The Ultimate Guide to Starting Solids

The Ultimate Guide to Starting Solids

Welcome to the wonderful world of food! The Ultimate Guide to Starting Solids is helpful for families who are meat-eaters, vegetarian, vegan and everything in-between.

This is an incredible milestone in both you and your babe’s life. When starting out, it might seem pretty intimidating and scary at first. But you’ll soon find out that having your little one discover different textures, smells, tastes and flavours is so fun and really entertaining for you to watch!

As a holistic nutritional consultant with over 10 years in the health and nutrition industry and mama to a 20-month-old rascal named Sage, I’m going to share with you some of the best ways to make food fun.

Signs of Readiness (as a parent)

Before we talk about babe, let’s talk about your readiness.  There’s a lot of information out there on ‘the best way to feed’ your babe, but ultimately, it’s all about what works for you and your family.  However, I can’t stress enough the importance of taking a baby CPR and choking class, whether it be online or in person.  It’s heart-stopping scary to see your child choking.  Preparing yourself with the skills to act fast and knowledge of what to do can take an incredible amount of stress away from feedings.

Is My Baby Ready for Solids?

How do you know when your little on is ready to start solids?  It’s not all about that 6-month mark. Some babies are ready (a little bit) sooner, and others later than 6 months.  Development of the digestive system is the number one determining factor of readiness for food.  But how do you know when that is?  

Research shows that for a full-term baby, it’s around the 6-month mark when their tummy can start handling foods.  Introducing solids before their little digestive system is ready is linked with health risks like food sensitivities/allergies, and increased illness.

Look at the signs of readiness as a whole, not just one or two points to see if your babe is really ready for solids

Please note that babe’s weight is not listed as a sign of readiness. Evidence shows that babies who are over or underweight are not a determining factor for introducing foods early.  If your babe is struggling with their weight before 6 months and it’s causing concern, seek professional help from a pediatric nutritionist/dietician.

Developing a Healthy Relationship with Food

The best thing you can do for your little one is to nurture a good relationship with food for life and not rush or force them. Look at the signs of readiness as a whole, not just one or two things.  The signs of readiness include:

  • Baby is nearing or around the 6 – 8-month mark.
  • Baby is able to sit well, unsupported with their head up.
  • Baby has showed interest (looking, watching, grabbing, (or straight up snatching) food while you eat.
  • Baby is ready and willing to chew.
  • Baby can pick things up with their fingers and thumb, a.k.a “pincer” grasp is developing.
  • Baby has lost their tongue-thrust reflex (stops pushing solids out with his tongue when offered).

Prepare for a Mess

I repeat, prepare for a mess, a BIG mess!  Your babe is going to get down and dirty with food. That includes flinging, throwing, dropping, wiping and smashing food in places you’ve never thought possible.  I recommend getting a bib that catches spills made from easy-to-clean silicone material like this one and using either newspapers (compostable) or a shower curtain below their high chair for easy clean ups.  Suction bowls and plates are your best friend to help avoid spills.  The suction bowls and plates can be found to your style and color on Amazon.

How to Introduce Solids to Your Baby

If you’re breastfeeding, nurse your babe before introducing solids.  Breastmilk contains protective nutrients, probiotics and enzymes that will help prepare your babe’s tummy for new foods. It’s okay to breastfeed them after meals too!

  • Let baby lead the way and be realistic with your expectations.  
  • Not every food will be something your babe wants or likes. It’s common for littles to love a food one day and want nothing to do with it the next.  
  • Be patient and make extra time for feedings. 
  • Babies learn by using all of their senses, allow them to play with their food and discover the textures, tastes, sensations and smells.
  • Have fun!  Get silly with the foods, no one is judging you – release that inner playful kid.  Talk about the foods you’re eating, describe them to your babe as they eat.  Are blueberries squishy? Squeeze and smush them yourself!  Make noises and sound effects.  “Wow!  When you drop butternut squash puree on the ground it sure makes a big splat!”

Which Foods Do I Introduce to My Baby First?

The best foods to start feeding your babe are vegetables.  While it may be tempting to start off with fruit because they taste sweet and they’re more likely to enjoy it, this may make it more difficult to get them to expand their flavour palette and enjoy foods and flavors that aren’t higher in sugar.  Root veggies like butternut squash and yams, and fatty, rich avocados are great beginner foods that are a little more on the sweeter side.  They are also loaded with nutrients like vitamin C, beta carotene and good fats that help with brain, eye and nervous system development.  Broccoli and cauliflower are more on the bitter side, but high in calcium and phosphorus to help support bone and muscle development, steam them to soften or puree to cut the bitter taste.

How to Tell if My Baby Isn’t Tolerating Food?

Introduce one food per week and monitor how your little one reacts over the few days.  Some common signs a baby is not tolerating a food well include; refusal to eat, rashes, bum redness, constipation or diarrhea. 

