What are the Best First Baby Foods and When to Start

Published on April 22nd, 2021

For the first few months of life, your child enjoys breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Chez Formula or Breast Milk Bistro. While these five-star establishments have everything a baby needs at the start of life’s journey, eventually, it’s time to check out what else the culinary world of baby food has to offer. After all, one of the most rewarding parts of parenting is watching your child’s adorable reaction to his first bite of a soon-to-be favorite food!

But before their first bite of bacon mac and cheese or chicken satay, babies have to start with foods that are easy to eat and have tons of nutrients to ensure healthy growth and wellness. 

When do babies start eating baby food?  

Babies don’t pop out of the womb requesting a steak medium rare—they start out with liquids and work their way up to bigger bites. But it can be hard to know exactly when your child is ready to try their first real foods.

On average, babies are ready to try solid foods at around 4-6 months of age

However, when it comes to determining if your child is ready for her first food, it’s less important to look at the calendar and more important to check in with your child. 

Your child might be ready for solid foods if… 

  • Your child can sit upright and hold her head – When your child is still brand new, “Cradle the head!” is a mantra you repeat for any novice baby-holding friends or family. When your baby can sit upright and hold up her head, it means she might be ready to add solid foods to her diet. Why? If you’ve ever experimented with eating snacks while lying down on the couch, you know that sitting up can make all the difference between an easy digestive flow and choking on popcorn. In the same vein, when a baby can sit upright on her own and hold up her head, food can pass easily through the esophagus—the body’s food tube—and into the stomach.
  • Your child seems particularly interested in watching her parents eat – As your child grows, you’ll see that the “monkey see, monkey do” instinct of trying to emulate loved ones can start with meal time activities. If your child is transfixed by watching you and your partner lunch, it might mean your cute little monkey is ready to give solid foods a try!
  • Your child is still hungry after getting a full day’s eats – When it comes to eating, your baby’s amazing body knows what it needs. For the first few months of life, all your baby will need to feel full and happy is about 8-10 breastfeeding sessions or about 32 ounces of formula. But when a full day of feeding doesn’t seem to satiate your child, it could be a good time to try upgrading the menu with new food items. Introducing solid foods at around 4-6 months of age helps ensure proper oral motor function development, improve iron intake (especially for breast-feeding babies), and promote proper growth since calorie needs will only continue to grow as your little one grows. 
  • Your child doesn’t automatically let food drop out of her mouth – When babies aren’t ready for solid foods, you may zooom airplane-spoon the food into her mouth and… watch as it plops right out. Don’t worry—this isn’t a critique of your cooking or airplane-spoon skills. Food dropping out of a baby’s  mouth is actually a tongue-thrust reflex ingrained in your baby’s brain. This helpful instinct prevents your child from keeping things (like Legos, spare change, or small jewelry) in her mouth and choking on them. The swallow reflex is something that’s learned over time with a lot of practice through formula and breast milk. When the tongue-thrust reflex stops, it’s a sign that your baby is ready to swallow solid food rather than choke.

A Few Bites at a Time: A Note on How to Introduce Solid Foods to Your Baby 

When your child starts checking off these solid food-ready boxes, that doesn’t mean she’ll be going cold turkey from breast milk or formula. As you introduce new foods to your baby’s plate, experts advise that breast milk and formula continue to be the main source of nutrients and nourishment for your child for three months after your child takes her first “bite.”

Try supplementing regular formula or breast milk feeding sessions with 2-3 “meals” of solid foods throughout the day – just a few ounces of solid foods will be plenty to start getting your little one used to the new cuisine. This practice is called complementary feeding, and it can help ensure your child is getting proper nourishment while having plenty of experimentation time with her soon-to-be favorite foods. 

By about the third month of complementary feeding schedules, you may notice your little one reaching for more solid foods and drinking less breast milk or formula. This means your child is getting the hang of eating solid foods, and you can increase the solid food meals and decrease the formula or breast milk feedings gradually—but experts advise keeping breast milk or formula on the menu until your baby is at least 12 months old.  

The Best First Baby Foods 

If your child is sitting up like a champ, hungry after the usual feedings, and watching you go to town on a cheeseburger with a wistful look in his eye, it might be time to introduce solid foods to your child’s diet. The best first baby foods should be chosen thoughtfully to ensure your child starts out this delicious journey with nutritious bites. 

Iron-Rich Foods for Your Iron Baby 

As you’re deciding which item to add to your baby’s menu, keep in mind a key nutrient your baby’s body needs at this stage more than ever—iron. Babies are born with a reserve of iron to help fuel brain and body growth. However, that reserve begins to deplete just six months after birth.

To ensure your child is becoming a bonafide Iron Baby, she’ll need 11 milligrams of iron today for normal growth and development.

There are two kinds of iron to consider:

  • Heme iron: which is easily absorbed and found in meat, fish, and poultry.
  • Non-heme iron:  which is found in fortified rice cereal, beans, lentils, leafy greens, lentils, enriched pasta, and dried fruit. This kind of iron can be harder for your baby’s body to absorb and use as she grows.

