Baby food
August 18, 2016 9:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to be teaching a baby to eat. Is there updated guidance on the best order for introducing solid foods?

My doctor said to introduce foods one at a time, and that a lot of people started with grain cereals. In this era of low-carb / paleo / gluten-free eating, it can't be right to start him with Cream of Wheat, can it? Is there updated guidance somewhere? If I'm going to introduce one food per week for awhile, where should I start? We've already fed him some avocado. Next... sweet potato?

More broadly, I'm interested in learning more about supporting good childhood nutrition and eating habits, and anything that includes emerging knowledge about the microbiota in our digestive system.
posted by slidell to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a fan of the baby led weaning approach. You don't spoon-feed in that approach. What you do is you cut up foods so they are small enough to be safe, and let the baby decide what they want to eat.

We didn't introduce new foods one at a time. I will often let my 13-month-old have a little of what we're eating. If we had more of a family history of food allergies, I could see taking a more cautious approach.
posted by Anne Neville at 10:13 PM on August 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

The things you should NOT give a baby:

Honey, if they're under 1 year. Can cause infant botulism. Cooking won't kill the spores.

Hot dogs, grapes, or similarly sized foods, unless you cut them up very small. They're a choking hazard.

Nuts or peanuts. Also a choking hazard.

Tuna, swordfish, shark, or tilefish. Too high in mercury.

Reduced fat milk, unless your pediatrician says otherwise. They need the fat for brain development.

Water before 6 months. They need the calories.

Be careful giving them rice- some rice is high in arsenic. Rinse rice before cooking it, and try not to buy rice that was grown on former cotton growing land (arsenic pesticides were used on cotton, got into the soil, and are absorbed by rice).
posted by Anne Neville at 10:24 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

No honey or whole nuts until older. Add possible allergens soon (5-9 months), peanut and other nut butter, strawberries, and so on soon to minimize risk of allergies, one at a time. We use hand-held chunks of potato, peach, deskinned peas, cut up or frozen blueberries, pulled/strings of chicken and pork mango, or what ever we're having that fits in with baby lead weening. Which isn't just about small enough pieces to avoid choking, but food they can learn to eat with and learn how to bite off of.

We're on our second kid at 7 months and she's loving the food and water we're using in addition to breastfeeding.

Be mindful of how they react since their stomach and intestines are still being learning and gaining the bacteria they need.
posted by skynxnex at 10:42 PM on August 18, 2016

Forgot to add: We've also used breads with minimal ingredients and the puffs you can buy since they require less clean up. And some targeted veg like bell pepper slices, broccoli, peas,and so on as it seems she can handle it. She loves a peanut butter sandwich and sliced blueberries for lunch. We avoid most "baby food" since we wouldn't eat it and we are doing baby lead weening.

The best advice going forward is eat what you want your kids to eat and encourage them to eat it. If they go through a period at 2 or 3 or 4 where they don't... Let them but keep offering and eating what you want to avoid battles or negative feelings.
posted by skynxnex at 10:51 PM on August 18, 2016

Just for a different perspective, we made our own baby mush meals. We generally did one veg at a time to start, just steam well, add butter or olive oil, mash or purée. We started at maybe six months? Then maybe a month later we started adding a protein to the veg. Any protein ground or shredded plus veg mush. We tried to use all the veg options in the store plus all the protein options, so sometimes the combos were a bit weird. But it was rare for baby to not eat something and he's still a good eater.

We never fed cereals. They are not even available in the store here (France) and our "official" advice was to start with veg, meat, fish, tofu, and low acid fruit.

We started giving whole rice and pieces of baguette to gum on around 10-12 months.
posted by ohio at 11:02 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've got a 10-month-old, so we are a few months into the process. She's our third, and here are my (validated by our pediatrician) suggestions:

1. What you feed your baby isn't as important as how you feed her. Or rather, how you take her cues as to whether she wants to eat. I've always waited until my girls showed clear interest in eating (mostly by stealing food from my plate:)

2. Don't be afraid of carbs, purees, etc. if they make your life easier. None of my babies were willing to eat "mush" for more than a month, even though they didn't get teeth until they were a year old. Make your own baby food if you think it'd be fun for you, but don't get emotionally invested in it. Babies are weird, and in the beginning food is about teaching them how to eat rather than nutrition. Don't undervalue your time and convenience.

3. New food every week seems conservative to me; we have to history of allergies so as pretty much just went for it. Our doctor say every 3 days if we wanted to wait, but that if wasn't necessary.

