Parenting is filled with moments that stir multiple emotions, and there’s nothing like your child reaching a new milestone that can cause you to smile, feel nervous and reach for the tissues all at the same time.
Starting the journey of eating solid foods is often a reminder of how fast your baby is growing up, and as their parent, you want to give your child the best possible foundation for nutrition and healthy eating habits. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed at the changes that await your baby and your family, but introducing solids doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it might seem.
We’ve put together the complete guide to starting solids to break the overall process down into manageable sections and provide you with practical knowledge and answers to your questions.
Is My Baby Ready for Solid Foods?
Your baby needs to be both physically and developmentally ready before you offer solid foods. When you start to notice several of these behaviors, it might be time to get the spoons and high chair ready.
While your baby’s readiness signs are much more important than their age, most babies are ready to start exploring solids at about the five- or six-month mark.
About six months of age usually seems to be a good time for many breastfed babies to take their first taste of solid food. Unborn babies develop iron stores while in utero, and these stores are usually almost depleted by about six months after birth. Breast milk has some iron, but many breastfeeding babies need other sources of iron to maintain sufficient blood levels.
Formula-fed babies can typically start solids a little sooner than their breastfeeding counterparts, so start looking for readiness signs at five months if you feed formula.
Able to Sit Up Comfortably with Minimal Assistance
Your baby will need to spend a great deal of energy and concentration on the task of eating, so having good core strength and the ability to sit with minimal support is key. Sitting upright independently can help ensure a better swallowing posture, and it also frees your baby up focus on eating rather than having to struggle to hold themselves up.
Able to Their Hold Head Upright Independently
You want your baby to be safe and comfortable while they are in their high chair, and having sufficient neck strength and muscle coordination to hold their head upright is essential for both.
If your baby’s head still tends to flop forward, swallowing will be difficult, and your baby may also face a greater risk of choking. Additionally, your baby may not be able to breathe comfortably if they don’t yet have the neck strength to hold their head up while in the sitting position.
Sufficient Weight Gain Since Birth
Your child’s healthcare provider should be monitoring your child’s weight gain at every well-child appointment, and they should be communicating your child’s growth patterns with you. Most babies have gained at least four to six pounds by the four-month mark, and the growth goal for most babies is to double their birth weight by six months of age.
Adequate weight gain during the first few months of life is a good indicator that your child’s body absorbs nutrients well and should be ready to tolerate solid foods.
Tongue Thrust Reflex is Diminished or Gone
To help prevent choking, newborns have a protective reflex that causes them to automatically push their tongue out if any object touches their lips. This phenomenon is called the tongue-thrust, or extrusion, reflex, and it largely disappears somewhere between the fourth and sixth month.
You can test your baby’s tongue-thrust reflex by gently placing a clean spoon to your child’s mouth. Your child should either move to accept the spoon or have a minimal outward tongue thrust.
Shows Interest in Food
While young babies often display an interest in almost anything that comes their way, be alert for special focus on food or the act of eating. Hold your child on your lap while you eat and observe their reaction. If they show rapt attention to you moving your food to your mouth or possibly even open their own mouth, you can be pretty sure they would be happy to explore some food of their own.
Opens Mouth Willingly
It’s never a good idea to try to force food into your child’s mouth, so making sure that your child is willing to accept food independently makes mealtime much safer and easier.
Able to Take a Bite From a Spoon
While your baby needs to coordinate their facial muscles to nurse or drink from a bottle, the act of moving food from a spoon and into the mouth requires different muscles and actions. Your child needs to have adequate strength and coordination to safely and effectively receive food from a spoon before you begin your solid introduction.
Able to Move Food in the Mouth and Swallow
This is a slightly more advanced skill that might take a little time for your baby to master. It’s perfectly normal if more food seems to make its way back out of your child’s mouth than they seem to swallow for the first several meals. Just be patient, give small bites and allow your baby to have plenty of time to work on figuring out their muscle coordination.
However, your child needs to demonstrate progress in effectively moving food in their mouth and swallowing before you serve any finger foods.
The pincer grasp is the fine motor skill of being able to grasp and pick up small objects between the thumb and pointer finger. If you plan to spoon-feed purees, your baby doesn’t need to have a strong pincer grasp to start eating solids until they reach the finger food stage. However, if you plan to follow the baby-led weaning approach, your child will need to be able to pick up small pieces of food at a slightly younger age.
