5 Things to Consider When Choosing First Foods
What's the best first food to offer your baby when starting solids? The short answer. Whatever works for you and your baby! Almost anything can be a baby's first food. And there isn't one best food. But there are things you might want to consider when deciding what foods to start with and what to offer next. You're going to love the safe, easy-to-prepare ideas that also help with long-term flavor preferences, food allergy prevention and nutrition for growing little bodies.
Do you have a guess for what I offered my daughter as a first food? Yup, avocado. Actually, her first taste was hummus she swiped off my plate. But the “my first food” photos show avocado smashed all over her face. I like avocado as a first food. It’s an easy, no cook option, packed with brain-boosting fats and generally well tolerated. With my son, I was slightly more creative. He enjoyed roasted butternut squash sprinkled with cumin.
What are you thinking about offering your baby as a first taste?
Even though almost anything can be your baby’s first food, there are a few things you'll want to consider when choosing foods for a new eater. Let’s get started:
1. NURTURING TASTE PREFERENCES
Have you ever struggled to come up with meal ideas for a toddler or heard the frustration in your friend's voice as she talked about the challenges of feeding her picky eater? If you have, I bet you’re interested (like me) in trying just about anything to help minimize that stress. And give your child a good chance at learning to like a variety of foods. There are lots of reasons for mealtime struggle and selective eating. And feeding kids is hard. No matter what. But I’m on board with strategies that just might make it a little easier. Aren’t you?
Here's where a little magic can happen. . . there seems to be a window of opportunity between 4 and 7 months of age where babies are most likely to taste and accept new foods. This openness to try and learn to like foods often continues throughout infancy and into early toddlerhood. Which is when some children become more skeptical of new and sometimes familiar foods.
The more tastes and textures a baby is offered early on, the more likely those babies accept a variety of foods including vegetables as toddlers and older children. The idea is to introduce and repeatedly offer your baby (and toddler) foods that take some learning to like along with a variety of foods. I’m talking about green leafy vegetables, but also sour, earthy and other bitter foods. Even if it takes many, many exposures.
Why not start with (and continue offering) foods that need a bit more "learning to like"? We already know your baby is on board with slightly sweet, yet relatively bland tastes. They've been enjoying breastmilk and/or formula for months. Babies do start learning about different tastes through amniotic fluid and breastmilk, but most of the learning to like foods happens between starting solids and your little one's 2nd birthday.
Take advantage of your baby’s openness to try and accept new foods, so you can enjoy mealtimes in the future with less fussiness at the table. And your child will more likely enjoy diverse flavors. It's not a guarantee. But certainly worth a try.
WHAT TO TRY: FOODS THAT TAKE A BIT MORE LEARNING TO LIKE
- Bitter vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and asparagus
- Herbed or spiced root veggies such as roasted butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips
Sour foods like plain, whole milk yogurt, lemon and lime juice, berries and kiwi
2. FOOD ALLERGY PREVENTION
Can you believe it? We now have strong research supporting the introduction of allergens early and often to help prevent food allergy! Introducing egg and peanut around 6 months (but not before 4 months) is recommended to help prevent both egg and peanut allergy.
Once your baby has demonstrated readiness (review signs of readiness here) and tolerated a few first foods, it’s time to start reducing your baby’s risk of developing a food allergy. Here are a few ways to introduce developmentally-appropriate forms of egg and peanut protein to your beginner eater.
