Baby Food Guide: When to Start, What to Feed & More
Is your baby ready to eat baby food? Here’s everything you need to know, including when & how to transition to solids and easy recipes for busy parents.
Ah, parenthood. As soon as you settle into a comfortable routine, your child enters a new stage, and you have to figure everything out all over again. That’s especially true when it comes to feeding your baby—as soon as you master nursing or bottle-feeding, it’s suddenly time to move on to baby food. But when can babies eat baby food? How do you know if your child is ready? And what do you feed them? Will they like it? When did such a basic human need become so complicated?
There’s no need to spiral! We answer all of those questions right here, plus give baby food recipes and recommendations for meals so easy that you might actually have enough free time to shower.
Note: These are just general guidelines, and it’s important to consult your pediatrician before introducing any type of food to your baby.
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Is Your Baby Ready for Solids?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), your little one is ready for solid foods when you see these signs:
Your baby can sit unassisted. They should be able to sit upright in a high chair and have good head control.
Your baby seems interested in food. They may open their mouth when they see you eating or lean toward your food.
Your baby is 4–6 months old. The exact age to start is a little tricky. According to the AAP, infants may be ready for solids when they are double their birth weight. This typically happens around 4 months old, when they weigh about 13 pounds or more.
However, the AAP also recommends exclusively breast- or bottle-feeding until babies are 6 months old. So your baby may be technically old enough for solids at 4 months old, but they may not be showing all the signs of readiness. If they are showing all the signs of readiness at 4 months old, you may be able to start solids, but it’s best to consult with your doctor.
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What Baby Food Should You Introduce First?
So your baby is showing all the signs of readiness to eat solids, but what do you feed them? There are basically two philosophies on how to start your baby on solids: purees and baby-led weaning using finger food.
Purees refer to baby foods that are soft and mushy for easy eating. Baby food pouches and jars contain pureed fruits, vegetables, meats and grains. Some parents and caregivers choose to start with these.
Traditionally, however, parents and caregivers have chosen iron-fortified infant cereals for their baby’s first introduction to solids. These include things from the Gerber baby food line, such as oatmeal and rice cereal, which are ground into powders. They mix these dry powders with breast milk, formula or water to turn them into a mush, which can then be spoon-fed to the baby.
Finger Foods with Baby-Led Weaning
Another option for introducing solids is baby-led weaning (BLW), where babies skip purees and feed themselves strips of soft finger foods right from the start. Babies use a combination of their hands and utensils pre-loaded by parents to self-feed everything from bananas and avocados to moist shredded pieces of meat.
According to Parents magazine, baby-led weaning is popular in the U.K., and support for it is growing in the U.S. among parents who want a more family-friendly way to introduce solids. One advantage of BLW is that it may help promote hand-eye coordination. Another is that the baby eats what the rest of the family eats—with a few modifications and exceptions.
The key with BLW is to modify the food to prevent it from being a choking hazard, either by cooking it or cutting it.
A third option is doing a combination of purees and BLW. Using a mixed approach like this can expose babies to finger foods while making sure they’re still getting key nutrients. Oftentimes with BLW, babies end up licking and tasting food without actually swallowing it, and this stage can last a few weeks to months.
Serving finger foods right before or after purees can help babies reap the benefits of both styles of feeding.
The Importance of Iron
No matter which method you choose, you should be conscious of feeding your baby iron-fortified or iron-rich foods. Why? According to the AAP, iron is extremely important for proper neurological development, and most babies only have sufficient iron stores until 4–6 months. If you’re concerned your baby is not getting enough iron, talk to your pediatrician, who may recommend supplementation.
Source: Helena Lopes, Pexels
Introduce Solids One at a Time
Whichever method you choose, you should introduce your child to one food at a time. This is important because it will help you see if your child has allergies or sensitivities to that food. You should wait 3–5 days to introduce the next food.
15 Ideas for Baby’s First Food
Need some tips on where to start? Here are 15 first foods to feed your baby:
Avocado: cut into long, thin strips
Banana: cut into long, thin strips
Roasted butternut squash
Steamed baby carrots
Mashed sweet potato
Steamed zucchini pureed in a food processor
Soft, ripe pear: cut into long, thin strips
Blueberries: cut in half and squished
Moist, shredded rotisserie chicken
Boiled frozen peaches pureed in a food processor
Interested in organic options? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Organic Baby Food.
Should You Start with Fruits or Veggies?