Different Approaches for Introducing Solids
There are a couple of different ways that you can go about introducing solid foods to your child. The two best-known methods are feeding traditional baby food and the baby-led weaning technique, and each one has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Traditional Baby Food
This method involves spoon-feeding your baby infant cereals or purees, and this is likely the way that your parents introduced solid foods to you. After a couple of months of eating thin pureed food from a spoon, most babies are ready to move on to thicker consistencies and appropriate finger foods.
- No food preparation if using commercial baby food
- Ability to prepare large batches for future use if making homemade baby food
- Tends to be a little less messy
- You have greater control over the length of mealtimes
- Can require more time over the long run
- Teaches swallowing before chewing
This method gives your child the chance to skip the spoon and go straight to feeding themselves. Parents using baby-led weaning usually give their children large, palm-sized slices of soft-cooked vegetables or soft fruits, and the child has the freedom to squish, smear and taste to their heart’s content.
One note of caution: If your child has special needs, consult their health care provider to find out if baby-led weaning is a safe option.
- Encourages independence
- Teaches chewing before swallowing
- Gives baby more opportunity to explore the various aspects of their food
- Food preparation takes longer at first
- Meals can take a long time
- Can be very messy
There is no single best way to start solids, and the right method for your baby primarily depends on your family’s preferences and schedule. Think about how much time you can commit each day and your feelings on both methods, then pick the one that works best for your situation.
Baby’s First Solid Foods
There are many theories about what your baby’s first foods should be, with some insisting that you must start with infant cereals while others feel strongly that you should start with only vegetables.
While it can be overwhelming to encounter so many seemingly contradictory opinions, keep in mind that parents have been feeding their babies a variety of first foods since the beginning of time, and children have thrived in most cases. As long as you feed your baby healthy, whole foods and aim to provide a variety of nutrients, your child will likely follow the path of countless growing children before them.
Talk to your child’s healthcare provider to find out any specialized recommendations they may have for your child’s specific needs. Here are some general guidelines for foods that are typically appropriate for various age groups.
Five to Six Months
With its healthy fats, creamy texture and mild flavor, avocado is an ideal food to offer for your baby’s very first solid meal. To prepare an avocado for your baby, make sure to choose a ripe fruit and wash it well. Smash a small portion with a fork, and spoon-feed your baby small bites at a relaxed pace.
Other foods that typically work well for brand-new eaters include the following.
- Cooked apples or unsweetened applesauce
- Fruit purees, including peaches, apricots, prunes, pumpkin or plums
- Mashed bananas
- Infant oatmeal or rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula
- Pureed cooked carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, peas or green beans
Eight Months to One Year
After your baby has had the chance to learn the basics of eating purees, they’re probably ready to progress to denser textures and finger foods. Encourage your baby to explore with foods like these.
- Small pieces of soft fruits like banana and ripe stone fruits
- Small pieces of soft-cooked vegetables
- Soft-cooked pasta
- Tiny shreds or pieces of well-cooked fish, meat and poultry
- Unsweetened yogurt
- Cooked beans
One Year and Older
Your baby should be able to eat a wide variety of foods at this stage, and they should have several teeth for effective chewing. Try giving your child more advanced foods with combinations of textures and flavors.
- Larger pieces of meat, cheese, soft fruits and cooked vegetables
- Family foods cut into small pieces
How Much Should My Baby Eat at Each Meal?
For the first several weeks, your baby may not eat much at mealtime. At this stage, your child is still learning how to accept food and move it around in their mouth, and you may find that you have to wipe more food off their face than they seem to swallow. As long as your baby continues to nurse or take a bottle well, produce adequate wet and dirty diapers and gain weight, don’t stress too much about the amount of food your child eats at each meal.
As a general rule, try to aim for these amounts.
Six to Seven months: Two meals a day, with each meal consisting of two to four tablespoons of thin purees or infant cereal.
Seven to 12 months: Three meals daily that are roughly the size of your baby’s fist. After several weeks of smooth purees, your child is probably ready for thick purees with larger soft chunks to practice chewing and appropriate finger foods.
