When to start solid foods, and what to start with

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

I like writing about food and feeding issues, especially for babies and toddlers—mostly because there is so much misinformation out there, information that’s complex and confusing and difficult for anyone to keep straight. Start avocados at 33 weeks, start egg whites at 42 weeks, move from stage 1 to stage 2 jars after baby gets 1 ½ teeth. Rules, rules, rules.

All that stuff is a crock. Feeding babies is much simpler.

When to start solids: somewhere between 4 -6 months of age is an ideal window. Babies are happy to meet new things and have new experiences then, and they’re really interested in what you’re eating. So give them a taste.

There’s plenty of medical evidence that 4-6 months is an ideal time. You’ll minimize your child’s risk of celiac and type 1 diabetes, and provide essential iron and vitamin D that’s inadequately supplied by nursing alone. Starting earlier than this window seems to increase the future risk of obesity; starting later can lead to problems with oral motor functioning, and can increase the risk of food allergies.

What foods to start with: anything you like. The old advice, to start with (and stick with) rice cereal never made any sense. There’s nothing magic about rice cereal.

The only requirement for first foods is that it can be mushed up. Junior isn’t going to chew anything just yet, so whatever you’re feeding him needs to be, essentially (but not literally) pre-chewed. You can start with a banana or avocado, and mash it up with a fork; you can start with some well-cooked noodles, and mush them up; you can start with some soup vegetables, or a bit of egg, or ground meat, or just about anything else. Don’t be afraid of flavor, and don’t limit yourself to what the baby food companies put in jars.

The only foods to watch out for are choking hazards, foods that are too stiff or unmushable for babies to handle. Think steak, pecans, raw vegetables, or Al Gore.

There’s also a special admonishment against honey for babies less than 12 months of age, because it can transmit botulism in babies. That’s a really short list of things that babies shouldn’t be fed.

If you like, you can start with a single food and build up from there, starting a new food every few days. That’s been advised for years, to help parents tell which foods might have caused which reaction. But most babies will not have food allergies; and most food reactions in babies are mild. If there is a strong family history of genuine food allergies (say, in both parents or in siblings), you can take feeding slowly, one food at a time—but it is probably a mistake to delay solids altogether. Remember: introducing foods later may increase the risk of allergy.

That’s it—it’s almost too simple. Start at 4-6 months. Start with, pretty much, whatever you’re eating, just mushed up. Let your baby enjoy many different flavors, and share the meals (and the mess!) together. Yum!

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4 Comments on “When to start solid foods, and what to start with”

  1. pedinp Says:

    This is great. Really, who are we to tell parents what is the best way to feed their babies? I always tell parents not to worry about it so much, their baby will tell them if they aren’t ready for a certain food. My Mexican parents give their babies chicken soup. And if we lived in Japan, their baby would be eating seaweed!

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  2. Megan Says:

    This is a great article to read. As you said, there is a mountain of made-up rules for baby feeding. I feel better now about giving my 4-month-old a taste of the mashed potatoes she was intently staring at.. And by all appearances very much enjoyed!

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  3. supermouse Says:

    I heard?read? that babies introduced to many different flavors would be adventurous in eating and less picky later on, so we did this with our sons. For a while, they’d eat most things we gave them including green beans and other veggies. They LOVED sweet potatoes as babies. But, as time went by, they got pickier and now, at almost 5, refuse to eat all vegetables and won’t even look at sweet potatoes. Not even sweet potato fries. That whole “offer 10 times” thing doesn’t work on them. One of them used to try new things at least, but now he doesn’t even do that.

    They aren’t terrible—they’ll happily eat simple baked or grilled chicken, they like most dairy products, and carbs of course. They would eat fruit all day if I let them. They are very small, so obesity isn’t really the issue. I don’t know how to get them interested in veggies, or other new/different foods. Do I just wait for them to get older and outgrow this? Or is there some trick that I’m unaware of? I don’t think they are malnourished or anything, I just would like them to have more variety in their diet.

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  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Here’s an article specifically about when to introduce gluten to reduce the risk of celiac disease — turns out the timing doesn’t seem to matter: http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/36/1/1.2

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