Bonus material: Free workshop on how to move from purées to finger foods
As owner of one of the leading multidisciplinary pediatric feeding companies in the world, and as a registered pediatric dietitian with over 11 years experience feeding babies and toddlers, I’m excited to bring you an introductory guide on how to introduce solid foods to your baby.
You’ll be getting the most up-to-date research, while also busting through outdated guidelines that just won’t seem to go away. You’re going to learn the best practices for how to safely introduce solids in a way that ensures proper nutrition and prevents picky eating, while fostering a healthy relationship with solid foods.
For those who are wanting to introduce solids in a step-by-step manner (starting with purées and moving into finger foods in a way that’s not scary or too rushed), be sure to sign up for my FREE workshop called Baby Led Weaning…but make it purées! How to move from purées to finger foods – without the fear!
I know that finding information on starting solids can be so confusing – with so much information on the internet and so many conflicting opinions – even when it’s coming from doctors or dietitians. Unfortunately, guidelines are always changing and unless you specialize in feeding in particular (rather than generalized health or pediatric care), it’s incredibly hard to keep up with all recommendations and best practices, which results in outdated information being given.
Of course, we also all know about many non-credentialed people on the internet that are giving out information as well.
This guide is meant to give you clear, research backed, and up-to-date starter guidelines for your starting solids journey, backed by leading feeding experts on The My Little Eater™ team ranging from dietitians, speech language pathologists, allergists, and infant CPR specialists.
When to start introducing solids to baby
Solid foods should be started when your baby shows all the developmental signs of readiness. Point blank.
For most babies, this is somewhere around 6 months of age. It’s not based on the exact day your baby turns 6 months of age, rather, on their ability to demonstrate each and every one of the signs below:
- Can sit in an upright position independently
- Has strong control of their head and neck
- Opens their mouth when food is offered
- Shows interest in food and mealtimes
- Has a reduced tongue thrust reflex (allowing them to swallow food rather than push it back out)
- Reaches for and brings large objects to their mouth.
See this podcast episode for more clarification on each of these signs and to assess if your baby is ready for solid foods.
For some babies, these signs may show up at 5.5 months of age, for others it may not be until 6.5 months of age. But no 4 or 5 month old baby truly shows all these developmental signs of readiness, and so solids should not be introduced before that.
For babies who are born prematurely, we want to go by their adjusted age. This means, no earlier than around 6 months of age adjusted. Again, look for the readiness signs that indicate they can safely begin. This is also very important for babies with any other developmental delays, such as down syndrome.
Busting myths: The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines are very confusing. In many places, it states that it’s ok to start solids between 4-6 months of age. In others, it agrees with the World Health Organization that only breast milk or formula be offered to babies exclusively for the first 6 months of life, after which, solids can be introduced. Health Canada agrees that solids should only be introduced around 6 months of age. Please note, that from a nutritional perspective, there is absolutely no need to start solids earlier than 6 months of age.
An exception to this rule is for babies who are at high risk for developing food allergies. They may benefit from being introduced to the top allergenic foods earlier (around 4 months of age), in small quantities and under the supervision of your allergist. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all solid food should be introduced and regular daily meals be provided at 4 months of age, rather, it’s strategic exposure to the proteins that they may be at higher risk of reacting to down the road.
Inside module 2 of our Baby Led Feeding online course, we go through all of the myths in much more detail, such as the myth that starting solids earlier will help your baby gain weight or sleep through the night. We also cover how to help prepare your baby for solid food in the weeks before, help them learn to sit up independently, practice with mouthing and diminishing the gag reflex, as well as all the supplies you need (and don’t need) for starting solids.
How to introduce solids to baby - purées, finger foods or both?
In this method, solids are introduced to babies in the form of smooth or mashed purées, on a spoon, fed by the parent or caregiver. Spoon feeding is a totally fine and appropriate way to start, especially for parents who want to ease into the process, and who may need some time to overcome fears of gagging/choking. Purées are also great for babies who aren’t showing a desire to feed themselves until a few weeks into introducing solid foods.
The period of offering exclusively smooth puréed baby food should last no more than a few days to a couple weeks – based on your baby’s feeding cues and readiness to move on. That being said, it’s totally fine to keep feeding your baby purées that are thicker, lumpier and more varied for many weeks after that. Easing into solids more slowly can be the preferred route for many and the more power to you if you want to go the slow and steady route.