Minimizing Choking Risk
Choking probably makes the list as one of every parent’s greatest fears, and you’re right to take your baby’s safety seriously. Fortunately, you can prevent most cases of choking with some advance knowledge, preparation and strategies.
Avoid Common Choking Hazards
Any food could present a choking risk, but some foods are much more frequent offenders than others.
Whole grapes and cherry tomatoes
Both of these foods have a round shape and strong outer skin that can be tough to bite through. Cut grapes into tiny pieces that are at least quartered lengthwise, and hold off on cherry tomatoes until your child’s first birthday.
Even as your child grows into the toddler stage, whole grapes and cherry tomatoes continue to present a choking risk, so keep cutting these foods into halves or quarters lengthwise until your child is a few years old.
Large amounts of nut butter
Nut butters are great sources of healthy fats and protein, but your baby may have trouble managing and swallowing a large dollop of sticky butter.
Instead, mix the nut butter into a complementary puree, or spread a thin layer on toast for older infants.
Hot dogs have a round shape and dense texture that makes them a formidable choking risk, and they are also a highly-processed meat product that almost always contains a high amount of fat and a low amount of nutrients. For these reasons, you may want to skip offering hot dogs to your baby altogether. If you do choose to give your child a hot dog, wait until they have developed strong chewing skills, and make sure to cut the meat both lengthwise and crosswise into tiny pieces.
Popcorn doesn’t weigh much, so it can be easy for your child to accidentally inhale a piece and get it lodged in their airway. Additionally, tiny pieces of corn hull can get stuck in your child’s throat and cause pain or other problems.
No matter how small you try to cut them up, some foods are just not safe for young children and are best avoided until your child is about four years of age.
- Whole or coarsley chopped nuts
- Raw hard fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots and celery
- Hard candy
Choking Prevention Strategies
Stay close by. Ideally, stay within arm’s reach of your baby during their whole meal. Choking is often a silent event, so you might not hear something dangerous going on if you go into another room even for a moment.
Give baby your full attention. It can be tempting to look at your phone or try to accomplish another task while your child is eating, but giving your child your undivided attention can help you notice any potential problems right away.
Feed small pieces and gradually offer larger ones. A baby’s airway is about the same width as a standard drinking straw, so avoid giving your baby large food pieces that could obstruct their breathing.
Once your child is ready for finger food, offer pieces that are just large enough for your child to pick up. As your baby masters better tongue control and chewing, you can gradually increase the size of their food.
Eliminate as many distractions as possible. Even though giving your child a snack or small meal on the go might be a time-saver, being distracted by their environment increases the risk of choking.
To help your baby focus on chewing and swallowing their food safely, follow these suggestions.
- Have your child sit down for all meals.
- Do not give snacks while in the car.
- Don’t allow your child to eat while walking or playing.
- Don’t let older children and pets play with your baby during mealtime.
Learn choking first aid
No parent wants to think about their child getting into an emergency situation, but it’s still important for every caregiver to be familiar with basic first aid. Ask your child’s healthcare provider for their recommendation for videos or other educational materials.
Which Foods Should I Avoid?
While you have a wide variety of healthy foods that are perfect for new eaters, there are several foods or food groups that you should avoid until your child is older.
Honey can contain Clostridium botulinum, or C. botulinum, spores, and these spores could cause a life-threatening condition known as infant botulism.
As the digestive and immune systems mature, your child will develop the necessary enzymes to neutralize C. botulinum spores. Most children develop these enzymes by their first birthday, so always be on the safe side and avoid giving your baby any amount of honey until the age of 12 months.
Cow’s milk is a common source of allergies and tummy upset in children less than one year of age, so wait until after your child’s first birthday to start offering milk in a cup with meals.
Most sweeteners are primarily empty calories, so your baby doesn’t get the vital nourishment their growing bodies need. Additionally, letting your baby experience foods without added sweeteners can help them develop a healthy preference for foods in their natural state.
Highly Acidic Foods
Although foods like tomatoes, oranges and other citrus fruit are healthy, whole foods, they are very high in natural acids and can be at the root of upset tummies and some cases of diaper rash.
Wait until your child is about 12 months old before introducing acidic foods into their diet.
