By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Introducing solids to your infant is an exciting milestone. Here’s everything you need to know about timelines, safety, and recommended menu items—plus a simple baby food chart to print at home.
By the time your infant is 4 to 6 months old, you’ve probably got your breastfeeding or formula drill down to an art. Don’t get too comfortable, though—your child will soon be ready for “real” food. Here’s everything to know about starting Baby on solids, with tips mastering mealtime.
When to Start Solids
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says you should start your child on solids between 4 and 6 months, but the answer really depends on your baby. Here are some signs that your little one may be ready for baby food:
- He can sit upright and hold up his head.
- She is curious, looking at everything around her—especially what you’re eating!
- He has lost the tongue thrust reflex that automatically pushes food out of his mouth.
- She still seems hungry after getting a full day’s portion of milk (eight to 10 breastfeedings or about 32 ounces of formula).
Remember, there’s no need to rush this milestone. Most babies are ready to start solids between 5 and 6 months. Don’t start solids before 4 months.
How to Introduce Baby to Solids
The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, as well as supplemental breastfeeding until your infant turns one. (Formula is also a great option for moms who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed). Introducing solids is more about getting her used to chewing and swallowing food than providing any significant nutritional benefit.
Give baby the breast or bottle first thing in the morning, before or after meals, and before bedtime. At the beginning, you’ll have to experiment to find what works best. If she’s a big drinker—say, if she’d drink a whole bottle before a meal, given the chance—feed her first with food and then with a bottle. If she’s a moderate drinker, try the opposite.
- Up to 9 months, feed her 20 to 28 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 3 to 4 hours.
- At 9 to 12 months, feed her 16 to 24 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 4 to 5 hours.
As soon as your little one understands the concept of eating and is excited by and interested in mealtime (this usually happens between 6 and 9 months), start her on a routine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even if she isn’t hungry at times, she’ll get used to the idea of eating on a schedule. (That said, never force or pressure your baby to eat. If she isn’t interested, just take her out of the high chair and move on.)
“My goal for the babies I care for is to get them on a big-boy or big-girl eating schedule by the time they turn 1,” says pediatrician Sara DuMond, M.D. “This means they should eat three meals a day with two to three snacks in between.”
- At 4 to 6 months, feed her two meals, each two to four tablespoons.
- At 7 to 12 months, feed her three meals, each the size of baby’s fist.
As your baby adjusts to eating solids, know that there may be days when she’s more interested in her peas and carrots than in the breast or bottle and, on the flip side, days when all she’ll want to do is nurse. This is all normal as your baby begins to grow more independent, but for now she still needs her normal day’s worth of breast milk or formula.
Baby’s First Foods by Age
There are no hard and fast rules as for baby’s first foods. It’s more important to offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats in any order to get your baby used to different tastes. Here are some suggestions.
4 to 6 months: Single-grain cereals
The level of iron that is stored up while in utero drops after birth, and a baby reaches an all-time low at around 9 months. That’s why cereals are fortified with iron and why they’re a good early food. Combine one teaspoon of single-grain cereal with four to five teaspoons of breast milk or formula.
At first, most of the cereal will end up on your baby’s chin. “The point is to get your baby used to a different type of eating,” says W. Allan Walker, M.D., director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School, in Boston. “Although it’s sloppy and frustrating, you need to go through this process.”
Don’t force your baby to continue eating if he shakes his head no, turns away, or refuses to open up after only one mouthful. And if he seems completely uninterested in trying cereal, just wait a week or so and try again.
Once your baby is used to swallowing runny cereal, thicken it by using less water or breast milk and more cereal.
4 to 8 months: Pureed veggies, fruits, and meats
You may have heard that eating fruits before vegetables can cause a lifelong preference for sweet foods, but there’s no research to back that up. So it’s up to you whether you begin with bananas or carrots, or pureed chicken for that matter.
The AAP also believes that introducing allergenic foods early can reduce the risk of developing a food allergy, especially if your child is at risk. Common allergenic foods include peanuts, eggs, and dairy. Check out this article for more information.
6 to 8 months: Single-ingredient finger foods
Whether you’ve begun with purees or are starting solids just with finger foods, many babies enjoy experimenting with self-feeding from an early age. Don’t offer any hard, raw foods (such as apple slices or carrot sticks) at this point. Make sure fruits and veggies are soft enough to mash with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger.
The shape matters too. Younger babies will be picking foods up with their whole palms, so a mound of mashed potatoes or a wedge of avocado will be easier to handle than smaller foods. Don’t put salt or sugar in his food—it’s best if your baby learns to like it without the added seasonings.
9 to 12 months: Chopped, ground, or mashed foods
As soon as your child is able, transition him away from smooth purees. Incorporate more finger foods with texture like yogurt, cottage cheese, mashed bananas, and mashed sweet potatoes. He can also use more iron, so try pureed meats like beef, chicken, and turkey.
Solid foods to avoid
You should avoid giving infants the following foods:
Honey: It can cause botulism, a serious illness, if introduced too early.
Cow’s milk: Stick with breast milk and formula as a primary beverage until your baby is one year old. It’s fine to use cow’s milk in cooking or baking, though.
Choking hazards. Avoid these choking hazards during your baby’s first year: nuts, seeds, raisins, hard candy, grapes, hard raw vegetables, popcorn, peanut butter, and hot dogs.
4 Tips for Managing Mealtime
Create a routine. A baby needs focus to eat, so start a routine where you wash his hands, soothe him, and then sit him down to eat. And maintain the calmness. Turn off the TV and any loud music. “This will help your baby become conscious of eating and learn to recognize when he’s full,” says Marilyn Tanner, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Understand that starting solids takes time. It will take time for your baby to feel comfortable with the new sensations that go along with eating—the feel of a spoon in his mouth and the tastes and textures of different foods. “I reassure parents that you might get grimaces and horrible faces,” says Laura Jana, M.D., co-author of Food Fights. “My daughter used to shriek when I put a spoonful of food in her mouth. But she wanted more.”
Prepare for messes. Your baby will likely fling food everywhere, especially if you’re practicing baby-led weaning. This is common and doesn’t necessarily indicate a dislike. “Getting food into his mouth takes coordination and practice for the baby,” Tanner says.
Watch out for allergies. To make pinpointing allergies easier, give your child only one new food at a time and wait three or four days before trying another. Keep an eye out for signs of an allergic reaction or intolerance, like a rash, hives, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, excessive gas, diarrhea, or blood in her stools. Call your pediatrician if you notice any of these symptoms (they can take minutes or days to appear), and go to the ER if the reaction seems serious.