Introducing solids: which foods are best to start with?

So you’ve determined that your baby is ready to start solids, but what do you give them first? In the past, people used to use cereal, fruit, vegetables and meat/fish as the preferred “order” in which to introduce solids, but new Health Canada recommendations actually suggest iron-fortified cereal and meats as first foods, because they are excellent sources of iron. For breast fed babies in particular, iron becomes an important nutrient at about 6 months of age, as the iron stores they built while in the womb have been depleted, meaning an external source of iron is required. Iron is key for brain development, and so it is a vital nutrient for infants and toddlers. Start with an iron-fortified single-grain cereal mixed with breast milk or formula, or pureed meat (lamb, beef, pork, or chicken etc).  Once your baby has been established on iron rich foods, they can start having food from different food groups, like fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy – in any order you prefer!  Usually it’s a good idea to introduce one food at a time, every 2-3 days, so that you can screen for allergies, but once your child has tolerated a food, there’s no reason why you can’t mix foods together. For example, many babies love avocado mixed with banana, or meats and vegetables combined. You can buy ready-made baby foods from the store, or make your own. Just make sure that if you’re making your own food at home, to avoid all salt and sugar. That being said, there’s no reason to avoid flavour! Many people believe that babies should be given bland foods, but once your child is established on a good range of foods, he or she might prefer flavoured foods. For example, why not consider trying spices like rosemary, basil, oregano, or garlic to both enhance the flavour of the food and expand your child’s palate? Many children who are exposed to a variety of healthy foods and flavours often continue to choose these foods as they get older.

Purees are the easiest foods to start with, but it’s a good idea to move fairly quickly towards lumpy foods that your child can easily handle. Most babies at 6 months can handle finger food that dissolves in the mouth, like cereal rings, rusks, arrowroot cookies or rice cakes. They may also do well with small, well-cooked pieces of vegetable or pasta, or chunks of soft fruits like banana or pear. Let your child feed his or herself these foods to promote independence and fine motor skill development. Some children struggle with mixed textures (i.e. lumps in a sauce), so consider separate textures in the beginning. Children prefer not to work for their food, so don’t be surprised if your child gags with lumpier foods – this is normal, and a part of development! It’s extremely important to progress to lumps and textured foods before your baby is 9 months old – afterwards there’s a higher risk of feeding issues, which can be very difficult to manage. By a year of age, your baby should be eating all textures of foods, and eating the same meals as the rest of the family (slightly modified for safety, of course!). If you’re struggling with introducing solids, speak to your family doctor or paediatrician, or consider consulting a dietitian.