However, don’t worry if you see lemon juice, critic acid or ascorbic acid listed as an ingredient in commercial baby food. These acids function as natural preservatives, and they are present in such small amounts that they probably won’t bother most babies.
What About Allergies?
Food allergies can be a serious problem, so it makes sense to approach new foods cautiously.
Anyone can develop a food allergy at any point in life, but early childhood allergies are more common in children with the following risk factors.
- Family history of food allergies
- An older sibling with a peanut allergy
- Previous history of eczema
How to Introduce Potential Allergens
Even though a person could have an allergy to almost any food, here are some of the most common food allergies young children develop.
- Cow’s milk
- Fish or shellfish
- Tree nuts
While the prevalence of food allergies seems to be on the rise, the good news is that new information and allergy-prevention strategies can help reduce the risk for many children.
Provide early exposure
For many years, it was standard practice to keep peanuts away from children until the age of two. Newer discoveries have revealed that early exposure, even as early as five to six months, is often a better strategy for avoiding an allergy. However, some children have heightened risk factors such as the ones mentioned above, so talk with your child’s healthcare provider to get their guidance for your child’s specific situation.
As long as you get your provider’s approval, you can start mixing small amounts of peanut and other nut butters into simple foods that your child already tolerates well. Some good options can be cereal or fruit purees.
Allow three days between new foods
Introduce new foods one at a time, and serve the same food for at least three days in a row to observe for signs of a reaction. Since a reaction may not show up with the first exposure to an allergenic food, three consecutive exposures should allow enough time for most allergies to manifest. Additionally, giving your child a single food at a time lets you precisely identify which food is the allergen.
Signs of an Allergic Reaction
Allergic reactions can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening.
- Skin redness or rash
- Mild diarrhea
- Mild vomiting
If your child experiences a mild reaction, do not give them any more of the allergenic food. Contact your child’s healthcare provider for further advice or testing.
- Severe diarrhea
- Severe vomiting
- Swelling of lips, tongue or face
- Wheezing or coughing
- Trouble breathing
- Losing consciousness
If your child experiences a serious allergic reaction, call for emergency help right away. Allergic reactions can progress quickly to a life-threatening situation, so never wait to see if it will subside on its own.
How Much Fluid Does My Baby Need While Starting Solids?
Your child is starting the process of moving away from a liquid diet, but fluids remain a critical component of a healthy body. Follow these guidelines to help your child stay properly hydrated.
Breast milk or formula
Until their first birthday, breast milk or formula should be your child’s main source of both food and fluids.
Continue feeding your child the same amount of breast milk or formula while they are getting started on solids, and gradually decrease your nursing sessions or the number of bottles as solid food makes up a greater part of your child’s diet.
Experts recommend not giving your baby any water until the age of at least six months. If you want to help your child learn to sip from a cup, use expressed breast milk or formula rather than water. Once your baby has settled into a predictable routine of eating solids and starting finger foods, you can offer a small amount of water with meals.
Even though most infant juices contain fruit, they fall far short of supplying the same healthy nutrients as whole fruits. Juices are typically very high in sugar, and they are almost completely devoid of fiber. Additionally, your child may find it all too easy to fill up on tasty juice and have no appetite left for nutritious foods.
In 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued updated fruit juice recommendations based on increasing rates of childhood obesity and dental issues.
- Babies should not have any fruit juice at all before their first birthday unless there is a medical necessity.
- Toddlers between the ages of one and three should have a maximum of four ounces of fruit juice daily.
Potential Changes to be Aware Of
Starting solids certainly signals a transition for your mealtime preparation and daily routine, but your child’s digestive system will also have to adapt. Most babies who are truly ready to eat solid food probably won’t have any problems, but keep an eye on your baby’s dirty diapers to help you spot potential problems early.
If you notice your baby is straining to pass a bowel movement, passes small, hard bowel movements or is going longer than usual between soiled diapers, you may be dealing with constipation. As long as your child doesn’t appear to be in pain or go days between bowel movements, try some simple dietary changes first.
Give your child a meal of pureed prunes or green peas. These high-fiber foods can help get your baby’s digestive system working a little more smoothly.
Constipation is one instance where giving your infant fruit juice may be appropriate. Giving your child 2 to 4 ounces of 100% apple, pear and prune juice is usually effective to help stimulate a bowel movement.
