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Starting Solids 101

Updated: Apr 9

Starting solids can be a really fun but overwhelming milestone-I've been there so I know exactly how you're feeling right now! If you're wondering whether or not your babe is ready to start eating solid foods yet then this is the post for you!


Current recommendations are that babies should not be introduced to complimentary solid foods until they are at least 6 months of age. This is generally around the time that their tummies start to develop the special enzymes that can help them break down solid foods. It is important to keep in mind that every babe is different. You don't want to start offering solid foods prior to this time frame because typically before 6 months babes are not developmentally ready to handle solids. That aside, there's no real benefit in starting early and it may yield more risk than reward.


Because every babe is different, there are a few key signs of readiness that you want to look for that will tell you babe is ready for foods other than breastmilk of formula. Being able to clearly recognize these signs will help you prevent baby from choking or aspiration.


Four Signs of Readiness:

1. Baby can sit up alone or with minimal support.

2. Baby has good head and neck control.

3. Baby shows interest in food. He may express this by either opening his mouth when food is offered or reaching for food when it's nearby.

4. Baby no longer has the tongue thrust reflex, is able to move food to the back of his mouth, and swallow safely.


Traditional Purées vs. Baby Led Weaning:

If your baby is showing these signs of readiness and is at least 6 months of age then the time has come to start introducing solid foods in addition to breast milk or formula. How exciting! The next question you might have is “where do I start?”


The truth is that there is no right answer to this question. Traditional recommendations are to start with spoon-fed puréed foods but recent research has shown the benefits of baby led weaning (BLW). Baby led weaning is the practice of skipping traditional purées and instead offering age-appropriate whole finger foods at the age of 6 months. This allows the baby to feed himself at his own pace as he starts the journey of exploring solid foods.


Giving baby whole foods sounds scary-I know! ⁠But studies support that BLW babes have no greater risk of choking than spoon-fed babes. BLW is a great way to introduce baby to a variety of foods and textures and may lend to an increased acceptance of new foods later in life.⁠⠀⁠


More on Baby Led Weaning:

Baby led weaning has been shown to:

  • Promote early self-feeding

  • Aid in fine motor skill development: Gripping foods with the palm (the "palmar grasp") allows baby to develop dexterity⁠

  • Help with the development of hand-eye coordination: Practice bringing utensils from plate to mouth allows littles to work on task-oriented coordination⁠

  • Promote healthy eating habits: This is a big one! Self-fed babies learn to recognize their hunger and fullness cues since they determine what and how much to eat versus a spoon-fed baby where the amount of food consumed is often controlled by the parent⁠

  • There is no greater risk of choking in babies fed soft whole finger foods versus puréed foods

The research on BLW is still pretty limited though there is growing evidence to support the benefits.⁠⠀⁠

⁠⠀⁠

That said, there is no right way to feed your baby! You have to choose what works for you and more importantly, what works for baby! ⁠As long as the food you are giving to babe is appropriate and safe for their developmental age then you can feel free to start with a food that you feel comfortable with.

These days, purées get a bad rap but they can be a really convenient and cost effective form of feeding. While BLW may be right for some families, the practice is not for everyone. While it may be an #unpopularopinion, you CAN both offer purées and do BLW.


Is Food Before 1 Really Just For Fun?

As much as people say food before 1 is just for fun, that statement isn't entirely true. Food before 1 serves as the foundation for your child's feeding journey as well as their relationship with food. It allows them:

  • The opportunity to develop their oral dexterity and the ability to chew and swallow

  • A chance to experience and process different textures

  • Exposure to varied flavors that will help their developing palettes

Key Nutrients of Focus When Starting Solids:

Regardless of the approach that you choose, it is important to make sure you are offering your baby a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups. This means fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, and dairy. Your baby’s first foods should also be high in zinc and iron. These minerals can be found in fortified baby cereal, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, and spinach. Additionally it is important to ensure that baby’s diet includes healthy fats like omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids found in seafood, nuts, seeds, and oils. These fats are crucial for the fast developing brain of your baby.


Offering fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C, A, and potassium are also of particular importance for babies and toddlers from 6-23 months.

  • Vitamin A food sources: pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, and spinach

  • Vitamin C food sources: oranges, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and mangoes

  • Potassium food sources: potato, lima beans, squash, sweet potato, pinto beans, and bananas

Just How Much Should Baby Be Eating?:

Now that we've discussed what babe should be eating, let's touch a bit on exactly how much babe should be eating. There are general guidelines and recommendations by age, however, what is most important is for you, as a parent, to tap into your child's hunger and fullness cues and allow them to lead their weaning journey.


