For the first 4-6 months of your baby’s life, all the necessary nutrition for healthy growth and development comes from breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two. At 4-6 months, however, your child will start to develop an interest in solid food.
With this important dietary advancement, you not only have to consider what nutrients your child needs, but also to accurately judge the baby’s readiness to eat solid foods such as pureed veggie, fruits, rice cereals, ….
Signs the Baby Wants Solids
Understand, however, that you don’t have to start your child on solid food until 6 months of age, if you don’t want to. Just make certain that you do not introduce solids any sooner than 17 weeks after your child’s original due date.
Look for signs that your baby is ready to try new foods. For instance, you may be breastfeeding more often, the baby may seem hungry even after taking a full bottle, and the child may start to wake up hungry during the night.
A transition is definitely in the wings if the child is sitting up, holding its head up, and using a “palmar grasp” — holding on to things and bringing them to its mouth. Also, the baby will lose the reflex to stick out its tongue, which would force offered food away.
Basically a new level of communication is developing between you and your child around an evolving language of food. Most of the interpretation is left up to you, however!
Making the Move to Solids
If you think the baby is ready to try solids, mix up some rice cereal (the kind fortified with iron) and use baby formula or breast milk for the liquid. At this nutritional stage, foods fortified with iron are important because the child’s iron levels have begun to drop.
As you progress through your child’s transition to solids, you’ll want to consider foods that are rich in iron, including:
- Dark green vegetables
- Legumes (beans)
- Brown rice
- Cooked egg yolks
Infants and toddlers often suffer from iron deficiency. Feeding foods rich in Vitamin C will further guard against this problem, since Vitamin C aids in the absorption of dietary iron.
Rice cereal is a great starter food, not only because it contains iron, but also because when mixed with breast milk or formula, the cereal offers adequate amounts of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Recommended Nutrients Birth to 6 Months
After introducing rice, begin to concentrate on foods rich in both Vitamins C and A. Examples include deep orange and deep green vegetables, and apple sauce. Always add foods one a time and not in combination. After 3 days on the food, if no adverse reactions have surfaced, your child isn’t allergic to the item.
Schedule for Introducing Solid Foods
When you’re certain that your child doesn’t have any food allergies, you can feed 2-3 different items per meal. This not only ensures that the baby’s dietary and caloric needs are being met, it also gives your baby an enjoyable amount of variety.
If the baby rejects a new food, just take it away and don’t force the issue. A few days later, try again. If you coax the child, or worse yet coerce it to eat something, it’s likely the infant will refuse the food for good. With no pressure, however, babies often will accept a food they initially refused to touch.
Your baby’s first few meals of “real” food will just be tiny exploratory tastes. Don’t worry, babies are very good about communicating their preferences. Once you have identified the “favorites,” you can start to experiment with different combinations.
Choking is a significant hazard in children from birth to age five. So long as your child is coughing, he is not truly choking. Coughing is the body’s natural attempt to repel a foreign object lodged in the throat.
Encourage your child to cough, and do not attempt to remove anything from the throat unless you can actually see the object. Attempts at retrieval risk pushing the item farther into the airway.
Take the following precautions against choking:
- Always supervise your child during meals.
- Keep your child seated during meals. Do not let the baby lie down, walk, run, or play while eating.
- Encourage your child to take small bites and to chew thoroughly.
Be careful about giving your child nuts unless they are ground in a food processor, and be careful to spread sticky foods like peanut butter in thin layers only.
It is highly recommended that all parents take courses in the proper administration of infant and child CPR.
Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten Free Cooking
Feeding your baby a vegetarian or vegan diet can be a healthy choice so long as you carefully plan meals to ensure that all nutrients are included. Being gluten-free may be a matter of necessity, depending on the child’s sensitivities.
Designing a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for an infant is easier than a strict vegan diet that completely avoids the consumption of any animal products. A vegan diet should not be undertaken without proper planning and education.
A gluten-free diet eliminates grains that contain the protein gluten including wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. In people who are gluten sensitive, exposure to gluten can cause severe gastrointestinal distress.
If sufficiently severe, this sensitivity can actually manifest as Celiac Disease. Reactions to gluten can show up at any stage of a person’s life.
Typically gluten sensitivity in infants will not surface until after 10 months. Before that time, children are not fed grains with gluten because those items are typically harder to digest.
Watching for Food Allergies
Be aware of any symptoms that might signal the presence of a food allergy including:
Remember that there is a difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. If your child is exhibiting gastrointestinal symptoms only, you’re likely dealing with a food intolerance. The most common food allergies are to the following items:
- Rashes anywhere on the body
- Loose stools
- Runny nose
- Labored breathing
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, or face
- Tightening / closure of the throat
Also beware of thickening agents, dyes and artificial colors, and preservatives.
Do not give honey to children under one year of age. Honey contains spores of the bacteria responsible for botulism, which is potentially deadly to infants.
Some food like cheerios, peanut butter, or etc can cause choking, allergy in babies, so make sure to keep them away.
Where to Feed the Baby
If your child can sit up unaided, place the infant in a high chair with pillows on the side for extra support if necessary. Always use the safety straps!