Heme iron and non-heme iron are both good for your baby’s body—they just differ in their ability to be absorbed. Pediatricians used to recommend that parents start their children with single-grain iron-fortified baby cereals softened with breast milk or formula. However, fortified baby cereals contain high amounts of non-heme iron that’s not as easy to absorb. Although the nutritional information of a baby cereal product may claim to provide a certain amount of iron, it’s not guaranteed all that iron is being properly absorbed.

That’s why more and more infant nutrition experts recommend offering your child a mix of heme iron and non-heme iron rich food. 

Try mixing infant formula or breast milk with heme iron-rich healthy food options such as:

  • Ground beef cooked in small pieces and mixed with breast milk or formula
  • Dark poultry cooked and pureed with water or bone broth
  • Egg yolks smashed with breast milk, formula, avocado, or yogurt
  • Scrambled eggs

Sources of non-heme iron include:

  • Baby cereal made from oats, quinoa, or barley prepared with breast milk or formula
  • Pureed beans like chickpeas
  • Lentils cooked to an oatmeal-like consistency 
  • Pasta made from enriched wheat flour, cooked way past al dente

Your Cutie Craves Vitamin C 

If your child’s meals contain high amounts of non-heme iron, there’s one ingredient that can help ensure maximum iron absorption—vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption by capturing non-heme iron and storing it in a form that’s much more easily absorbed by the body.

Your child should be getting 40 milligrams of vitamin C from ages 0-6 months and then 50 milligrams from 6-12 months. Breast milk and formula offer plenty of vitamin C (in fact, there’s about 12 milligrams of vitamin C in just one cup of breast milk), but as you diversify your child’s meals, it can help to have an extra dose of vitamin C to help supplement your child’s iron absorption. You can purchase commercial baby food from the grocery store with these ingredients or buy the ingredients raw to puree and mix them with breastmilk or formula for a healthy dose of vitamin C:

  • Spinach
  • Butternut squash
  • Bell peppers
  • Peas
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi

You might be wondering, “Hey, what about oranges? Aren’t they full of vitamin C?” While citrus fruits are delicious sources of this key vitamin, your baby’s body isn’t quite ready for the fruit’s high acid content (yet). Your child can start munching on tangerines, grapefruits, and orange slices around her first birthday.

As an added tip, it might help to start your baby with veggies rather than fruit. Helping your child get used to spinach, carrots, and peas now before she’s tasted sweeter foods like fruit can spur her to acquire a taste for these nutritious vegetables early. Once your child is a veggie-eating all-star, the sweeter fruits will be as easy as pie (a fruit pie, of course!). If you are wondering, “Do babies have taste buds?”, we are here to help! Check out our blog to learn more about how babies develop a sense of taste.  

A+ First Baby Foods With Tons of Vitamin A 

Vitamin A is instrumental in your baby’s ocular development and immune system support. But which vitamin A foods are the best first foods for your baby? 

  • Carrots are beloved by pediatricians for their high amounts of vitamin A. Babies love carrots because they’re one of the sweetest veggies. You can find tons of carrots in baby food puree at the grocery store (which comes in jars ideal for babies just getting into the solid food game, save the pouches for when your little one becomes an on-the-go toddler). Or, you can cook fresh carrots and blend them up for a delicious dose of vitamin A.
  • Pumpkin may jumpstart your child’s love for seasonal pumpkiny treats, but they’ll definitely ensure proper amounts of vitamin A. Try pureeing or mashing cooked pumpkin for your little one’s first bites.
  • Cooked and mashed sweet potatoes are not only high in vitamin C but come backed with delicious vitamin A.

Did you notice a lot of orange foods (the color, not the citrus) on this list? That’s because orange-colored fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. So when in doubt, always reach for orange colored fruits and veggies for vitamin A. 

Fuel Your Baby’s Brain Development with Folate 

You probably remember your pregnancy care provider reminding you to include plenty of sources of folate (or folic acid) in your diet to ensure healthy neural development for your baby. Even after pregnancy, your baby’s body still needs lots of folate to ensure healthy cell growth.

From ages 6-12 months, your baby will need 80 mcg of folate every day. A few yummy first foods for baby that are packed with folate:

  • Blended spinach
  • Mashed avocado
  • Boiled and blended black-eyed peas
  • Pureed mustard greens 
  • Pureed green peas
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Pureed strawberries
  • Blended bananas

Tips for A Baby’s First Foods 

Giving your child her first taste of food can be an exciting (and, quite frankly, super cute and messy) process. As you’re practicing your choo-choo train sound effects and keeping the camera ready for reaction videos, a few additional tricks can help your baby savor every moment of this brave new food world.

