As a new parent you’re dealing with so much uncertainty, angst and confusion about pretty much everything. Feeding your baby is one of the challenges to encounter on a daily basis. Having had the pleasure of going through this learning process myself, I understand that there are frustrations about the lack of information and comprehensive guidance on this topic. That’s why I created this complete, but short, guide to baby’s first foods including a feeding-at-a-glance cheat sheet, detailed tips on feeding a baby solids and a recipe guide to get you started. Recipes are here.
Feeding Cheat Sheet
|When||What||How Much Daily|
|0 – 4 Months||breastmilk and/or formula||25-35 fl.oz. milk|
|4 – 6 Months||breastmilk and/or formula
may offer single plain foods, cooked & pureed smoothly
|25-35 fl.oz. milk
a few tsp puree
|6 – 9 Months||breastmilk and/or formula
single plain foods, cooked & pureed smoothly
> advance to mixed foods, cooked and pureed
> advance to mashed and chunky foods when ready
offer soft, small finger foods
water through sippy cup
|25-35 fl.oz. milk
1-2 oz grains
2-4 oz veggies
2-4 oz fruits
1-2 oz proteins
2-4 fl.oz. water
|9 -12 Months||breastmilk and/or formula
mixed and seasoned foods, cooked and finely chopped
> advance to soft, chopped family foods when ready
offer soft, small finger foods frequently
may try self-feeding with a spoon
water through sippy cup
|15-20 fl.oz. milk
2-4 oz grains
4-6 oz veggies
4-6 oz fruits
2-4 oz proteins
4-8 fl.oz. water
|12 -36 Months||wean off the nipple bottle
introduce full fat cow’s milk
cut-up family foods
master self-spoon-feeding by 15-18 months
|2 cups milk
3-5 oz grains
1-1.5 cups veggies
1-1.5 cups fruits
2-4 oz proteins
water as wanted
|DO||Offer Wheat, Soy, Nuts, Seafood and Eggs
If there is no history of serious food allergies in your close family, introduce allergenic foods right from the beginning. Offer all kinds of nuts and seeds such as peanuts, sesame and walnuts, yogurt and cheese of any animal, grains such as wheat, spelt, millet and barley, seafood and fish, soy and tofu, eggs, berries, herbs and spices.
|DON’T||Avoid Choking Hazards under 4 Years
Avoid popcorn, whole corn kernel, whole cherry tomato, whole grapes, whole olives, chunks of hard vegetables, hard candy, nut butter by the spoonful, whole hot dog franks.
Avoid Caffeine, Fried, Salty and Sweetened Foods
Don’t give your child soda, jello, coffee, black tea, fruit punch, too much salt, added sugar, syrups, honey and sweeteners, fried foods, gravies, processed meats.
When to start complimentary foods
- Age 4-7 months
- Sitting up with minimal support
- Demonstrating good head and neck control
- Keeping most of the food in the mouth and swallowing it
- Reaching for food off other family members’ plates
- Refusing the breast or a bottle by turning away but is still hungry
What foods to start with
- Pureed cooked meat, poultry, fish
- Ground, cooked, single-grain cereal or infant cereal with breast milk or formula
- Mashed banana and avocado
- Cooked and pureed beans, apples, pears, mangos, peaches, nectarines, plumes, prunes, apricots, carrots, peas, sweet potato, squash, zucchini, parsnips
- Breast milk as wanted, offer sips of water
- Mix breast milk or formula with the pureed food until it has a thin, liquid consistency. Gradually increase the thickness when your baby can swallow without gagging.
- Never add honey, salt or sugar to baby food for infants under 1 year
- Introduce potentially allergenic foods (eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts, walnuts, wheat and seafood) if there’s no family history of food allergies
- Introduce one new food at a time to monitor for allergic reactions such as diarrhea, rash or vomiting. Wait 3-4 days before introducing another new food to your baby.
How to start foods
- Sit up. Have your baby sit up straight in a high chair and face forward. This makes swallowing easier and choking less likely.
- Calming tone. Talk in a quiet, encouraging voice while you feed and wait for your baby to pay attention to each spoonful before you feed it.
- Read the cues. Head turning is a common cue that your baby doesn’t want to eat or is done eating. Don’t force your baby to eat if they’re crying or turning away. Your baby might not be ready or hungry.
- Give a taste. Start by dipping a little puree on your baby’s lower lip and let them lick it off. Then bring the spoon to their mouth and wait for them to open. Wait for them to close their lips and suck the food off the spoon while carefully guide the spoon out of their mouth. Don’t scrape the food off on their lip or roof of the mouth. Wait for them to swallow. It is normal for a baby to push some of the food out before swallowing, just be patient. If they don’t swallow at all, wait a few days and try again later.
- Gradually advance. Start with just a taste of the food and gradually work up to a spoonful. Then offer a few spoonful each day. Gradually increase this amount as your baby becomes more eager to eat.