For children still a little wobbly with sitting up, place the baby upright in your lap. Cradle the child’s head in your arm. You can also place the child in baby floor seat in the upright position.
Considering Baby Food in Jars
Contrary to what baby food manufacturers would have you believe, baby food in jars is not a nutritional halmark, nor is it superior to what you can prepare yourself at a much lower cost.
Most commercial baby food is diluted with substances like water and thickening agents, including flour and chemically modified starches that have no nutritional value.
You’re paying for fillers that don’t provide superior nutrition and that may open your child up to sensitivities to substances like gluten and MSG.
With a blender or food processor, you can do just as well on your own. In many instances, you can get your child’s food to the right consistency just by mashing it with a fork!
If you do buy baby food in jars, read the label carefully. Be forewarned that you may need a magnifying glass to do this no matter how well you see. Items you definitely want to avoid giving your child include:
- Added sugar
- Modified food starch
- Flours including rice and wheat among others
When you buy a single food jar, it should contain nothing but the specified food and water. Good brand choices include:
- Growing Healthy, which is expensive but nutritious
- Gerber and Heinz meat/vegetable and meat/fruit combos, which don’t contain fillers
- Earth’s Best, which is organic (although this is not verified)
Definitely stay away from infant desserts that will only get your child’s sweet tooth going. Use plain fruit instead or unsweetened apple sauce.
REMEMBER, until your child reaches one year of age, the baby should still be drinking at least 20 ounces of breast milk or formula daily. Don’t decrease these feedings!
As long as you follow this rule, and offer your child a good variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables, the baby’s nutritional needs will be met.
Deciding on Organic Foods
The term “organic” is generally accepted to refer to foods that are grown in the absence of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Unfortunately, organics are often cost prohibitive for struggling young parents.
Should You Buy Organic Produce?
Buying organic food that is as free as possible of pesticides, fertilizers, and all other chemicals is the foundation of homemade organic baby food. You may find, however, that locating organics is harder than you think, and certainly more expensive.
Just as with the decision to feed breast milk or baby formula, the matter or organics is an issue of choice. You can opt to go completely or partially organic. Your child will be healthier if exposed to the least amount of chemicals possible early in life.
For those who want to buy organic baby formula, make sure to check this guide for the best baby organic formula.
When a baby eats foods with chemicals, they are being exposed to a far greater extent, pound per pound, than an adult. This is not only due to their smaller size, but also the amount of fruits and vegetables they consume.
Pesticides and other chemicals overload the liver, while hormones interfere with the child’s natural development. Overall, foods with no chemicals that have not been genetically modified in any way are best for babies.
Organic baby food is prepared with the normal procedures. Cook by steaming or boiling. Then create the correct soft consistency with a masher, blender, or even a large fork. Use breast milk or formula to make the mixture as thick or thin as you like.
There is no need to add salt to the food. Babies don’t crave it, and you don’t want to encourage salt consumption early in life.
Organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious that non-organics, so do not feel you’re exposing your child to danger if you don’t use or can’t afford these items.
It is a good idea however to selectively purchase the following products as organics since both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Food and Drug Administration rate them highest in pesticide content. (Note that the list is ordered from highest to lowest amount of pesticide present.)
- Sweet bell peppers
- Kale/collard greens
- Imported grapes
Storing Homemade Baby Food
One of the easiest ways to store large batches of baby food in the freezer is to use ice cube trays and simple freezer bags.
Each of the individual compartments in the tray is approximately one ounce / 30 mil. Spoon the food you have prepared into the compartments and then pop out the servings once they are frozen.
Transfer the food cubes to freezer bags, which will take up less room in the freezer than the trays themselves. Label the bags, always including the preparation date and the name of the food. All frozen baby food looks remarkable alike!
When you are ready to use the food, simply take out the items you need and allow them to thaw.
Although you can store baby food in the refrigerator, it must be consumed within 48 hours or bacteria will build up. Never store baby “left overs.” Only food that has not been touched should go into the refrigerator.
Do not microwave any type of baby food. The items get much hotter than you expect, and due to the uneven nature of the heating, there may be some “pockets” that are not enough to be dangerous.
Your baby’s first meals should be mainly pureed and have more liquid content, gradually progressing to a more “mashed” texture. Each child is different, but typically this transition occurs over a 2 month period.
Be sure that the fruits you choose are ripe and soft. Wash everything, and remove any seeds or pits that might be present.
Liquid is still being derived primarily from breast milk or formula with no more than 1/2 cup / .24 liters, of diluted juice per day.
Everything you offer your child should be lukewarm or at warm temperature. Foods are introduced one at a time to judge the child’s reaction both in terms of taste preference and tolerance.
Starter foods should be very simple. Unsweetened applesauce, for instance, should be a staple of your pantry.
A Word About Food Safety
Always practice good rules of food safety. Keep a clean kitchen both in terms of your food preparation area, but also your cooking utensils and food storage containers.
Be mindful of temperature. Discard any food that has been allowed to sit out at room temperature for an hour or more.
Wash your hands before and after handling each food item, especially poultry. Wash all fruits and vegetables under running water for at least 30 seconds.