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Starting Baby on Food

Excerpt from Feeding the Whole Family (Sasquatch Books, 2008)For more information read Cynthia's article In the Kitchen with Baby (Mothering Magazine).

The introduction of solids is formative in how children establish their relationship with food.  Make it a joyful occasion, not one approached with fear or trepidation. There is no hurry; the initial step is to introduce new tastes and textures.  Your baby is still getting all the nutrition needed from breast milk or formula.  The transition to solid food as the primary source of nutrition should be long and slow.  Here's how to start:
Use one, simple, whole food and begin with only a few teaspoons of food. A soft fruit or a cooked sweet vegetable is a good choice. Puree the food in a blender or processor, or mash with a fork. Start with a consistency that is similar to thick milk or thin cereal.  Mix the food with a little breast milk or formula.  This will give your baby a familiar taste. Choose a quiet time of the day that isn't a regular nursing or bottle time.
Taste a little of the food yourself.  You can model eating for your baby.  Homemade baby food will be much appreciated here. Offer the food from your finger or from a spoon, or allow baby to grab (messier for you, fascinating for baby).  
Wait about 3-4 days before introducing another new food.  Stay with one feeding a day of one simple food.  With each new food tried, be aware of allergic reactions such as rashes around the mouth or anus, diarrhea, skin reactions, lethargy or unusual fussiness.  Eliminate, for the time being, any food that causes a reaction and try it again when baby is several months older.  Common allergens and other potentially disruptive foods that should be avoided are listed in Feeding the Whole Family . After several weeks of one small meal a day, you can increase to two small meals a day.  If your baby doesn't seem to enjoy eating solid foods, stop the feedings for a few weeks.
Around the globe, babies are start solids on a variety of foods.  In Oceania babies are given pre-chewed fish, grubs and liver.  The Polynesians prefer a pudding-like mixture of breadfruit and coconut cream.  Inuit babies are started on seaweed and seal blubber, while Japanese health care providers recommend a thin rice porridge, eventually made thicker and topped with dried fish, tuna, tofu and mashed pumpkin.
In our culture whether your babyís first solid food should be a cereal, a fruit or a vegetable is hotly debated.  If your child is labeled underweight, a health-care practitioner or a relative may encourage you to start with cereals.  Others recommend starting baby on fruits and vegetables because they digest more easily and quickly than grains.  There is some thought that grains are too complex and introducing cereals too early can give babies digestive trouble or lead to allergies.  I feel this is largely due to the overuse of highly refined, flaked baby cereals and grain fillers (such as modified corn starch and flour) added to jarred food.  Adverse reactions are less likely if freshly-made non-allergic grains are served.
Nevertheless it is nice to start with pureed fruits and vegetables.  Choose something from the table that you are eating.  My favorite beginning fruits and vegetables are applesauce
, avocado, bananas, carrots, sweet potato, pears, peas and winter squash.  Babies will let you know what their favorite foods are.  My daughter hated tried and true mashed banana, but adored sweet potatoes and applesauce.  
Be aware that many commercial baby food manufacturers replace real food with thickening agents (like flour or starches) in their products.  This helps their profits but does little to nourish your baby.  Commercial baby foods are very high-priced compared to similar regular foods, especially foods such as baby food juices and applesauce.  Baby food manufacturers encourage a mystique about their products making parents believe that commercial baby food has special properties that canít be duplicated in your own kitchen.  This is clearly untrue.  Why pay high prices for nutritionally inferior food for your baby?  Parents can easily prepare safe, nutritious, and economical FRESH foods for their infants at home.


