This is a guest post from my sister-in-law, Victoria Alberini. Victoria is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist and parent to two children.
When my son turned four months old he began staring longingly at me as I frantically shoveled bites of food into my mouth between laundry and diaper changes. When our pediatrician gave us the go-ahead to begin feeding him solids at around 18 weeks, I set out to understand every last detail about how to best approach this new and exciting phase.
The things that were most important to me were:
3. Creating a non-picky eater
Like with most things, Instagram had already begun successfully targeting me, in this case with hipster baby food ads that boasted all natural, organic ingredients, packaged in these cute glass jars that looked delectable. But when I dug into the price tag, it felt insane (I mean, I was already paying a boatload for his formula!). So I hit up the library and found some cookbooks for baby, which led me to feel comfortable making his food at home for very, very little money (seriously, one 70 cent sweet potato can feed my kid for like a week).
Below is my short-list (ok, long list) of insight that helped us create a thriving now-9 month old who loves veggies and is open to eating pretty much anything we toss his way. Much of the below stems from conversations with my favorite pediatrician, but this list is an amalgamation of info I gleaned from books, talking to other parents and long-time nannies, online forums, and my own research.
- Brush up on your infant CPR and choking training. YouTube has some great resources. Choking is super scary, and you’ll undoubtedly have many moments where you think “oh $*!t it’s happening,” and then they’ll smile and moan for more food, and you’ll tell them “Damnit child, you just took another year off my life.” (No? Just me? Ok….)
- Do NOT give babies honey until they turn 1. Honey can contain botulism which is incredibly dangerous for infants. Use maple syrup if you want to sweeten things – low glycemic index and it’s all natural. But you truly don’t need to sweeten things.
- Get a baby food maker. I’ve made food in my mom’s chef-ready kitchen with all her amazing appliances, and it was a ton of work (not to mention cleanup). Our baby food maker takes all the headache out. It steams to keep in the nutrients (versus boiling), auto-shuts off so I don’t have to remember to when I’m running around after baby, and it purees all in the same compartment meaning very little cleaning. It’s the perfect size too – no need to go bigger.
- Baby is ready to start solids anywhere from 4-6 months old, whenever they show signs of interest in the food you’re eating, can hold their head up, and are starting to put toys in their mouth.
- Formula or breastmilk should still be about 80-90% of their diet until they turn 1. Solids are more for experimenting with flavors and textures than for sustenance until then.
- Best first foods for baby are:
- Rice cereal (we love Earth’s Best Organic Brown Rice cereal mixed with some breastmilk or formula until it’s a loose paste)
- Yams or sweet potatoes, steamed and pureed
- Avocadoes, raw, mashed
- Bananas, raw, mashed (we avoided this until later, see below note about fruit)
- After the above test of spoon feeding, start baby exclusively on veggies for a couple months to ensure they keep an open mind to them. Introducing fruit before you’ve shown them lots of veggies is like offering dessert before dinner; it’s tough to then train their taste buds to enjoy less sweet foods.
- In the first month or so, try each new food for 3 days before introducing the next new food so that you can single-out any adverse reactions.
- Try each food at least 10 times before deeming it something baby “doesn’t like.” Usually it’s just the newness of a texture or taste that is off-putting for the first couple tries, not a true dislike. Try it again in a few days to a week. If you start to avoid certain foods, it likely will become a true dislike.
- Once baby has been introduced to various types of foods, try to include something green in every solids meal. Some ideas:
- Green beans
- Sugar snap peas
- Kale and Spinach (probably best for 8 months+ for digestibility)
- In the first couple months, cook everything (even fruit if you’re giving them fruit). It will kill any foodborne bacteria and be easier to digest.
- Yogurt is totally fine for babies 6 months+, but straight cow’s milk is too tough on their digestive tract and can cause bleeding. I found this confusing, so rest assured, cow’s, sheeps, and greek yogurt are all great in small doses.
- Bone broth is an awesome way (albeit hipster way) to inject some flavor and nutrients into baby’s food from day one of solids. Salt and butter are also totally fine, just go easy. IMO, their food should taste good!
- Popsicles are an amazing teething tool. Around 8 months+ when they have the motor skills to hold one and are in the midst of teething hell, a pureed smoothie popsicle is a godsend. Put a Tbsp of greek yogurt in for protein and creaminess.
- Keep organic pureed prunes on-hand for whenever baby gets a little constipated. We keep the pouches in the fridge after opening, since a little goes a long way…1-2 Tbsp should do the trick.
- Though I make almost all of my baby’s food, sometimes you’re out and you really need an easy meal. For this, I shop the grocery aisles for the convenient pouches and look for any organic ones on sale that have less than 8g of sugar and a little protein (greek yogurt, beans, lentils, turkey, etc.). Beware, many have upwards of 18-20g of sugar…totally unnecessary.
- Take photos of the ingredients in the pouches at the grocery store to use as inspo for creating your own purees. It can be hard to get creative and this will give you license to experiment
- Recent studies on peanut butter allergies have found that the sooner babies are introduced the better. Just wait until they’ve mastered eating from a spoon since it’s very viscous/fatty and can thus cause gagging. Try stirring some into oatmeal or rice cereal, or into a mashed banana.
- Eggs are a great nutritious source of protein, just know that some babies are allergic to the whites, so start with yolks. You can soft boil eggs and extract the yolk to stir it into oatmeal, rice cereal, yogurt, etc. Scrambled eggs are also a great early food once you know they’re ok with the whites.
- Warm spices and chilis are perfectly fine to give to babies that have mastered eating purees! Babies in India eat spicy food from day 1. Here’s a list of things you can sprinkle lightly into their food to help them explore new flavors (just spike a few Tbsp of puree at a time so you don’t ruin a whole batch of sweet potato on something the kid isn’t into this week):
- Cinnamon (note: some babies have allergies and develop a mild rash)
- Garam masala (contains cinnamon, see above)
- Japaleño (go easy, of course, and no seeds)
- Black pepper
- Chili powder
- Basil/pesto (like adults, babies will go nuts for this. Who doesn’t love pesto?!)
- Some of the most nutritious things to feed babies who have mastered basic purees are:
- Lean animal protein (lamb is the easiest to digest)
- Salmon (great fats, omegas, protein, and very low mercury)
- Black beans and chickpeas (high protein, great fiber, easy to puree, and the neutral taste makes space to experiment with flavors and spices)
- Green veggies! (have I stressed this enough yet?)