- Offer finger food. As soon as your baby shows an interest in touching or holding food, allow self-feeding with finger foods. Make it a habit to place small pieces of soft foods such as cooked peas, beans, zucchini, soft fruit, noodles and pieces of bread or cheese on your baby’s tray for them to try, even if they’re not interested or don’t put the foods in their mouth yet. They just play with the food before trying to eat it and that’s not only ok, it’s how it’s supposed to be.
- Food safety. Always spoon-feed from a bowl, not from a bottle or the jar of food. If your baby is still hungry, use a clean spoon to take more food from the jar. Discard any leftovers.
- Wean slowly. When you and your child are ready start to wean them off your breast by skipping a feeding and offer a bottle of milk instead; shortening nursing time by a few minutes and follow with solids; or postponing a feeding and distracting with a different activity.
Is my Child Gagging or Choking? What Should I do?
Gagging is caused by either too much or not sufficiently chewed food. Gagging is normal and to be expected when a child begins to eat solid food. Gagging is the body’s defense mechanism against choking.
A gagging person makes noises, retching gestures or coughing and spluttering and may look uncomfortable or annoyed more than terrified. If they can make noises, the airways cannot be blocked and they are not choking.
Stay next to your child and talk to them calmly but do not try to remove the food for them. Your baby is learning to eat and gagging is part of the process. Once your baby has successfully removed the offending food you can offer a sip of water or milk.
Choking is when the child’s airways are blocked by food, liquids or objects.
A choking person is silent, may change color and will look wide eyed and very scared. They may flail their arms and legs but are not able to make a sound. If your child is making noises, they are more likely gagging and should be left to deal with the food themselves. Choking on the other hand requires immediate attention.
Under one-year olds should be held face down with their head lower than their body. Give five firms thumps on the middle of their back using the heel of your hand. Turn them over and give five jabs near the ribs. Repeat this three times. If the food does not dislodge, your baby becomes unconscious or you are concerned for any reason call 999/911.
A child over one year can have the Heimlich Maneuver performed on them. With your child sitting or standing, grasp them from behind, around their waist. Make a fist with one hand and place it thumb side onto your child’s torso between their waist and rib cage. Using the other hand, thrust your fist inwards and upwards. Repeat this motion until the food becomes dislodged. If the food does not dislodge, your baby becomes unconscious or you are concerned for any reason call 999/911.
Choking is largely avoidable by:
- Avoiding high risk foods such as grapes, olives, popcorn, cherry tomato, hard candy
- Avoiding toys that are small enough to fit through a toilet paper roll
- Never leaving a young child to eat unsupervised
- Not introducing solids under 4 months of age
- Ensuring your child eats sitting up and is not distracted (eg. by media or games)
Access the recipes for the purees pictured here.
8 oz protein + 2 cups liquid (water or low sodium broth) + 1 tsp herbs
Boiling Method: Use high-quality meat, poultry or fish and cut it into cubes. For the cooking liquid, use either water or low sodium broth for more flavor. In a medium saucepan, bring the protein, herbs and liquid to a simmer and cook for 15-30 minutes or until cooked through. With a slotted spoon, transfer the protein to a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth adding reserved broth as needed.
Roasting Method: Preheat the oven 400F. Place protein in a roasting pan. Roast for 10-15 mins (fish filet and poultry filet), 20-25 minutes (beef tenderloin) or until cooked fully through. Chop roughly and transfer to a blender. Blend until smooth adding either roasting liquid, broth, water, breastmilk or formula as needed.
1 cup canned or cooked beans + liquid as needed
Rinse canned or cooked beans thoroughly, then mash with some water, broth, breastmilk or formula until smooth. You can also mix beans into any other puree by blending. Beans are a great source of protein and are great thickening agents.
Vegetables and Potatoes
2 cups vegetables + 1 Tbsp EVOO + 1 tsp herbs
Steaming Method: Clean, peel (optional) and cut vegetables into cubes. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Place the cut-up vegetables and fresh herbs in a steamer basket and place over simmering water. Cover with a lid and steam for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Transfer vegetables and herbs to a blender and blend with oil until smooth adding the steaming liquid as needed a tablespoon at a time.
Roasting Method: Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Place cleaned vegetables on the baking sheet, drizzle with oil and herbs and roast for 15-30 minutes until tender. Transfer all to a blender and blend until smooth adding the roasting liquid, broth, water, breastmilk or formula as needed a tablespoon at a time.
2 cups ripe fruit + ¼ cup liquid + ¼ tsp spices
Mashing Method: Use this method for very soft and ripe fruit such as banana, avocado, berries, mango, melon, papaya, peach and nectarine. Clean and peel fruit. Place in a bowl and mash with a fork or masher adding liquid as needed (most likely, no liquid needed). Add spices and combine well.
Steaming Method: Use this method for harder fruit such as apples, pears, pineapple, cherry, or frozen fruit. Clean, core, peel (optional) and chop fruit. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Place the cut-up fruit and spices in a steamer basket and place over simmering water. Cover with a lid and steam for 5-10 minutes or until tender. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth adding the steaming liquid, breastmilk or formula as needed a tablespoon at a time.
