Your baby will be ready to expand his diet beyond breast milk or formula when she has reached some key developmental markers. Those usually include being able to sit up with support, holding her neck upright and steady, having good head control, and doubling her birth weight. You might notice that as your baby approaches 4 to 6 months she’s more interested in reaching out and grabbing the food that you’re eating.
Since most babies lose the tongue-thrust reflex (when infants push their tongue against the roof of their mouth when a spoon is inserted) at about 4 months, you’ll find it easier to spoon-feed her. The process might take a while; introducing a variety of solid foods is a gradual process.
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What Food to Feed When
6 to 7 months
Single-grain cereals; puréed or mashed fruit and vegetables.
9 to 12 months
Soft foods like well-cooked pasta and finely chopped meat or poultry.
One Year and Older
After consulting with your pediatrician, you can introduce cow’s milk.
There is an increasing concern in the pediatric and public-health communities about childhood obesity and its role in the early onset of diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and other conditions. But it’s important to provide babies and toddlers with age-appropriate food that supplies the nutrition they need as they grow.
One reason that pediatricians want you to introduce new foods gradually, generally one at a time, is to make it easier to identify anything that might trigger an allergy in your child. Common allergens are eggs, peanuts, cow’s milk, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. But 80 to 90 percent of the children allergic to eggs, milk, wheat, and soy outgrow the condition by the time they’re 5.
How to Introduce Solid Foods
Follow your pediatrician’s guidelines about which foods to introduce to your baby. The idea is to go slowly. Have your baby sit as upright as possible, strapped into a bouncer seat, perhaps, or a high chair. Your pediatrician might suggest you start with infant cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. It should be smooth and runny, with no lumps. Use a baby spoon with a small, oval bowl and no hard edges, to bring the food to his mouth. (Your baby probably won’t have teeth yet, and her gums might be sensitive.)
Commercial makers of baby food in jars usually divide their product lines into three stages: beginner (stage 1), intermediate (stage 2), and toddler (stage 3 and/or stage 4). It also comes in traditional and organic versions.
Here are the types of baby food to consider for your growing child.
Stage 1 Foods
Stage 1 foods are made for babies just starting on solids. They’re usually a single ingredient, puréed for easy swallowing. Vegetables include peas, carrots, green beans, squash, and butternut squash. Fruits include apples, bananas, peaches, pears, and prunes. This stage has the plainest formulations, without sauces or additional flavorings.
Stage 2 Foods
These have a smooth texture but are not as finely puréed as beginner foods. Intermediate (stage 2) foods are for more experienced eaters, about 7 to 8 months old. At this point, the choices are more interesting because two or more ingredients may be combined to improve taste and offer new textures, such as vegetables and quinoa or chicken and noodles—and you don’t have to open two jars. Remember to continue to provide fluids in the form of breast milk or formula as well.
Stage 3 Foods
They’re for children about 7 to 9 months and older—babies who are learning to chew and mash their food with their gums or early teeth. At this stage, chunkier textures and larger portions can help keep up with growing appetites. By the time your child is old enough for this stage, you might decide to simply give her table food that’s mashed or cut up for easy chewing and swallowing. Infant juices are available.
The baby food in the supermarket might share shelf space with juices marketed for babies 6 months and older. Remember, there’s no reason to offer juice to babies younger than one year.
In addition to basic juices, such as apple and white grape, you’ll also see combinations that contain yogurt or are fruit-vegetable blends. All juices for babies have added vitamin C; some also have added calcium. Too much juice can cause diarrhea and gas, and contribute to tooth decay.
Once your baby graduates to cow’s milk at about the 1-year mark, keep in mind that juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D isn’t an equivalent substitute.
Milk has a whole package of nutrients, including riboflavin, phosphorus, zinc, and essential amino acids that help form strong bones; fortified juice doesn’t. And don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice or milk because it can lead to tooth decay.
Homemade Baby Food
Except for infant cereals, you can make baby food yourself from scratch. All you need is a fork to mash bananas, for example. You can process fibrous foods or meat in a baby-food grinder (found in baby stores), food processor, or blender. Before preparing food, always wash your hands thoroughly. Wash fruits and vegetables as well.
Children could be at risk of greater exposure to the toxins sometimes found in nonorganic food because fruit and vegetables in baby food are often condensed, a process that potentially concentrates pesticide residues. Their developing immune, central nervous, and hormonal systems might be especially vulnerable to damage from those toxic chemicals.
Find Organic Baby Food for Less
Organic food might cost more, though they often go on sale like everything else. Try these thrifty tips to save:
Check several local grocery stores to find the lowest prices on frequently purchased organic food. Also, stock up on sale items. Shop seasonally, since fresh organic produce, like conventional, is often less expensive in season.
Many communities now have regular farmers markets, even indoor ones. Check www.localharvest.org for organic growers and market listings.
Buy in Bulk
Some organic baby food lines sell packs of 12 4-ounce jars at a savings of a few cents a jar over single-jar purchases. Stock up when they go on sale and you can save even more.