I love all the tips in Feeding the Whole Family (seriously the best cookbook on earth!) for feeding babies and picky kids. What do you think about introducing peanuts? I've heard conflicting things, but most recently I read that the chances for allergy are much higher (10 times) if you wait to introduce them until after a year. My baby's about ten and a half months, and I'm wondering if I should try a little peanut butter before he turns one. Any opinion?
April 18, 2009, 2:29 pm

Cynthia Lair
Hi Abby, I don't think avoiding allergies is a good reason to give a baby food. Research is inconclusive and mostly anecdotal on this. If you do not have any nut allergy history in your family, it is safe to try some peanut butter at one year of age. Stick to that. Good to remember that it is not easy to swallow and you might wait longer for that reason. Give baby small tastes of peanut butter is if it is a food that you and your family normally enjoys and you want to give them a taste. Of course, you'll want to choose organic peanut butter with no fillers. Thank you for the kind comments about my book. I really appreciate it.
April 19, 2009, 7:56 am

Amy Smith
I have a 15month old baby who still likes to have some purees along with some solid foods. I try to give him a little of what we eat at every meal (like you suggest in your book) but he really doesn't care for any meats or tofu. My mother is concerned about his protein...should I be too? Maybe I'm not presenting it in the right way. It was easy enough to get him from the breast to purees, but how do I get him from purees to more solid foods? Any suggestions? (BTW he does eat eggs and I still nurse him)p.s i love your book!
April 20, 2009, 2:38 pm

Cynthia Lair
Hi Amy, Breastmilk and eggs will give your baby ample protein. Whole grains like brown rice cereal and oatmeal have a little protein value too. Fifteen months is young. As long as he is growing and healthy I would suggest taking a deep breath and letting him enjoy the softer food for now. Also, keep edging toward table food and away from jarred purees so that the familiar taste is what the family eats - not separate food.
April 20, 2009, 3:27 pm

Cortney Holmes
I just wanted to say too, Amy, my daughter is 15 months and has ALWAYS loved quinoa. That is high in protein.
April 21, 2009, 7:38 pm

Heather Dunham
(Start with a consistency that is similar to thick milk or thin cereal. Mix the food with a little breast milk or formula. This will give your baby a familiar taste.) This step is actually completely unnecessary. It's based on an idea that we have to 'trick' babies into liking new foods, that otherwise they wouldn't naturally want anything other than mom's milk... ever! In fact, when babies are ready for solid foods, they're ready and EAGER for real, *solid*, tasty and textured food. No need for purees or masking the taste with milk. The notion also comes from the days when we'd feed our babies 'solids' way too early (like, 3 months... or 3 weeks), and when they're not actually ready then yes you would have to trick them. But around 6mo, they are ready for real food and eager to explore taste and textures. Our current ideas on how best to start baby on solids are based on outdated methods and schedules that were never adapted for the older baby! Read about baby-led solids, any of Gill Rapley's information is invaluable. (If your child is labeled underweight, a health-care practitioner or a relative may encourage you to start with cereals.) Of course, this is just silly. Breastmilk contains more fat, nutrients, and calories than ANY 'solid' food. Once baby starts solids, they will be taking in less breastmilk (less room in their tummies) and consuming fewer calories (on the same amount of food). Of course the amount of food+milk they consume will increase as they get older, but REPLACING breastmilk with any solids in hopes of weight gain is counterproductive. And cereals are the worst of all -- especially the boxed ones... they're basically just cardboard. The only nutrition in them would come from the milk you mix them with...
February 11, 2011, 3:41 pm

Thank you Cynthia. My 6 month old has only been on solids for about a month, and my pediatrician is concerned that we haven't introduced meats yet. She thinks he probably won't feel satiated with single foods alone. Our son has tried many of your top 10 foods, including the yogurt, egg yolk, and avocado (and we mix, too)... soo, I guess I'm just looking for a confirmation that meat isn't necessary at this point yet. He's still nursing plenty and I assume he's getting enough from my breast milk. On a side note, I'll be starting the MSN/DPD track this fall at Bastyr and am hoping I'll have you for Whole Foods Production! I love your website and book and am looking forward to meeting you! Thanks again!
June 2, 2011, 11:58 am

Cynthia Lair
Hi Erin. What do YOU think? Is your baby thriving? Don't try to fix something that isn't broken. Sounds like you are doing all the right things.
June 2, 2011, 1:18 pm

Could you please discuss an appropriate age to begin feeding solids? Is it around 6 months? Thank you.
August 18, 2013, 7:08 pm

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