If dietary changes don’t help relieve your child’s symptoms or your child appears to be in pain, contact your child’s healthcare provider for specialized guidance.
Changes in Bowel Movements
With the introduction of totally new foods with different textures and nutrients to process, expect to see some changes to your child’s dirty diapers from here on out.
Particularly for breastfed babies who usually have runny, seedy poop, you’ll notice that your baby’s bowel movements will have a denser consistency. For both breastfeeding and formula-fed babies, you’ll probably notice bowel movement color changes as your child’s digestive system starts processing brightly-colored fruits and vegetables. You’ll probably also notice a change in odor, and usually not for the better.
Making Homemade Baby Food
If the thought of making your baby’s pureed food at home sounds appealing, you’re certainly not alone. Many parents choose to prepare some or all of their child’s food in their own kitchen, and there are a variety of reasons why parents choose the homemade route.
- Reduce plastic waste
- Reduce costs
- No emergency trips to the store for baby’s meal
- More control over the food their baby eats
- Build a stash for the refrigerator or freezer
While making your own baby food has plenty of benefits, the main drawback is the time factor. Buying, washing, cooking, pureeing and storing your baby food is a significant commitment. However, some parents try to mitigate the time investment by making large batches of baby food at one time and freezing meal-sized portions for later use.
If you want to try making your baby’s food, you’ll need a few simple kitchen tools.
- Cooking pots and pans
- Storage containers
The preparation process is fairly straightforward.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Cook your selection of fruits, vegetables or meats to a soft texture.
- Put the food into a blender, add just enough liquid to moisten and process just until you achieve a smooth puree.
- Feed your baby food immediately or portion it into clean storage containers. Make sure to have small containers that only hold about as much as your baby typically eats at one time to avoid having leftovers that get thrown away.
Some Good Habits to Get Into
The way that you go about the process of eating solids can be the difference between a successful meal and a frustrating one. Here are a few ways you can encourage a positive mealtime experience.
Offer Solids When Your Baby is in a Receptive Mood
A tired baby is usually a cranky one, so try to serve your child their meals when they’re well-rested.
It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but waiting until your child is ravenous is usually not the best time to sit down for a solid meal. Especially in the very early days, nurse your child for a few minutes or feed a small bottle before offering any solid foods.
Allow Plenty of Time for a Meal
Setting aside a good deal of time for each solid meal can help you avoid frustration when your baby doesn’t eat as quickly as you expect. Additionally, allowing your child to have enough time can help reduce choking risks and teach your child that they can enjoy their food rather than rushing through a meal.
Only Feed in the High Chair
Don’t try to feed your child on the go, whether that is in the car or during playtime. Being strapped into the high chair can be a signal to your child that it’s time to quiet down and eat, and keeping your child restrained in one place can also help avoid choking.
Feed With a Spoon
Unless you’re following the baby-led weaning method, use an infant spoon to feed your child small bites one at a time. Even though your child will probably not become proficient at using utensils for themselves for a long while, the spoon-feeding process can help give your baby an early clue that utensils are for eating.
Offer a Variety of Foods
It’s all too easy to give your child the foods that you enjoy yourself and neglect the ones that don’t make it onto the list of your favorites. However, your baby may have different taste preferences than you do, so expose your child to a wide variety of flavors and foods, and encourage them to find their own favorites.
Children are adept at picking up on an adult’s mood. If you feel stressed and anxious over your child’s eating or lack of it, your baby will likely feel stress while in the high chair, too.
Remember, breast milk or formula should be your child’s primary source of calories and nutrition until their first birthday, so aim for relaxed mealtimes that allow your child to explore new flavors and textures at their own pace.
Expect Some Rejection
It’s highly unlikely that your baby will immediately love every food that you offer them. Even if you get quite a strong negative response, though, don’t immediately put any foods on the do-not-eat list.
It can take as many as 15 exposures for a child to finally accept a certain food, so don’t give up too soon. Hold off on offering that unpopular food again for a little while, and your child might surprise you by devouring it a couple of weeks later.
Stop When Baby is Full
Overfeeding your baby can lead to some upset tummies in the short term and an unhealthy tendency to ignore their body’s fullness cues over the long term. Always be willing to stop when your child lets you know they’ve had enough, even when their stopping point on a particular day is after just a few bites.