Roasting Method: This is an alternative for all fruit. Just adjust the roasting time (shorter for very soft, longer for tougher fruit). Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Place cleaned and cored fruit on the baking sheet, drizzle with spices and roast for 10-15 minutes until tender. Transfer all to a blender and blend until smooth adding the roasting liquid, water, breastmilk or formula as needed a tablespoon at a time.
For the very first grains, use whole grain baby cereal and follow the package directions using either water, breastmilk or formula as liquid. Baby cereal has been cooked, dried and pulverized. So there is no need to heat it again. You could prepare your own but it is a lot of unnecessary work and you can’t really get it as smooth as the store-bought version. Ready-to-mix baby cereal is also a great option to thicken up any purees turned out too liquid.
Once your baby can handle thicker foods, prepare your own grains.
1 cup of whole grains + cooking water as directed
User only whole grains such as oats, quinoa, polenta/cornmeal, farro, wheatberries, millet, whole wheat semolina, whole wheat pasta and muesli. Cook the grains according to the directions on the package adding 5-10 minutes to the cooking time for tenderness. Transfer to a blender and blend with water, breastmilk or formula until smooth.
Yogurt and Cheese
Unsweetened whole milk yogurt, whole milk Greek yogurt, low sodium cottage cheese and cheese are great additions to any puree. There is no need to buy baby yogurt. Actually, most baby yogurts are sweetened and not ideal for your baby. If you want to add flavor, just mix yogurts with pureed fruit, cereal or vegetables. Don’t give your baby liquid cow’s milk as the best milk is still breastmilk or formula until the age of 12 months.
Nuts and Seeds
Any smooth, unsweetened, unsalted nut or seed butters can be mixed into cereal, fruit or vegetable purees. You can also use nut milks as pureeing liquids. You can also add any nuts and seeds to purees by soaking the plain, unprocessed nuts/seeds for a few hours or overnight in water. Then drain and puree with the fruit, vegetables or cereal.
Almost all purees can be frozen for storage. Just pour them into 1oz ice cube trays, freeze overnight, turn them out and store in labeled freezer bags in the back of your freezer for up to a month. When needed, microwave in increments of 20 seconds and stir well to avoid hot spots. Use up defrosted purees within 24 hours. Do not refreeze foods. Prepared and not frozen purees last in the fridge for up to 48 hours.
Guide on Food Texture
1. Single Foods, Pureed Smoothly
The very first foods to introduce should be single foods, without seasoning that are pureed very smoothly. They should be runny like a thin smoothie. Introduce one new food at a time and wait 3-4 days before introducing a new one.
2. Mixed Foods, Pureed Smoothly
Any single food your baby ate without reactions (such as rash, diarrhea, vomiting, or swelling) can be given as a mixed food. You can start mixing ingredients as soon as the single components have been tolerated. You can also start adding mild seasonings, herbs, spices and oils at this stage.
3. Mixed Foods, Thicker Purees
Once your baby swallows the smoothly pureed foods without effort (or gagging, coughing and pushing back out) you can start offer him thicker purees. Just use less liquid or add more cereal to your purees. Oatmeal, grits and hot cereal is the consistency you’re shooting for at this stage.
4. Chunky Purees
Once your baby tolerates thicker purees, advance to chunky ones. Either reserve about 1/4 of the food before pureeing. Puree the rest as usual. Chop up reserved food in pea-sized pieces and stir into the rest. Another way is to add small grains such as rice, wheatberries, farro, polenta/cornmeal, semolina, quinoa or oats to your puree after blending.
You can start offering finger foods right when you start purees. Use very soft, cooked, pea-sized pieces of vegetables, fruit, protein, beans or cheese. Lay them on the tray before your baby. Let them explore and play with it. Don’t put them in their mouth as that’s a choking hazard. Your baby will explore the foods first with their fingers and smell them without actually putting them in their mouth. That’s an important process. Don’t interrupt this exploration, even though it’s very messy. Once your baby feels comfortable with the foods offered, they will begin putting them in their mouth. In the beginning, there will be some coughing and gagging. That’s totally normal (see the section about gagging above). They will master the self-feeding skill in their own time, all you should be doing is keep offering different foods and watch closely. If your baby is not interested at all or won’t put the foods in their mouth, try a different food the next day. They might not like the texture, color or smell of the food.
Once your baby mastered feeding himself with finger foods, you can start to chop up whatever foods you’re having and let them feed themselves under supervision.
Every child develops in their own pace. Some babies are very eager to transition to solids and feed themselves. Some babies are not interested at all for a long time. It is ok either way. Don’t try to rush or delay the process. The best approach is to offer your child different foods of different texture, color and temperature again and again. Whether they’re only tasting the food, just looking at it, playing with it or gulping it down, they need to learn how to feed themselves in their own pace. Watch them and take lots of pictures!