  • Go low and slow – Try introducing solid foods to your child gradually. Start the meal with breast milk or formula, then offer just half a spoonful of one kind of food. Trying a small amount of one food at a time will pinpoint specific food allergies early without putting your child at too much risk of a big allergic reaction. It can help to start your baby with foods that your family has no history of allergy to. Also, keep in mind, when a baby starts off eating their first foods, they probably won’t eat more than an ounce or two in one sitting. Why? A baby’s stomach is pretty small! At six months, it can only hold about 7-8 ounces at a time. Plus, after months of liquids, bigger solid bites will sit heavier in your child’s stomach and might cause some discomfort if she goes to town on the scrambled eggs.
  • Start with breakfast – When it comes to first foods, timing is everything. Your baby is hungriest first thing in the morning and is more likely to gobble up a new treat.
  • Try foods more than once – Foods that aren’t breast milk or formula are a new experience for your child, so it may take some getting used to. Try new foods more than once. You might be surprised to discover the sweet potato your child spat out is the only thing she’ll eat a few days later!
  • Mix up the food presentation – Nope, we’re not talking about garnish or plating. Your child might just have certain preferences for different textures or flavors. For example, your baby might love scrambled eggs with avocados over boiled and mashed egg yolks. Or, she may give the “yucky” face at bananas unless they’re blended into a breastmilk smoothie. Get creative, and you’ll be surprised at what you discover!
  • Avoid potentially harmful foods – Not all foods are perfect for a baby’s first bite. Make sure you stay clear of the following foods:
    • Small foods that pose choking hazards like nuts, seeds, raisins, hard raw veggies, popcorn, hot dogs, and hard candy. Save these small bites for when a kid is around 4 years old, when kids have had a bit of time to learn to chew and grind with their molars. 
    • Honey can sometimes cause a disease called botulism in babies. While scientists are still figuring out the why, some babies can get botulism when spores from certain bacteria in honey gets into their digestive tract and produces a toxin that can lead to botulism.
    • Cow’s milk which is hard for your baby to digest in raw form until she’s about 1 year old

Notice something that’s not on the no-no list? Nut butters! The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says that parents can introduce peanut butter and other nut butters to babies, but only after they’ve already started solid foods (so about 6-8 months).

  • Know that not every baby will have the same nutritional needs – While experts recommend certain amounts of vitamins for growing children, not every baby is built quite the same. In fact, some kids are genetically predisposed to needing more of a certain kind of vitamin to ensure healthy growth.

But how do you know if your child will need a little more love and care in her diet? SneakPeek Traits. 

Nourishing Your Child with a Little Help from SneakPeek Traits 

Your baby’s first taste of food is an amazing (and adorable) milestone. It’s the start of a lifelong journey of nutrition, growth, and wellness. And with SneakPeek Traits, you can ensure each bite paves the way for optimal health.  You can also find out your baby’s gender months earlier than other methods with the SneakPeek Gender Prediction Test.

Our DNA tests can give you a look into your child’s nutritional profile as predicted by genetics. You can learn if your child is likely to need more of 7 of the body’s most vital nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, Vitamin D and folate. Each DNA nutrition report comes with personalized insight into your child’s unique genetic code as well as delicious recipes for his nutritional needs! To learn more about this topic, check out our blog about Vitamin D deficiency in babies.

Bring your child into a whole new world of personalized nourishment with SneakPeek Traits!

Sources:

CDC. When, What, and How to Introduce Solid Foods. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/when-to-introduce-solid-foods.html

Healthline. Vitamin C for Babies: Safety, Efficacy, and Dosage. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-c-for-babies#food-sources

SF Gate. Benefits of Carrots for Infants. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-carrots-infants-5058.html

Today’s Parent. 7 First Foods to Give Your Baby That Are Better Than Rice Cereal. https://www.todaysparent.com/baby/baby-food/first-foods-to-give-your-baby-that-are-better-than-rice-cereal/

VeryWell Family. Folate Rich Foods for Pregnant Women and Infants. https://www.verywellfamily.com/folate-folate-rich-foods-2633952

Stanford Children’s Health. Folic Acid for a Healthy Baby. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=folic-acid-for-a-healthy-baby-134-2

Parents. Superfood List for Babies and Toddlers. https://www.parents.com/recipes/a-superfood-list-for-babies-and-toddlers/

Healthline. Can Babies Eat Oranges: What Parents Need to Know. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/babies-eat-oranges

VeryWell Family. How to Introduce Solid Foods While Breast Feeding. https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-to-introduce-solid-foods-while-breastfeeding-431799

Unity Point. Top 10 Choking Hazards for Babies & Toddlers. https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=3d90ab5a-1379-4a24-8e6c-158337277a48

CDC. Botulism Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/botulism/prevention.html#:~:text=Infant%20botulism,-Health%20Alert&text=For%20reasons%20we%20do%20not,year%20of%20age%20and%20older.

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SneakPeek aims to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information to help our readers make informed decisions regarding their health before, during, and after pregnancy. This article was written based upon trusted scientific research studies and/or articles. Credible information sources for this article are cited and hyperlinked.

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