What’s most important to know, is that babies should move through more textured purées and slowly start incorporating easier to more advanced finger foods using our Texture Timeline™ by no later than 9 months of age. This will help keep oral motor skills progressing in a timely manner and ensure picky eating prevention.
Others prefer to jump into letting baby self-feed on large whole finger foods from day 1 – a method called baby led weaning. This is also a perfectly appropriate way of starting solids and is shown to be just as safe as purée feeding when parents/caregivers are educated on how to safely prepare and modify foods (1).
This is great for babies who show more signs of independence at the table with wanting to feed themselves from day 1, as well as a way to fast track oral motor skill development. Parents who are less fearful of starting solids of different forms may find this to be easy to jump into. Note: It doesn’t mean that purées are skipped altogether – rather – naturally puréed foods are incorporated amongst other table foods the rest of the family is eating.
What’s important to note is that both purée feeding and baby led weaning can be done in a way that’s not ideal – particularly if parents are keeping baby stuck on the same texture of foods for too long (this goes for purées or finger foods), are ignoring baby’s cues to eat according to their appetite (pressure can happen with both methods), aren’t allowing opportunities to advance in self-feeding skills, and when the family mealtime environment isn’t set up in an ideal way.
By 9 months of age, both babies started on purées and babies who started on finger foods should be at the same place in terms of what they eat and the development of their eating skills.
To learn more about our signature baby led feeding method of starting solids (which can be the best of both worlds), how to avoid pitfalls for each method and how to ensure both parent and baby’s needs are met when starting solids, click here.
how to set up a successful and safe environment for feeding
Sit and eat with baby at mealtime
Babies learn to eat by watching you eat. Plain and simple. It’s important to try your best to sit with your baby during mealtimes, and if you can, eat what they’re eating (or at least eat something in front of them), that’s most ideal.
You also want to remove any distractions that take away your baby’s attention from the task at hand. Learning to eat solid foods requires some concentration! Removing distractions like toys, tv, iPads, eating in front of too many people, dogs etc. keeps babies more mindful, reduces unwanted mealtime behavior, and helps them learn faster and easier than when they’re being pulled out of focus by distractions.
Give them space
Don’t hover over your baby. There’s a fine line between paying attention to see if your baby needs help, is safe and is getting some playful interaction with you…and hovering over them, over-encouraging them to eat, micromanaging the meal, and watching their every move. Give them space, and let them be a participant at mealtime…and not the focus.
Ensure proper seating
Seat them in a proper high chair and make sure they’re seated upright. Many high chairs have babies in a sort of reclined position, which isn’t safe for feeding. We need babies to be sitting completely upright, with their torso and legs at 90 degrees to each other. We also want babies to ideally have a foot rest that allows their feet to lay flat at 90 degrees to the ankles. See this blog here for high chair and seating recommendations.
Introduce as much variety in foods as possible by 6-9 months of age
An outdated concept that isn’t backed by any proper reasoning or research, is the rule of waiting a few days in between offering new foods. The original idea for this recommendation was to be able to rule out any allergic reactions to different foods your baby was eating. In fact, this is still a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. But this is based on tradition, not reasoning.
What we DO know is that babies have a critical period between 6-9 months of age where they develop taste and texture preferences (2), and so we actually want to introduce our baby to as many different foods (again…flavors and textures) as possible during this time.
If we were to wait 3-5 days between introducing each and every food, they’d be off to an extremely slow start vs. having multiple new foods each day.
The exception to this is for foods actually identified as top allergens. See the next section for more information.
The biggest thing to remember with texture variation is to introduce more challenging textures either right away, or as soon as your baby shows signs they can handle easier textures. This includes finger foods too! All too often, parents are stuck on easy pasta shapes, rice rusks, eggs, sweet potato and banana, and fail to actually expand into the multitude of other more varied and more difficult (yet safe) textures out there, that help babies really develop their oral motor skills during the critical period between 6-9 months of age.
The Texture Timeline™ is our signature tool made exactly for those parents who not only want to ease into solids by moving from easier → more advanced textures slowly…but also provides ideas to parents for all the different food textures out there to work through, as well as categorizes each food into different phases of difficulty. This ensures babies are getting all the exposure they need during the critical period of development to really build on oral motor skills (aka their ability to chew and manage foods of all types easily and safely), as well as reduces picky eating down the road.
