It’s very common for first time parents to feel a little overwhelmed by the idea of starting solids, particularly how to start and what to start with. It often seems like you finally get a hang of this milk feeding thing before – BOOM – time to throw another curve ball at you with some solid foods!
Especially if you’re starting with baby led weaning, you want to make sure you get things just right so that it’s easy for your baby to get a hang of it and that it’s safe as well. So let’s lay down the foundations for what food you’ll want to start with.
Technically speaking, there is no one food that is better to start with than another, as long as it meets the basic criteria that it’s easy for baby to hold (long and semi-firm/firm) yet soft enough to squish. So you can introduce food in any order and it can be as simple as taking whatever whole foods you are eating that night for dinner and making simple modifications at the table! You can even offer your baby a mixed dish as a first food (provided there is not more than one highly allergenic food present in that dish). For example, your shepherd’s pie, maybe roast chicken dinner, or a tomato based pasta. After all, one of the big selling points of baby led weaning is that baby eats what you eat!
Now that being said, a lot of parents get worried about jumping right into a mixed food or about starting with a more intimidating texture like meat. It can be scary sometimes with thoughts crossing your mind like “but my baby has no teeth!”. Parents may first want to see what it’s like with extremely soft finger food first. So often, they’ll start on very soft ripe fruits and very soft cooked vegetables for a few weeks or even a month, until their baby “gets a hang” of eating and the parents themselves are feeling more comfortable. In addition to wanting to start with extremely soft textures, sometimes parents keep their baby on solely fruit or vegetables for many weeks because of information obtained from inaccurate food introduction timelines that are found floating around on the internet. These usually state that vegetables have to be introduced before fruit (or vice versa) and that these have to come before starches, protein, etc. Of course, fruits and veggies are great for getting certain vitamins and nutrients, but they are low calorie foods that also are not high iron sources. See my post all about iron and why I care so much about it here.
So a big recommendation I have is to begin incorporating iron rich foods right from the beginning rather than solely fruits and vegetables, so that your baby gets used to it, and begins receiving the benefits of iron right away.
So keeping that in mind, I’m going to give you some suggestions for super soft and easy to squish foods that make it easy for you as a parent to “ease” into finger foods, while making sure they are iron rich options that will satisfy your baby’s needs for supplemental iron through solids.
Here we go!
1. Banana rolled in wheat germ or ground flax seed
Bananas are one of the least intimidating first foods to start with, which makes it a very popular choice amongst parents. It’s sweet, soft and mushy and requires no real preparation! To serve the banana, you usually just peel it completely and quarter it so you end up with long finger shaped pieces to present to baby. Now, what I’m going to suggest is a tiny modification that can take this food from being a low iron source to a good iron source in a jiffy!
Simply coat the banana in either ground flax seed or some wheat germ!
I like to use this ground flax seed by Bob’s Red Mill, but really any will do. It has 6% of an adult’s iron requirements for every 2 tbsp. serving, which makes this about 4% of a baby’s requirements (baby’s need more iron than an adult male!). Using a ground flax seed not only boosts iron, but reduces choking risk and increases nutrient absorption compared to whole flax seeds (we can’t digest them whole). Furthermore, coating them in something like these helps your baby grip the banana easier.
2. Avocado (rolled in iron fortified infant cereal)
Avocado is another super soft food that most parents feel very comfortable starting baby on. A big benefit of avocado is that it’s high in fat and calories which are both important for your growing baby. You can serve the avocado in quarters without skin on or with the skin partially on for better grip, but once again, the hack here is to coat them in something that will also give it a bit of an iron boost. Here is where an iron fortified infant cereal can work really well in your favour to boost iron and also to provide easier grip.
3. Baby omelette
Baby omelettes are one of my favourite BLW foods because they are so versatile and a full meal for you and baby. I specifically say “baby” omelette because traditional omelettes have milk or cream mixed into them for extra “fluff”, and because we only want to introduce only one allergenic food at a time (both eggs and dairy are considered allergenic foods), I would use a baby omelette recipe which involves just whisking egg alone (with some spices if you like) and frying it lightly until cooked through. You can mix in other non-highly allergenic foods like cooked veggies and seasonings. Cut the omelette into strips and serve! *Note: if you’ve already introduced dairy prior to serving this, you can make any old omelette you please!
4. Tofu Strips
Tofu is a high iron meat alternative made of soy that comes in a variety of textures, ranging soft to firm, and basically absorbs any flavour you cook it with. For babies, I like to choose either medium or firm textures so that it holds it’s shape when baby picks it up, yet is soft enough to gum on and melt in your baby’s mouth with very light chewing. You can simply cut the tofu into strips and pan fry it on both sides without adding any thing to it, however, I think a little flavour makes it more exciting for your baby! Because it’s a source of non-home iron (see my blog post on iron for more info), you may want to boost the absorption of iron by adding a vitamin C source – so perhaps a spritz of lemon or lime juice, or cook the tofu in a tomato based sauce and serve. You can also add a drizzle of tahini (sesame paste) as is shown in the photo above, but note that both sesame and the soy in tofu are considered highly allergenic foods and so you wouldn’t want to introduce the two of them together for the first couple of times.
5. Salmon Pieces/Strips
Salmon is a perfect first food for baby because it’s very high in iron and healthy fat, PLUS it’s soft, flaky and tender! You can serve the salmon in strips or in large pieces broken off of a full piece of cooked salmon for your baby to hold. If your baby continually squishes the salmon in their fist or has a hard time picking it up, you could always throw it into a food processor or blender with a bit of cooked potato, quinoa or rice, form it into patties and cook on a pan. This should firm it up nicely while keeping the soft, easy texture. Salmon patties or balls are also a wonderful way to make it easier to hold and make a great meal for the whole family.
6. Toast fingers with mashed beans
Another very easy first finger food for your baby is some lightly toasted strips of bread topped with mashed/pureed beans. The toast is a perfect vehicle for so many high iron toppings, and since individual cooked beans on their own are hard for your baby to pick up until they’ve developed pincer grasp, this is a great way to get beans in earlier on. The iron source in this food comes from the beans themselves, but you can also puree or mash other high iron pulses like lentils to switch things up. You can once again, boost the iron absorption with a little squeeze of lemon or lime juice on top or mixed into the bean mixture. Note: the wheat in bread is considered to be an allergenic food but the beans are not, so go ahead and serve these two together right from the beginning, as you’ll be able to attribute any possible reaction to the wheat itself.
So, there you have it! 6 high iron and soft textured finger foods to serve your little one when starting out! Serve one of these foods per day if you like and see how comfortable you and your baby are – then, move onto some more challenging textures and get creative!
What are your favourite starter foods? Send me a message on Instagram and let me know!