As for what to feed baby, the Wholesome Baby Fold site got acquired recently do I think there's more advertising, but it still has some handy guides for different ages.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:47 PM on August 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

We started solid foods just as the recommendations came out to stop following the one food a week/complicated order recommendations from the 80s/90s because they encourage rather than discourage allergies. We ended up.following a more or less baby-led-weaning approach, like Anne Neville describes, because there really was no American guidance published yet. New AAP guidance makes the same recommendations.

We did try to give nut butter/ground nuts in other foods.

If you wait until your child can sit up and try to put food in her own mouth, you don't need to start with baby cereal or highly pureed food. Those are recommended because so many American parents start solid food so early (3-4 months) because they're told it will help the child sleep (it won't) or that breast milk or formula don't have enough calories or nutrients (not true). We did use some commercial purees for convenience but only fed regular hot cereal (like rolled oats or rice porridge) when he was interested in our bowls of it.
posted by sputzie at 12:30 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Our midwife recommended that we start with a bit of cereal in the evenings and carrots puréed introduced about a month later- for lunch I think and then topped up with baby milk if needed.

You only give carrots (and evening cereal) for at least a month and then you can use the carrots as a base to introduce other stuff.

We didn't introduce fruit until much later- she said to wait and get them liking their veggies first. Our friends who did both at the same time ended up with babies who only like fruit.

We've managed much better than friends who tried to introduce new stuff every few days. They never knew what their baby liked or didn't like and if our baby didn't like something we always had back up carrots or cereal.

Also- feed baby in the same place or in a high chair. Otherwise they have a bite, crawl around, and you're chasing them for 45 minutes with a spoon feeling ridiculous.

Finally, babies don't need lots of variety the first year- they get all their nutrients from milk.

We kept it simple this way and meal times are not a battle.
posted by catspajammies at 1:32 AM on August 19, 2016

Also we started the habit of offering water after about 6 months because solids can make things a little more stopped up... And water is a good habit.
posted by catspajammies at 1:39 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Baby led weaning is fantastic and leads to terrific photos as a bonus! There's a book about it but the cookbook is better. The River Cottage Baby book is wonderful for meals to make for babies and adults. This book was recommended to me by a nutritionist I saw during pregnancy and is terrific for general childhood nutrition -- it answers the "how do I help my kids have a healthy relationship with food" question really well.
posted by heavenknows at 3:56 AM on August 19, 2016

Baby cereal is often recommended as a first food because it's got a really soft texture, is neutral in flavor, and can be easily mixed with breastmilk/formula. We got a box of rice cereal when our kid was ready for solids and used maybe 1/8 of the box. If he takes to other foods quickly, you don't really need the cereal.

We did a little bit of baby-led weaning, but didn't really commit to the approach. We did purées and soft/squishy foods for a few months, transitioning to a chunkier consistency as he seemed ready. We had this baby masher which was great for ripe bananas, avocado, and sweet potato. Lots of full-fat Greek yogurt. The finger foods we introduced were dry but easy to gum/dissolve: Cheerios at first, then freeze-dried fruit (Trader Joe's and Target both have good selections; make sure it's the lightweight really dry freeze-dried stuff instead of the chewy dehydrated fruit) and sometimes puffs from the baby food aisle. Beans, cooked until soft, were a big hit too. We didn't stick to the one new food per week rule.

The motto I often heard is "food for fun before one," so we just experimented with fruits and veggies and textures. It gets considerably easier after more teeth come in and the kid's accustomed to chewing.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:50 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The most important thing is to make sure you record your kid trying new foods and making weird faces. Seriously, 20 years passes really quickly and you will all die laughing at the first time the kid had a taste of sweet potato and had no idea what to do with it. Classic memories.

Anyway, 20 years ago I was also advised to not go with fruit first because kids will not like veggies as much; that has not ben true in my case. My adult kids are all salad-loving adventurous eaters who eat handfuls of feta cheese and pickles.

My kids all started with butternut squash, sweet potato, soft tofu, avocado, applesauce. Yogurt made them all gassy.

But the important thing is recording it.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:59 AM on August 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

The guidelines we got were these UNICEF/NHS ones, and we did baby-led weaning as well (no spoonfeeding, no purées, baby feeds itself). We didn't space out the introduction of new foods - she just had baby-friendly forms of whatever we were having. It worked out really well, and she got to try a huge variety of different foods.