Keep an eye out for these signs that your baby has had enough.
- Turning head away from the spoon
- Pushing spoon away
Set a good example
Children learn through imitation, so give your baby a good example to copy by displaying proper eating habits yourself. Make sure you sit at the table, chew your own food thoroughly and don’t rush through your meal.
When Can My Baby Have Finger Foods?
After your baby has mastered moving and swallowing pureed food, the next step is introducing finger foods, but how can you know when your baby is ready for the new challenges of self-feeding? Here are some clues that it may be time to give your baby a little more mealtime independence.
Your child is about eight to ten months of age
Just as with starting on purees or baby-led weaning, your child’s developmental stage is more important than the date on the calendar. However, most babies are ready to start trying to feed themselves somewhere between eight and ten months.
Your baby has a good pincer grasp
To pick up and eat finger food, your child needs to have sufficient strength and coordination to grasp a small object between their thumb and pointer finger.
Test your child’s pincer grasp by giving them a puzzle that has a small peg on each piece and observing their ability to grasp the peg firmly enough to lift the piece.
Your child can move food in their mouth easily
Finger foods carry a greater choking risk than smooth purees that have a nearly liquid consistency, so your child needs to have mastered the ability to manipulate food and swallow correctly before they are ready for self-feeding.
One clue that your child is able to move foods appropriately in their mouth is the amount of gagging you see. In the early weeks of starting solids, your baby may gag often as they learn how to use their tongue and swallow properly. As your child becomes more proficient at eating, they should gag less.
Your baby chews well
Even though assessing your child’s chewing abilities can be a challenge in the puree stage, adequate chewing is essential for eating finger foods. If your baby does well with thicker purees that contain soft chunks, they are probably ready to manipulate more advanced food.
Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits for the Long Term
Your ultimate goal in helping your baby learn to eat solid food is not only to provide them with the nutrients they need at the present but also to teach them how to relate to food in a healthy way for their entire lives. Here are a few techniques you can use to encourage your baby to have healthy eating habits in the long term.
Give Your Child the Freedom to Explore Food
Mealtime will be messy, particularly for the first few months. Remember that eating is also a learning experience for your child, and they can explore various textures and reactions by touching or smearing their food while they taste it.
You don’t need to let your child throw their food all over the room, but do allow them to have the freedom to experiment a bit. Just make sure to keep a clean, damp cloth within easy reach!
Even before your child moves past the spoon-feeding stage, feel free to give them their own spoon to hold and try to get to their mouth. Practice makes perfect, and having a utensil of their own can help make mealtimes more engaging for your child.
You could also give your new eater an empty cup to handle. As your child gets the hang of eating and progresses to self-feeding, add a bit of water and help your child take small sips in between bites.
Introduce a Variety of Flavors
It’s easy to fall into the trap of giving your baby the same foods over and over, and some of the flavor combinations that you see on baby food packages or suggested online may seem downright crazy at first. However, giving your baby the chance to sample a wide variety of foods from the very start may help them become adventurous eaters that are willing to try anything later in childhood.
Besides, you may even find out that some of those crazy combinations are pretty tasty!
Make Mealtimes a Family Affair
One of the great things about food and meals is that it often brings people together. When your baby is ready, start giving them small portions of the food that the rest of the family is eating, and encourage your child to participate in activities and conversations around the table. For example, even though your baby won’t be able to verbally answer questions for quite some time, make sure to address them personally and make eye contact with them.
Setting aside mealtime as a special time for families to connect and share details about their day over food is a great habit to build no matter the age of your child.
Feeding your baby their first bites of solid food serves as an important reminder of how much your child has developed and grown in just a few short months, so do your best to make mealtimes a fun experience that you and your child can both enjoy.
You have a wonderful amount of helpful information available to you, and you can always turn to your child’s healthcare provider if you have any further questions or concerns. Armed with the knowledge you have and the fact that your child is highly likely to thrive, go forth and start this new adventure with confidence!
Time to tell us your opinions! What is it about starting your child on solid foods that makes you feel most excited, nervous or fearful? Do you have any experience with feeding a baby solid foods, and which methods did you have success with? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!