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What and when to start baby on solids is something most parents start thinking about soon after the baby is born. Current World Health Organization recommendations say a good time to start is 4-6 months for formula-fed babies and 6+ months for breastfed babies1. Wait for signs from your baby that s/he is ready to start and don’t rush into things! It’s not a developmental milestone, so let your baby tell you.
When it comes to what age my babies started showing interest in starting on solid foods, mine have been all over the place. My oldest was ready around 4.5 months, my next was 5.5 months, my third was 8 months and my baby is now 11 months and still not interested most days. They are all normal babies and they all get there eventually.
What to Feed when Starting Baby on Solids?
So, once your baby IS ready, how do you know WHAT to feed him/her? Doctors used to say rice cereal was a good first food when starting baby on solids. It’s carb-filled and likely will help your baby to sleep a little longer because it’s hard for small babies to digest, but it really has very little nutritional value and recent studies have shown that little tummies are probably not ready for grains before about a year.
So, say you decide to skip the cereal, what then? You’ll hear to start veggies first so your baby won’t develop an aversion to them by eating the sweet stuff first. If this was true, breastfed babies wouldn’t ever eat veggies because breastmilk is sweet. So, basically, my message is start baby on whatever solids you are comfortable with because, ultimately, with a little patience and persistence, it’s likely your baby will eat a wide variety of foods. Whether the adventurous spirit of a one year old will last into toddlerhood is likely a resounding no (well, ONE of my three older ones is still a great eater and never wavered from the try anything path), but at least you get a few months of good eating in before the pickies come to town!
What Solids to Feed Baby the First Few Months
Bananas Baby Food
All but one of my kids (My poor oldest- I did almost NO research with him. It’s not a wonder he’s the pickiest of my kids, by far. I love him just as much 😉 I just didn’t know any better!) had bananas first. I had read that bananas taste similar to the flavor of breast milk, so they are an easy transition. All but one of my kids liked (likes) bananas. My baby, well, not so much (he takes after his mama!).
The other reason bananas are a great first food is that they are the easiest one to prepare (assuming you use purees. And, as I have mentioned, I do a little Baby-Led Weaning and some purees)! Simply peel and mash with a fork. If you let them sit for a few seconds once mashed, they get very ooey, gooey and will slide right down. Once my kids were a little older and didn’t need the mashing, I would simply cut off the tip of the banana and dig the spoon right in. Bananas can be messy as a self feeding food, but I have been known to roll them in crushed cheerios to make them a little easier to pick up and a little less messy as well. But, making your own baby food doesn’t have to stop with a banana peel! I will go over a few of the easier foods to make when starting your baby on solids.
Sweet Potatoes Homemade Baby Food
The main thing to remember with sweet potatoes is a little goes a long way! I recently found sweet potatoes on sale for $0.19/lb (SCORE!), so I bought 5 pounds thinking I’d have to cut some pieces off, peel them, etc. Certainly this wouldn’t make 5 pounds of baby food? So, I washed them, baked them, peeled them and threw them in the old blender (I use a Ninja blender because that’s what my sweet hubby got me for Christmas last year, but my $15 blender I got as a wedding present many years ago works fine too. Food processors also work well.). I have 4 baby food trays that hold 16 ounces per tray. I filled all of these, 2 other regular ice trays (each ice cube equals about an ounce for reference) and put some in a small storage container as well. What I hadn’t factored in is all of the water you have to add to sweet potatoes to get them thin enough for a baby to eat in a pureed form! So, yeah, 5 pounds of sweet potatoes ended up being closer to 6 pounds of baby food by the time the water was added. And, as a clincher, my baby doesn’t even really like them. I just threw an entire bag away the other day. So, moral is, start off a bit smaller than 5 pounds with sweet potatoes.
Storing Homemade Baby Food
If you have a deep freezer, your frozen homemade baby food (once frozen in the trays, pop them out and put them in either an airtight container or a zippered freezer bag labeled with the type of food and the date in your freezer for storage.) will last up to 6 months. In a regular freezer that is opened and closed often (therefore, the temperature isn’t as regulated), the cubes will last about 2-3 months. As long as they aren’t freezer burned, they should taste okay. But, older food will probably lose a little of the nutritional value. So, try to use the food within the first 2 months after you’ve made it.
Pears Homemade Baby Food
My first experience with pears was quite the opposite of sweet potatoes. I bought about 4 pounds of pears and ended up with maybe 2 pounds of baby food. Pears must be peeled and cored and them steamed before pureeing. I use an old fashioned stainless steel steamer pot that my grandmother gave me (see the picture), so a lot of the juice from the pears drips down into the steaming water as well. I found that pears were a lot of work for a little output, but they are Isaac’s one constant that he will eat without fail, so I have made him pear sauce multiple times. However, I do find it easier now that he’s older to just chop the pear up into small pieces and give it to him that way. Pears are very soft and mash easily with baby gums, so I feel comfortable just giving him small, bite sized slices of pear and letting him go at it. They aren’t difficult to make, per se, but since I lean toward letting him safely explore his food, I just prefer to go the easier route in this case.