You will need a camera, a high chair that's easy to wash, and a good sense of humour for those times when your baby decides to comb yoghurt through its hair.

Other advice I found useful: if you have friends who've been through this already, ask them what worked well with their second kid. Far more practical experienced tips, far fewer meticulously-followed timetables!
posted by Catseye at 5:09 AM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

My daughter is two. I’m in a couple of different mom’s groups. Some of them did strict baby led weaning, some did all homemade purees, some went Gerber, most did some casual hybrid method. Now we can see that it has had absolutely no bearing on which toddlers are adventurous eaters and which are picky.

What makes more difference, I think, is the parents’ attitudes toward food and eating. Keep it relaxed and fun and don’t get too hung up on doing it “right.” Show the baby that YOU enjoy eating and don’t force anything. The only hard and fast rule to follow is to cut any round and solid-ish food into a non-round form so it can’t block the baby’s windpipe if he swallows it whole (grapes, string cheese, hot dogs, carrots once they get jaw strength enough to do more than grate them, etc.). I would also nth the advice to pay attention to the new research about introducing potential allergens early.
posted by Kriesa at 6:15 AM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

As with all things baby, you're going to get shedloads of varying advice, some of it directly contradictory (see above).

I personally am really enjoying the baby-led weaning approach mentioned by earlier commenters. You can find more info on the website (try the leaflets) or in Gill Rapley's book.

The basic idea is that purees/spoon feeding were appropriate when the standard advice was to start solids at 4 months. If you wait til 6 months, as now advised, the baby's gag reflex is sufficiently developed and their motor skills are sufficiently developed to start at feeding themselves.

My baby is 7-months old and I have found it to be incredibly easy and convenient. The baby eats at the table when we eat and eats whatever we're having. I find it totally incredible. It seems insane to me that just recently I had a tiny helpless baby and now here she is sitting in a chair feeding herself toast like an actual human person. 💥
posted by bimbam at 6:38 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Our pedi said cream of wheat and the like are dumb and I believe him. He did suggest to incrementally thicken the texture of what was offered (so don't jump straight to chopped up steak) but to let the kids figure it out. Start with purees then thicker purees then chunky purees then morsels.

Only caveats (and he's very much up on his allergy research):

No honey before one year of age because botulism.
No eggs before one year of age because they seem to INCREASE the odds of an egg protein allergy which is a shit allergy to deal with.
Yes to peanuts (products, obviously, not the whole nuts as those are a huge chocking hazard) and peanut butter as soon as the kids will take them because they seem to DECREASE the odds of a peanut allergy. We use his recommended Bamba snacks for our toddler and will soon with our 5 month old.
Ditto with seafood.

Word to the wise: kids won't be interested in solids until they're interested in solids and that varies by baby. Don't make it a thing, keep offering, but it's really dependent on their own timeline.

My toddler is incredibly picky with food but it wasn't because of lack of trying on our part. She was and is still exposed to everything we eat, she's just stubborn as a mule. She loves seaweed and won't touch a chicken nugget so, you know, you win some you lose some.
posted by lydhre at 6:45 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

To add and clarify: that peanut protocol is contraindicated if your child has severe eczema or if you have a family history of peanut allergies. Talk to your pedi if you have questions.
posted by lydhre at 6:53 AM on August 19, 2016

Here was my question about it.

Basically what I learned is:

- #1 follow the baby's lead.
- #2 no really follow the baby's lead. My baby liked mush for a loooong time. Because he was always teething and his mouth hurt so much! So while baby led weaning is a great idea, ain't no shame in mush.

And he wasn't really interested in solids till about 11months. But once he was interested it was obvious. He'd cry if he didn't get the food he saw.

- grains? It's your choice. Really. There are some healthier organic brands for rice / oat cereal if you don't like cream of wheat. The main thing here is IRON - those cereals are iron fortified and your baby needs it for neurological development. If you don't want your kid eating grains then don't give them grains but get that iron in.

In my case I was super into feeding my kid healthy and I've found I can't control it as much as I'd like. Husband even made him baby sushi (toasted sesame seeds and all) - one day he loved it, one day he hated it. Texture is a huge factor too. Just keep offering the food and see where it goes.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:13 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

There isn't one right way to do this. The right way is going to be what works for the baby and you. In that order. The baby is in control of what they eat. You can't force a baby to eat. Don't try.