Honestly? It doesn’t matter. As the AAP states, it is a myth that your baby will develop a dislike for vegetables if you introduce them to fruit, which is sweeter, first. What does matter is providing a variety of options to help expand your baby’s palate.
Introduce Allergens Between 4 and 6 Months
It may seem scary to introduce your baby to common allergens, but according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), it’s important. In fact, “delaying the introduction of these foods may increase your baby’s risk of developing allergies.”
They recommend introducing the eight common allergens—egg, dairy, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish—between 4 and 6 months. Sesame is another potential allergen to watch out for.
Consider introducing your baby to allergens earlier if you have a family history of food allergies. Consult with your pediatrician for recommendations on how to do this, especially if your baby has not been introduced to solids yet.
Baby Food Stages: What Do the Labels Mean?
If you’re planning on feeding your baby purees from the store, you’ll notice that they’re broken down into three groups: Stage 1 Baby Food (a.k.a. “Supported Sitter”), Stage 2 Baby Food (a.k.a. “Sitter”) and Stage 3 Baby Food (a.k.a “Crawler”).
Stage 1 (about 6 months): designed for babies just starting solids and often contain just a single ingredient. E.g.: Gerber 1st Foods Baby Food Butternut Squash.
Stage 2 (about 7–8 months): designed for babies who have been eating solids for a while, they often contain multiple ingredients and a thicker consistency. E.g.: Gerber Apple, Banana, Strawberry Baby Food Pouch.
Stage 3 (8–12 months): designed for babies comfortable with solids and often the thickest consistency. E.g.: Gerber Pasta Primavera. However, because babies often move on to finger foods around 8 months, there aren’t as many Stage 3 options.
What Should Your Baby Drink?
Babies should continue to drink breast milk or formula until they are 1 year old. They may also have water along with their meal, between 4 and 8 oz. per day for ages 6–12 months. Water can be especially helpful when it comes to fighting constipation—often a side effect of the introduction of solids.
Serve the water out of a cup small enough for your baby to maneuver, such as a plastic shot glass, or out of a straw cup.
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Baby Food Recipes and Snack Ideas
Now that you know how to introduce food to a baby, you’re probably looking for more ideas on what to feed them, especially if you’ve progressed to three meals a day plus snacks. Here are some fast, simple ideas perfect for busy parents, including some homemade baby food recipes:
Easy quiche with a premade pie crust (omit the salt)
Scrambled eggs with spinach
Cottage cheese with pureed apples
Steamed edamame blended in a food processor with a drizzle of olive oil to create a spread and served on toasted bread
Air-fried broccoli with hummus
Easy meatballs (omit the salt)
Baked salmon in foil (omit the salt)
Basic congee rice porridge
Happy Baby Superfood Puffs (baby food puffs are good for helping the baby develop their pincer grasp)
Happy Baby Teethers Organic Blueberry & Purple Carrot (enhance these teething crackers with a nutritious spread such as mashed avocado or yogurt)
Ricotta cheese topped with roasted veggies
Note: A lot of these recipes call for salt, but we recommend omitting it when possible. That’s because, according to the dietitian at Feeding Littles, babies’ kidneys are immature and can’t handle large amounts of sodium.
Baby Food Tips
While introducing your baby to solids can be a lot of fun, it can also be stressful. Here are some tips to help you feel calm and confident at mealtime:
Embrace the Mess
RIP to your floors (and somehow, walls and ceilings?), but it’s important to let your baby get messy while they learn how to eat. Because babies learn through touch, they need to be able to explore food with their hands to learn how to eat it. Messy eating also helps to desensitize the tactile system and avoid sensory issues.
Part of embracing the mess means not wiping your baby’s face and hands throughout the meal. Too much wiping can lead to sensory overload.
But Protect Your Stuff
Just because you’re embracing the mess, doesn’t mean you should give up your sanity. Invest in full-sleeve waterproof baby bibs, and throw an old towel or even a plastic tarp under the high chair to keep your floors clean.
If Your Baby Dislikes Something, Don’t Give Up
Did you know that it can take babies 10–15 exposures to a new food to actually eat it? Just because they didn’t like broccoli the first time you served it, doesn’t mean that they’ll always dislike it. Keep trying over a period of several months. If they still don’t like it, feel free to take a break. And remember, we all eat stuff as adults that we would have secretly stuffed into our pockets when we were kids.
Plus, if your baby hates everything you’re serving, you can always get their favorites or backup groceries delivered to you in just 30 minutes from Gopuff!
- baby food
- what to feed
- when to start