iron foods with a source of vitamin C, like a squeeze of lime juice or some tomato purée, for a boost in iron absorption and maximum benefit for your baby.
Lentils are also a great fiber and carbohydrate source. If you notice your baby experiences any digestive discomfort with high amounts of fiber from lentils, start with smaller amounts and work your way up to larger amounts over a couple weeks.
High calorie food
Avocado is of course one of the most common first foods for babies and it makes sense as to why. It’s high in fat, and therefore high in calories, so it’s going to provide a lot of nutritional bang for your buck per bite.
Avocado is also soft and easy for your baby to mash in their mouth and falls on Phase 1 of the Texture Timeline™. This makes it one of the first foods for baby that many parents feel very comfortable offering for babies to explore solid foods with, using their still very new chewing skills.
Avocados are very easy to prepare and can be served in a wedge shape, mashed and spread on a piece of toast, or served on a preloaded spoon.
See the video below for how to serve avocados based on the texture phase your baby is in (as a puréed baby food or finger food).
Bananas are also a really easy to prepare first food and so it’s easy for parents to incorporate into mealtime when just beginning to ease into solids. They also make for an easy option when doing any traveling with baby or feeding on the go.
Bananas provide a lot of energy via carbohydrates for your baby and can be boosted nutritionally by rolling a banana spear in some flaxseed or wheat germ, or by mixing those into a banana purée.
See the video below for how to serve banana based on the texture phase your baby is in (as a purée or finger food).
Another great high calorie food that can be offered in both purée form as a cereal on a spoon, or offered in finger food format by baking into a muffin or in these amazing oatmeal fingers for babies. You can add any mix-in (like unsweetened shredded coconut, hemp seeds, flax seeds, etc) to oats very easily to boost the nutritional content and the flavor as well.
If it’s within your means, purchasing certified organic oats will help reduce the amount of glyphosate that your baby is exposed to.
See the video below for how to serve oats based on the texture phase your baby is in (as a purée or finger food).
High iron food
Beef is another powerhouse food to introduce to babies because, again – high iron! It’s really easy to make it soft and juicy for your baby to be able to safely eat, especially if you use a slow cooking method.
See this blog for how to serve meat to babies, and this blog for how to serve ground meat specifically. Feel free to add any spices to jazz up the flavor of the beef or offer it on its own.
High calorie food
Another fish that is extremely high in omega-3’s – specifically DHA – a brain boosting fat very important for kids under age 3. It’s also one of the safest fish to give to babies (particularly wild caught Alaskan!).
It’s got a nice, oily and very soft texture that is easy for babies to eat (phase 2 of the Texture Timeine™). It’s also simple to prepare and makes for an easy meal the whole family can enjoy.
Want a full 60 day meal plan for starting solids with meals the whole family can enjoy? Click here.
10. Sweet potato
High calorie food
Sweet potatoes are one of the most popular first foods for baby – not sure why sweet potato has become such a staple over other solid foods, but it’s certainly a yummy one!
High in carbohydrates, it provides baby with a quick source of energy, is full of beta-carotene (vitamin A) and is typically well liked due to its sweeter taste.
Sweet potatoes (along with rice) are a crop that does absorb inorganic arsenic in larger amounts than other vegetables, so while it’s perfectly safe to offer to baby, just be sure to rotate it amongst other foods regularly to minimize excessive exposure to arsenic!
See the video below for how to serve sweet potato based on the texture phase your baby is in (as a purée or finger food).
*Indicates top allergens. Follow the allergenic food introduction protocol here.
And there you have it! I hope you enjoy introducing these foods to your little one and it helps you have a starting point for introducing solid foods.
To find all the in-depth, research backed info for starting solids in one place, and to get access to my signature Texture Timeline™ that has been tried and tested by thousands of parents, sign up for my Baby Led Feeding online course! Learn all about introducing solid foods the way that you and your baby want to start, and about how to continue to advance your baby on from there.