You don't control whether your kid will be a picky eater or what they will or won't like. Lots of toddlers are picky. I've heard an evolutionary explanation for this- back in hunter gatherer days, the newly mobile kids who ate whatever they found poisoned themselves, and only the pickier ones grew up and had descendants. Humans seem to be hardwired to like sugar, salt, and fat- you almost certainly can't make your kid prefer vegetables to junk food. Some might by chance, but there isn't a way to make them.

A baby's nutritional needs are different from yours. They're supposed to grow and gain weight. I wouldn't restrict their diet too much without a really good reason. Things like food allergies and religious/ethical dietary restrictions are good reasons.

Sometimes you have to offer a new food several times before they'll accept it. This is normal. There will be foods they'll never like. That's normal too. Everybody has some foods they just don't like.

Babies can surprise you with what they'll eat sometimes. I went to a Thai restaurant with my baby and ordered a tofu dish, spiciness level 7. My son grabbed a piece off my plate and put it in his mouth. I braced for the scream-cry. He sucked on it and went for more!
posted by Anne Neville at 7:57 AM on August 19, 2016

Braised meat can work for babies. My 13 month old son recommends beef short ribs braised in tomato sauce. Put in some Italian sausage and spaghetti too, if you want it to be really yummy. Serve with the biggest bib you can find, right before bath time.
posted by Anne Neville at 8:03 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Low carb or modified diets are not recommended for any child unles there is an allergy or food issue. Those sorts of diets are best suited to bodies that have reached maturity, or have medical issues. You don't want to miss out on anything the child needs to develope.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:32 PM on August 19, 2016

We have an 11 month old, and followed the baby led weaning approach. You'd really be surprised at what they can manage even before they get teeth. We've got a great eater (a bottomless pit, really) and he's not very picky at all so far. He'll definitely try anything. If he doesn't go back for more of something, we just shrug it off.

This approach was amusing to our older relatives and friends without kids, though other parents tend to be pretty familiar with it. My one friend calls it "The Large Slab of Meat" theory of child feeding.

At this point, he's got 6 teeth and can handle most things. He doesn't mind strong flavors, is mostly confused by spice, and the only textural issues he seems to have are with touching certain things. If you get them in his mouth somehow, he doesn't mind. He's not big on being fed though--he's pretty darn independent.

You do need to have a laid back attitude with regards to messes. Some foods require a bath, as others have said. But on the whole, it's much easier to just give him a little of what we're eating than to worry about a separate set of foods just for him.
posted by terilou at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2016

Feed in a high chair and get them used to sitting calmly to eat- it contains the mess, and I can agree with the above poster who points out that chasing a baby with spoonfuls of puree is annoying.

Introduce as many veggies as possible before fruit, only because veggies don't taste as good so you don't want them to know about sugar at first.

Take their shirt off before really messy stuff, it's adorable. Then pop them straight into the bath afterwards.

Babies sometimes like really strong flavours. My friend's kids at age 1 really liked: feta, black olives (pitted), medium-spicy salsa, and bites of curry and spicy ribs. They're great eaters, which seems to have happened because she let them eat pretty much whatever they grabbed for.

If you have reason to worry about severe allergies (like maybe an allergic or asthmatic parent), you could give the baby their first exposure to the food in the car, while parked near the hospital emerg entrance. Hang out in the carseat and enjoy some peanut butter, and wait 15 mins. If a reaction sets in, you're steps away from rescue; more likely you'll be fine but the peace of mind might be nice. Some friends of mine who have good reasons to be extra-concerned did this for their kid, who turned out to be fine with nuts.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:03 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm just chiming in because apparently I'm one of the few people who don't like baby led weaning. I mean, I've got nothing against the concept, but I just found it hard to put into practice. If I helped my babies eat, the food went into their mouths. If I just gave them food to "eat" on their own, I would have to hose them down afterwards and hose down their high chairs and the kitchen floor, and I just don't have time to do deep cleaning operations after every meal, nor do I enjoy it. I did my share of making homemade baby food and it was sort of fun at times, but my kids (who are now 19 months and 3.5 years) both LOVE and have always loved the puree pouches, and they eat those rather frequently. I recycle them so I don't feel so bad about the environmental impact. They eat a variety of other foods (we take them to Indian buffet lunch on a weekly basis or so, for example) but the pouches are super handy and I think no one should feel like less of a parent because they use them at times. They also love the puffs, and they love the Bambas mentioned above - I started them as early as possible for my son and he's got no whiff of any allergy to anything yet. I order them by the case from Amazon - I originally ordered them just for the allergy-reduction experiment, but we all enjoyed them so much now I stock up regularly.