Apples Homemade Baby Food
Apples are prepared much the same way as pears, but you clearly can’t just give a small baby a chunk of apple as easily. It’s not as easily mashed by the gums. I have recently started giving Isaac small pieces of apple, but only after working up to it. When I do applesauce for my 11 month old little guy, I do it in small batches because it is a lot of work to peel and core those apples and so that I can try different types of apples with him. There are some AMAZING apples out there if you explore beyond red and golden delicious (Honey Crisp and Pink Lady apples are my two favorites!) and I want him to try these great flavors as well. Small batches mean less waste if I stumble upon an apple that may not be his favorite type. As an aside, apples blend VERY well with sweet potatoes. To use up some of the six POUNDS of sweet potatoes that I had in my freezer that my baby didn’t even like, I would combine one cube of sweet potatoes with two cubes of apples and he would gobble it up!
Avocado Baby Food
Avocado is another GREAT first food option. It’s good brain food for baby! High in unsaturated fat for brain growth, Vitamins B, E and K, Potassium and Fiber, they are essentially the perfect baby food. They are almost as easy as bananas to prepare- peel, mash, eat… However, they, like bananas, don’t freeze too well. They will taste okay after thawed, but will usually turn brown in color unless you add some lemon juice prior to freezing. However, introducing two foods at once is not recommended, so I find with avocados, fresh is best. They are not quite as easy to mash down to a thin enough texture for a smaller baby, but they mix very well with breast milk (increasing the nutrition factor even more!).
Solid Baby Foods to Avoid
There are obviously many, many more options when starting baby on solids. Pretty much anything you can eat, that is healthy, is okay to give to baby. Just make sure you give it a good 3-4 days in between each new food to watch for allergies. And, early on, stay away from common choking hazards like grapes (unless in a mesh feeder bag) , large chunks of meat (some will argue that this is okay, but it terrifies me), and peanut butter (common allergen AND choking hazard). Raw honey is also a no no for little ones.
When to Switch to Chunkier Solids
As I have mentioned previously, there is much debate regarding whether it is okay to give baby chunky foods. I think a simple answer is probably connected to when you start solids. If your baby seems to need solids around 6 months, the pincer grasp (using thumb and forefinger) to pick up foods is not going to be developed yet so it will be harder for baby to actually coordinate anything from tray/table to his mouth. If you start at 8+ months, baby will have an easier time getting solid foods to her mouth by herself. I think the best thing to do is to follow your instinct, be smart about it, follow your baby’s lead and WATCH YOUR BABY while he eats! If baby doesn’t seem to understand that one piece of food goes in the mouth at a time or doesn’t seem to make a chewing motion, you may want to back off from chunky baby foods. There are certain foods (like bananas) that Isaac just prefers from a spoon. I think he doesn’t like the slimy feeling on his fingers. However, we just gave him raspberries for the first time this week and he MUCH prefers those with his fingers rather than smooshed up on a spoon. They will probably let you know what they are ready for.
Store Bought Baby Food
I realize this article is all about homemade baby food. It is a NATURAL baby blog, after all! No preservatives or mystery meat if you make it at home! However, in a pinch, I do find that I use store bought baby food once in a while. If I know a meal will fall while we’re at church, I will usually grab an Organic pouch to take with us. There are A LOT of Organic, all natural options out there now. So, if that’s the route you choose, go for it! Please be mindful that many store bought baby foods are combinations of different foods, so make sure you are cautious of allergies. There is nothing wrong with them, I just prefer to know that fresh foods are going into my baby’s fragile tummy. So, homemade it is for us 95% of the time!
Relax, Mom! Starting Your Baby on Solids Can be Fun
Most importantly, remember that solids are just for practice for the first year. Some babies may be ready for the extra calories and transitioning to solids can work to fill those calorie needs. However, so will allowing baby to nurse and increase your milk supply (Experts DO say to watch how much formula you give a baby throughout the day because it can overload the kidneys. So, talk to your doctor about this if you are formula feeding and your baby is resisting solids, but seems ready for more calories.). Introduce new foods, mix and match flavors, present new textures, and new ways of serving said foods. I have read that it can take 6-10 times of giving baby the SAME food before they accept it. If at first you don’t succeed with a new food, don’t give up on it. Isaac has just started in the last two weeks to come around to bananas a bit, where he would spit them right back out before. Sweet potatoes were initially rejected all together, but are now accepted (although still somewhat reluctantly). Just remember to have fun with it and don’t stress (remember, baby can feel your stress!)!
Reference: 1. //www.who.int/en/