Number of Meals Per Day By Age:

  • 6 months: 1 solid feeding/day + breastmilk or formula

  • 6-8 months: 2 solid feedings/day + 32-36 oz breastmilk or formula

  • 10 months: 3 solid feedings/day + 24-32 oz breastmilk or formula

  • 12 months: 3 solid feedings/day + 2 snacks and 16-24 oz breastmilk or formula


The Balanced Plate For Infants:

The balanced plate is something I talk about a lot in practice. For infants, the balanced plate will look a bit different than it would for toddlers or adults because babies won't be getting 100% of their nutrient needs met through solid foods alone, since they will also be receiving a significant amount of nutrients from breastmilk or formula.


The infant balanced plate should consist of an iron rich food (especially if they are breastfed), a high fat, calorie-dense food, and a vitamin-C rich fruit or veggie to help with iron absorption. Examples of what this could look like are included below:

  • Iron rich foods: mashed beans, fortified cereals, meats, grains

  • High fat foods: crushed nuts, ground or milled seeds, high fat foods like avocado

  • Fruits & veggies: strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, or mango

Introducing Allergens:

When it comes to introducing allergens, current research suggests that early introduction of potential allergens can help prevent the development of food allergies later on in life. The top nine food allergens include milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, eggs, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and sesame seeds. Whenever offering your baby a highly allergenic food it is important to monitor their tolerance, watch for any allergic reactions and contact your pediatrician if you are concerned. Introducing these foods early to your child is a totally personal choice, but the research supports that the earlier and the more often they are offered, the better.


9 Ideas For Starting Solids :

Here is a list of 9 potential first foods that are full of healthy fats, fiber, vitamin C, A, and other important vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, and plant-based protein. These foods are great choices for baby led weaning (BLW) but can also be offered as purées. Additional options include tofu, eggs, yogurt, and soft or ground meats (with all skin and bones removed).


1. Cooked apple: Apples are good sources of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Serve them to your baby in cooked skinless slices or puréed.


2. Ground nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy fats, fiber, and plant-based protein. Whole nuts and seeds are choking hazards, however, ground you can mix them in other foods, roll fruit in them, or top foods with them. Nut or seed butters can be offered but they should be thinned out with a liquid or offered in small amounts.


3. Avocado: Avocados are good sources of healthy fats, fiber, Vitamin C, potassium, folate, and other important nutrients. Serve them to your baby mashed or in slices with some skin or rolled in ground nuts or seeds for grip.


4. Cooked Sweet Potato: Sweet potatoes are a good source of carbohydrates packed with fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants. Serve them mashed or in skinless wedges cooked until soft.


5. Mashed beans on toast strips: Beans are a good source of fiber, protein, iron, zinc, and potassium. Whole grain bread provides carbohydrates, fiber, B-vitamins, protein, antioxidants, zinc, iron and other important nutrients. The magic is that these two together provide all the essential amino acids needed to rebuild proteins in the body (this is called a complete protein). Serve the toast in strips with the mashed beans spread on top.


6. Banana: Bananas are a good source of carbohydrates, potassium, and fiber, as well as other important nutrients. Serve them mashed or in segments with a bit of the peel to serve as grip.


7. Mango: Mangoes are packed with nutrients and antioxidants but are specifically high in Vitamin C. Serve them sliced, cubed, or even puréed.


8. Steamed Broccoli: Broccoli provides high amounts of vitamin C, K, and fiber. Cut the broccoli it into florets and serve it steamed until soft.


9. Iron-fortified baby cereal: Fortified baby cereals can be an important part of your baby's diet as they will serve as a significant source of iron, a crucial nutrient necessary for the growth & development of our babes. I recommend opting for a whole grain oat based cereal as a good alternative to traditional rice-based cereals.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the foods that work as great options for starting your solid feeding journey. The bottom line here is to offer a variety of nutrient-dense foods that will lend to supporting the health, growth, and development of your baby.


Foods To Avoid When Starting Solids:

While there is no one food that works best when starting solids, there are certain foods that should be avoided prior to age 1.

  • Foods that pose a choking hazard: Foods like whole nuts, grapes, cherries, popcorn, whole hotdogs, hard candies, hard raw veggies or fruits with tough skin, and very sticky foods.

  • Honey: Honey can contain bacterial spores that could be dangerous for your baby’s still developing immune system and can cause food poisoning known as botulism.

  • Cow’s milk or plant-based milks: Breast milk or formula should be your baby’s only source of milk at this time. Introducing cow’s milk before the age of 1 could cause intestinal bleeding in your baby. Additionally, the proteins and minerals in cow’s milk are hard on baby’s kidneys and digestive system and it does not provide the appropriate ratio of nutrients baby needs at this age.

  • Foods high in added salt or sugar: During this time baby’s nutrient needs are high and the amount of complimentary foods he may eat is limited. Foods higher added sugars and salt tend to be less nutrient-dense and if served frequently may displace important nutrients needed for appropriate growth and development.