Aside from pouches I often did either fruit or vegetables that I had blended up or chopped up somehow (I used a regular blender or a stick blender), or mixed them with applesauce, yogurt, or baby oatmeal. My kids both had a mostly fruit with some vegetables diet aside from milk as infants, the cereal/grain part was pretty minimal.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:36 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Like many parents, we started with mush made with breast milk. My kids got bored pretty quickly.
My kids loved fruit and veg jarred baby food, but mileage varies.
Beware of any of the premade baby foods that have "pasta" in them. IME, they stop up the bowels pretty thoroughly.
Go ahead and make your own purrees if you want. A lot of parents do. We did once in a while and just gave up because time.
Buy some cheap dollar store table cloths and cut them in half and put them on the floor under the high chair. Clean up gets a lot faster.
You can't control what your kids will ultimately eat, only how you serve it. One of my kids eats everything and will willingly try anything. The other eats almost nothing and can be a real a-hole about anything.

Oh - also, you will discover that you can become a shartist. Baby diets tend to be very uniform so there is a much more direct control over the color of the resulting poop. Also, if you're lighter skinned, you too much beta carotene shows in the skin. Serve enough carrots and you'll wonder if your child is part oompa loompa.
posted by plinth at 7:46 AM on August 20, 2016

We started with iron fortified baby cereal for the first month solely age 5mths which became breakfast for the first year or so. After that first month we introduced one new food at lunch or dinner 4/5days to 1 week being a few spoonfuls followed by milk. Week one - steamed puréed pumpkin, week two steamed puréed sweet potato, week three puréed avocado, week four steamed puréed apple, etc usually max one week per new food to allow any dislike or rejections to show, by the end of the week mixing in the food with a previously tested food to increase flavours etc. we steamed pretty well everything in big batches & froze into ice cube meal portion sizes, steaming is the best way to cook & retain nutrients. Baby lead weaning started after testing puréed of that food group I.e once we tested carrots or broccoli we would give small pieces steamed to be very soft for baby to choose closer to 8-9mths age onwards.
posted by Under the Sea at 12:57 PM on August 20, 2016

Thanks for all of these comments. I'm still wrapping my head around it, but this has helped a lot.
posted by slidell at 2:47 PM on August 20, 2016

I started my baby on infant rice cereal mixed with formula at about five and a half months old. I was going to wait until 6+ months but he was really interested in food so I figured I'd strike while the baby iron was hot. And then I moved on to jarred baby foods. We did carrots, peas, green beans. Then I'd mix those with the rice cereal and formula. Sounds nasty, but he loved it. Then we moved onto fruits. Then I mixed those with the cereal and formula. Again, a big hit. At around eight months, I started mixing baby food fruits with plain, full-fat Greek yogurt. BIG HIT. He still has this for breakfast several times a week.

I had a spreadsheet of each food so I could track any reactions but there weren't any so I think I gave that up after a month of so. We tried him on peanut butter around 9 months or so (our pediatrician gave us the go-ahead). We dabbed a bit on his skin first, got no reaction. Then fed him some awhile later, no reaction. I was really anxious about feeding him foods, afraid both of allergies and him choking. I got over this (mostly) after awhile, especially when I saw how much he enjoyed trying different foods.

I think this is a fairly old school approach to feeding a baby. It worked for us. Now at eleven months old, my son eats anything and everything. He loves peas and carrots. He shoves them in his mouth and says, "MMMMM!" He loves almost all fruits and vegetables, noodles, rice, fruit muffins. He mowed down some homemade jambalaya the other day.

Some tips to cut down on mess: we have an IKEA high chair. It's very no-frills and very easy to clean. (Also, VERY cheap. I think it was $20.) It doesn't have a lot of accessories or crevices for spilled foods to hide. And I save those store circulars that come in the mail to throw on the floor.
posted by Aquifer at 2:57 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get a high chair with a tray or tray insert that can go in the dishwasher, and a seat that has machine washable seat cushions or a plastic seat that you can wipe off. Things that are difficult to clean have NO place around a baby, especially a baby who is learning to eat solids.

I hate cleaning, but I hate trying to coax babies to eat more. Life's full of trade offs, and there's going to be something about this process that sucks.
posted by Anne Neville at 3:29 PM on August 20, 2016

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