Baby Food Doesn’t Have to be Bland and Boring!

Experiment with herbs and spices!  Herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano and mint are great additions to first foods like butternut squash, sweet potatoes, peas, and broccoli.  Spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and curry pair amazingly with pears, baked bananas and cauliflower.  Adding herbs and spices broaden your babe’s palette, punch up flavors and add an extra dose of health benefits in just a pinch.  For dried/fresh herbs, use ¼ – ½ tsp and for spices, use no more than 1/8 tsp for every 3 cups of pureed food.

How to Make Your Baby Food More Nutritious

Add your breastmilk to their foods (use your breastmilk in place of water for recipes) to help ease the transition between breastmilk and solids. A cool way to incorporate your breastmilk is to have it freeze dried.  Booby Food is a service for mamas based in Calgary, they pick up your frozen breastmilk and freeze dry it into a shelf stable, travel friendly powder. You can sprinkle in your breastmilk to any meal whether you’re pureeing, or baby led weaning to make sure they keep getting the protective and health benefits of breastmilk.  Freeze dried breastmilk is great because adding it to your babe’s food it won’t make it soupy, runny or liquidy.

Baby Led or Purees?

This brings us to the parental debate over baby led weaning or pureed foods.  I’ll start by saying first and foremost, whichever works for your family is best!  Baby Led Weaning became a trend in the early 2000s. Some parents found it easier and faster to feed their babe the foods the whole family was eating instead of making prepared pureed foods.  While BLW is great for helping babes discover, play, interact and learn about food while using their senses and promoting tactile development, it’s not for every family.  

Exclusive Baby Led Weaning Concerns

A major concern with exclusive BLW is that babe will not be getting enough nutritious foods.  Research shows there is a void of data indicating BLW is more nutritious than pureed foods. More and more health professionals are warning parents about BLW because many families eat foods that are not suitable for baby’s digestive system; high in sodium, (bad) fats, additives and preservatives.  Children 5 and under are the most at risk for malnutrition and the foods we feed them now lays the foundation for health for years to come.

Benefits of Pureed Foods

Homemade purees offer a fresh, nutrient dense and easy to feed meal for babes.  There’s so many different flavor combinations and delicious recipes that even parents like to eat.  Purees are great to serve semi-frozen to help with teething or warmed up to soothe an upset tummy.  The risk for choking when using purees is greatly reduced and they’re easily transportable for on-the-go feeds.  As you can tell, I’m a big, big fan of using purees for the bulk of babe’s first foods.

Making homemade purees while babe is watching creates a more interactive experience and shows how food is prepared and served.  Spending a couple hours making purees one day can supply you with over a month of meals, how’s that for fast and easy.

Benefits of (non-exclusive) Baby Led Weaning

What I do LOVE about BLW is the tactile experience with pinching, grasping, squishing and chewing.  This is also baby’s first-time sensing control of something.  As parents, we decide pretty much everything in their life up to this point, but now it’s baby’s turn to say yes or no.

How to Introduce Allergenic Foods to Your Baby

Food sensitivities and allergies can develop if foods are introduced before babe’s digestive system is ready (too early).  This is why it’s crucial to look at the signs of readiness as a whole

New Guidelines for Introducing Allergenic Foods

The Canadian Pediatric Society, Food Allergy Canada and Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology have updated their recommendations for introducing allergenic foods to babes.  They recommend to actively offer these foods after 6 months (never before 4 months) in baby-friendly ways like cooked eggs and nut butters.  These recommendations are for low and high allergenic risk babies.  High allergenic risk babies are those who have had a pre-existing allergenic condition, eczema and/or have an immediate family member with allergies, eczema, hay fever or asthma.

When introducing allergenic foods, start small and monitor any reactions.  Continue feeding regularly if no reactions occur and introduce only one of these foods per week.  Additionally, you can mix or sprinkle your breastmilk or freeze-dried breastmilk (Booby Food) with these high allergenic foods.  Breastmilk, both liquid and freeze dried, contains enzymes and immune protecting antibodies which help protect your babe’s intestines and prevent leaky gut syndrome, food sensitivities and allergies. 

The top allergenic foods are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, sesame, soy and wheat. 

Inspiration & Support

I really find that visuals and personal experiences help to show you what expectations are and where reality lies.  There are a few awesome Instagram accounts I’d like to introduce you to for some great inspiration, recipes, tips and tricks!  These accounts also do an incredible job at showing you how much food was served and how much food was actually eaten by babe.  Check out these accounts for creative ideas and support on your food journey with babe, @feedinglittles and @babyfoode.

Additional References

For more information, studies and resources, check out some of the below sites.

Food Acceptance and Nutrition in Infants and Young Children (H Coulthard, Section Editor)

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