  • High mercury fish: High mercury fish include shark, swordfish, barramundi, and blue or yellow tuna. High mercury levels in the body can cause damage to the brain and nervous system.

  • Unpasteurized Foods and Beverages: Unpasteurized juices, milk, cheese or yogurt could contain bacteria that are harmful to baby.

  • Avoid Caffeinated Beverages: Caffeinated beverages are not recommended before the age of 2.

  • Avoid Fruit Juice: Juice is not recommended before the age of 1.


Additional Tips For Starting Solids:

  • ⁠If practicing BLW, roll slippery fruit in ground flax or chia seeds to give it some additional grip for easier handling.⁠

  • Understand that baby doesn't need teeth to chew! Make sure the food is easily mashable between your thumb and index finger, which holds about the same strength as baby's gums. ⁠

  • Don't be afraid of spices! Spices do not equal spicy! Exposing your baby to spices early helps to expand their palette and can encourage more adventurous eating later in life. ⁠

  • Remember that baby will still be meeting a significant portion of his nutrient needs through breastmilk or formula.

  • ⁠Mix finely ground nuts or seeds into yogurt, applesauce, or baby cereal for an additional nutrient boost.

  • Make sure to remove all fat, skin, and bones from meat, fish, or poultry.

  • Seeds or hard bits should be removed from fruits and vegetables and serve cooked if the texture is more firm/hard when raw.

  • ⁠When choosing an iron-fortified cereal try to opt for an oat based cereal as there have been concerns around arsenic found in some rice-based cereals. ⁠

  • ⁠It sounds counterintuitive, but when doing BLW, larger pieces of food that baby can grab with their palm are actually more ideal than small pieces of food and can help reduce the risk of choking⁠.⁠

  • ⁠Aim to offer solid foods at least 15-30 mins after a full milk or formula feeding so baby isn't overly hungry or frustrated but still curious. ⁠

Starting solids is such an exciting time but be willing to take this new adventure at your baby’s pace. It is important to remember that introducing complimentary foods is a process that takes time. Continue to offer new foods without pressure and don't forget to enjoy the journey! You're doing great! I know you are!


References:

Arnarson, A. (2019, May 7). Bananas 101: Nutrition Facts and health benefits. Healthline. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/bananas#plant-compounds

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, March). Starting solid foods. HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Starting-Solid-Foods.aspx

Brown, A. (2017). No difference in self-reported frequency of choking between infants introduced to solid foods using a baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-feeding approach. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 31(4), 496–504. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12528

CDPH WIC. (2018, June). Feed Me! 6-12 Months. phfewic.org. Retrieved January 5, 2022, from https://www.phfewic.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Feed-Me-6-to-12-Months-Eng-COMP.pdf

Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2021, August 24). When, what, and how to introduce Solid Foods. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/InfantandToddlerNutrition/foods-and-drinks/when-to-introduce-solid-foods.html

Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2021, July 2). Foods and drinks to avoid or limit. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/InfantandToddlerNutrition/foods-and-drinks/foods-and-drinks-to-limit.html

D’Auria, E., Bergamini, M., Staiano, A., Banderali, G., Pendezza, E., Penagini, F., Zuccotti, G. V., & Peroni, D. G. (2018). Baby-led weaning: What a systematic review of the literature adds on. Italian Journal of Pediatrics, 44(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13052-018-0487-8

Feitosa, S., Greiner, R., Meinhardt, A.-K., Müller, A., Almeida, D., & Posten, C. (2018). Effect of traditional household processes on iron, zinc and copper bioaccessibility in black bean (phaseolus vulgaris L.). Foods, 7(8), 123. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods7080123

Garden-Robinson, J., & Mcneal, K. (2019, February). North Dakota State University. All About Beans Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus - Publications. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/all-about-beans-nutrition-health-benefits-preparation-and-use-in-menus

Hill, A. (2018, September 12). Top 14 health benefits of broccoli. Healthline. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-broccoli#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2

Jennings, K.-A. (2019, April 26). 9 health benefits of eating whole grains. Healthline. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-benefits-of-whole-grains

Kubala, J. (2021, November 26). 7 benefits of eating avocados, according to a Dietitian. Healthline. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/avocado-nutrition

Lang, A. (2022, January 5). 8 impressive health benefits of Apples. Healthline. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-apples#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2

Mcguire, M., & Beerman, K. A. (2018). Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food (3rd ed.). CENGAGE LEARNING.

Raman, R. (2021, November 3). Mango: Nutrition, health benefits, and how to eat it. Healthline. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mango#2.-Low-in-calories

Spritzler, F. (2019, January 17). 8 health benefits of eating nuts. Healthline. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-benefits-of-nuts#TOC_TITLE_HDR_4

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020, December). Dietary Guidelines for America 2020-2025. Dietaryguidelines.gov. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf

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