If you’re feeling stuck on how to move on from simple purées, and/or how to overcome your fear of gagging/choking, check out our FREE workshop on how move from purées to finger foods – without the fear!
INTRODUCE ALLERGENIC FOODS EARLY AND OFTEN TO PREVENT FOOD ALLERGIES
Allergenic foods should be introduced as early into the starting solids journey as possible (and often) to reduce the risk of developing food allergies to those foods (3). The top potentially allergenic foods are dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, and mustard.
These foods should be introduced in isolation from one another but can be offered alongside other non-highly allergenic foods in the same meal/day. This allows you to pinpoint which food likely caused a food allergy should an allergic reaction occur.
See this blog here for more information on allergy introduction.
Best foods for starting solids
Babies are in high need of getting iron from solid foods, as their iron stores in their body start to slowly deplete around 6 months of age, and the human body isn’t capable of producing its own iron. That’s why focusing on high iron foods as a daily option for babies is very important in order to prevent iron deficiency.
Iron fortified rice cereal (and other baby cereals) have traditionally been the most common first food for babies around the world. While this is fine, there is no need to introduce this as a first food (or at all). Babies don’t need bland foods, don’t need purées to start, and also have a range of other high iron foods to choose from that provide the nutrition they need.
Rice and rice products are also known to contain high levels of inorganic arsenic, which, when consumed daily and/or multiple times per day, can be toxic for babies and toddlers especially. That’s why offering rice products more sparingly (ie. not relying on only rice cereal for iron) and amongst a range of other foods is one of the many reasons to always think…how can I give my baby VARIETY.
Babies can eat grains and starches, fruits and vegetables, meat, beans and pulses, soy, dairy, and more, from day 1 when they begin eating solid foods. There is no need to introduce food in any special order or “ease” babies into solids and flavors by only offering one at a time. Spices are an excellent way to add variety and broaden the types of food your baby will accept over time.
Some great first foods for babies include:
- Sweet Potato/Potato
- Steamed apples
- Ripe pear
- Wheat or lentil based pasta
- Plain, full fat yogurt
…and the list goes on (I’ve got more ideas in this blog here).
As you can see, no one specific food is the perfect food to start with…because once again, variety is what we’re really aiming for.
If you want all the ideas and a go-to plan, our 60 day Baby Led Feeding meal plan takes you through the first 60 days of starting solids with baby AND family friendly meals, complete with 80+ recipes designed to introduce your baby to a huge variety of foods! It strategically introduces your baby to all the top allergens, allows you to move through textures, and every single meal is perfectly balanced and dietitian approved to ensure your baby is getting all the nutrients they need.
how to introduce both purées and finger foods properly & safely
Believe it or not, there are best practices when it comes to introducing purées to babies using our baby led feeding method (it’s not always as simple as putting a spoon of baby food in their mouth).
We want to make sure the process takes into account that we are being very responsive to our baby’s cues, to respect hunger signals, keep mealtime pleasant, as well as encourage self-feeding as soon as they show more signs of independence. We also really want to make sure our baby is advancing in texture in a timely manner, which the Texture Timeline™ can help with.
When it comes to how to serve finger foods, it’s easy to say that it needs to be served in large finger shapes, but honestly, there are exceptions to that. It’s the combination of the food texture, shape and size that all need to be considered to determine exactly what the safest way is to serve it to babies. Truly, every food is different.
That’s why we created our Texture Timeline™ video library inside the Baby Led Feeding online course that allows you to search any food and see exactly how to serve it based on different phases (difficulty levels) of the Texture Timeline™. You will see how babies should be served the food based on your baby’s stage of development, and get tons of nutrition information on each food, allergy info, fun facts, recipes, and more!
Generally speaking we want food to pass the “squish test” (the ability to squish a food down between your thumb and forefinger).
Find out all you need to know about how to feed your baby from 6-12 months of age inside the Baby Led Feeding course.
FOODS TO AVOID WHEN INTRODUCING SOLIDS TO BABY
Honey should be completely avoided in ALL forms as unpasteurized and even pasteurized honey can contain spores of bacteria that cause infant botulism. Yes, this means honey in baked products as well.
High mercury fish should also be completely avoided. The highest mercury fish include fish like king mackerel, swordfish, shark, marlin, tilefish, and fresh/frozen tuna. High amounts of mercury can be dangerous for a baby’s developing brain and nervous system. Click here for the most thoroughly researched guidelines on safest and healthiest fish for babies and the frequency to offer them to avoid negative effects of mercury.
Highly processed foods like bacon, deli meats, fast food, hot dogs, chips, etc. They contain additives and nitrates and are also often culprits of sneaking in high amounts of sodium and sugar too!
We also want to be mindful of how much added salt babies get – this doesn’t mean you can’t add a touch of salt to their meals by the way (that’s why there’s an asterisk in the image). It just means avoiding unnecessary salt from processed foods, which can add up fast if you prime their palates for non-whole foods by offering them.
For the best information on what the salt guidelines actually are, and why we can have a little more freedom with salt in baby’s diet than previously touted – click here for an excellent blog and interview with Lily Nichols, RDN.
Added sugars are in many foods and drinks like fruit juice, soda, molasses, agave, syrups, table sugar, and candy, desserts, sweets, etc! Natural sugars like those found in fruit or plain yogurt are not included in this list. Of course, the first-year cake smash is an exception to this, along with the lick of an ice cream cone – not the end of the world – just try to be conscious of this overall!
Avoid or modify choking hazards
It’s extremely important to thoroughly review all the choking hazards for babies before offering any solids to your baby. The choking hazards are the same, whether offering purées or finger foods, because as mentioned previously, we don’t want to become stuck on purées and should only be using them for a short time. Understanding the choking hazards before you begin ensures you’re prepared as you start to transition to serving foods other than purées.
The top choking hazards (in no particular order) are as follows:
- Hard, raw vegetables and fruit
- Uncooked leafy greens
- Large pieces of dried fruit
- Whole grapes, cherry tomatoes, and small berries
- Foods with small pits and round shapes (like cherries and olives)
- Whole nuts and large seeds (like pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
- Chewy candies, gummies, marshmallows and chewing gum
- Small bones in fish (except canned sardines) and meat
- Thick globs of nut and seed butter
- Fresh, soft bread (for children <18 months)
- Large pieces of tough meat (like steak) (once babies have the ability to bite pieces off)
- Chips, dry crackers (get a free cracker guide here with safe options by age), popcorn
- Stick shaped foods like cheese sticks or strings and hot dogs
I go into detail about all the choking hazards in this blog here.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid all these foods completely. Learning how to modify these foods so they’re safe and how to teach your baby to safely chew them as they start to enter toddlerhood is important to build on their skills and continue to offer variety. Our Baby Led Feeding online course shows you exactly how to do this so they’re safe.
How much should my baby be eating?
A baby’s appetite for solids will fluctuate based on the baby and the day. What we never want to do is try to “get” a specific amount of food into our baby, ever. There are some guidelines around how to know how much is ok inside our free guide, here.
We do want to see babies learn to fill up on solids more and more over a period of a couple months. By 9 months of age, babies should be eating 3 meals a day, should be moved onto a variety of textures and finger foods, should be able to chew and manipulate safely modified foods of all types in their mouth without much struggle, and should be able to fill up on solids at mealtime.
For guidance on how long mealtimes should last for babies, read this blog here.
Food before 1 is not just for fun!
Finally, to leave you with a final recommendation meant to replace the outdated, and sometimes harmful expression of “Food before 1 is just for fun”….
Please know that “food before 1 is not just for fun”.
Don’t get me wrong…it should be fun! But there are so many critical things that eating solids provides babies in the first year of life, both nutritionally and developmentally. It’s important that we don’t glaze over the milestones and importance of developing the skills to eat solids efficiently and sufficiently by 12 months of age. Read this blog for more information.
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 starting solids the way that you and your baby want to start, and about how to continue to advance your baby on from there.
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- Taylor RW, Williams SM, Fangupo LJ, et al. Effect of a Baby-Led Approach to Complementary Feeding on Infant Growth and Overweight: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(9):838–846. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1284
- Harris, G., Mason, S. Are There Sensitive Periods for Food Acceptance in Infancy?. Curr Nutr Rep 6, 190–196 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-017-0203-0