WHAT TO TRY: FOOD ALLERGENS LIKE EGG AND PEANUT EARLY AND OFTEN
- Especially for babies at higher risk for food allergies, when introducing peanut and egg protein as early as 4-6 months may be recommended
- Baked egg powder mixed into a previously tolerated pureed or mashed food
- Hard-boiled egg (Fork-mash or pureed and mixed with breastmilk, formula and/or a previously tolerated food)
- Start with small amounts of well-cooked egg and gradually increase the amount offered
- For babies ready to pick up and manage handheld foods
- Scrambled eggs
- Strips of a veggie omelet
- Egg noodles
- The famous 2-ingredient baby pancakes (banana and egg)
Peanut-containing Foods (whole peanuts and globs of peanut butter are choking hazards up to age 4)
- Smooth peanut butter thinned with warm water, breastmilk or formula
- Offer a taste off your finger, spoon or favorite teether
- Mix with a previously tolerated food such as oatmeal, vegetable puree, fork-mashed fruit or plain, whole-fat yogurt
- Peanut powder mixed into (or sprinkled onto) a previously tolerated food
- Peanut-containing baby puffs (softened with water, breastmilk or formula, if needed)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Introduction alone isn’t enough. Keep egg and peanut-containing foods on the menu regularly (at least weekly or more often if your child enjoys the food) to maintain tolerance. It becomes easier to offer these allergens regularly as your baby learns to manage more textures. . . hard-boiled egg wedges, mini egg muffins, toast with a thin layer of peanut butter or egg salad, peanut powder sprinkled on roasted veggies and more.
Introduce and continue offering baby other common allergens early and often. These include foods such as cow’s milk products like whole fat plain yogurt, tree nuts, wheat, sesame, soy, fish and shellfish.
If your baby is at higher risk for food allergy (eczema, existing food allergy, family history of allergic conditions) or you have concerns about introducing allergens, consult your child’s pediatrician and/or allergist about when and how to best add common food allergens into your baby’s diet. Start those conversations before the 4 month well-child visit and continue once your little one has started solids.
3. NUTRIENT NEEDS
Most babies will consistently need iron and zinc in their solid foods diet from about 6 months of age. Thankfully, most iron-rich foods also contain zinc making meal planning easier. Did you know? A baby's iron needs go from just 0.27 mg to 11 mg per day for babies 7-12 months. The same recommended amount for teenage boys. Your little one is working hard to grow that beautiful little body and rapidly developing brain of theirs! If your little enjoys mostly iron-fortified formula, they may need less iron coming from complementary foods compared to a baby fed mostly breastmilk. It's still important to introduce iron and zinc-rich foods, because they become very important in toddlerhood.
WHAT TO TRY: IRON AND ZINC-CONTAINING FOODS (in combination with vitamin C to boost absorption)
Beans, Peas and Lentils
- Instant Pot pinto beans
- Low sodium canned black beans
- Frozen green peas
- Stove-top or pre-cooked lentils (a Trader Joe's favorite)
Iron-fortified Oat, Multi-grain and Quinoa Cereals
- Cereal isn't my favorite first food. It’s just so bland. But cereals offer convenience, much needed iron and a vehicle for introducing a variety of foods including allergens like well-cooked eggs and thinned peanut butter.
- The days of feeding soupy, boring baby cereal for days on end are over. Make it more exciting by mixing in spices, vegetables, sour fruits, new foods and more!
Other Iron-rich Foods (modify for texture readiness): Ground flaxseed, hemp seeds, thinned peanut butter, tofu, well-cooked eggs, salmon, sardines and slow cooked meats
Offer an iron-rich food at most meals to help reach your baby’s increased needs. Include a vitamin C superstar to help increase iron absorption (with plant-based meals in particular).
So, squeeze lemon juice on those lentils, mix mango into your baby’s iron-fortified cereal, bake tofu in tomato sauce and dip eggs into salsa.
4. EASE OF PREP
Do yourself a favor and keep those first tastes safe and simple. You and your baby are exploring mealtime together. Getting comfortable with new feeding gear. Learning about taste and texture. Plus, your baby isn’t likely to eat much during the initial days or weeks of starting solids. And that’s okay.
WHAT TO TRY: WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOUR FAMILY (YOU HAVE OPTIONS)
What’s on the Family Table
- Hand your baby a spoon or teether dipped in the cauliflower mash on your plate
- Roasting salmon and veggies for dinner tonight? Great. Skip or limit the salt for the baby's portion. But feel free to add the herbs or spices.
- Soups, stews and mild curries are some of the easiest meals to modify for baby
- Puree using immersion blender or drain broth and serve soft foods like veggies, beans, lentils, meats, grains, etc. to baby fork-mashed or as finger food
- Practice open cup drinking starting around 6 months with just a sip of broth in the EZPZ Tiny Cup (get yours in the Beginner Bites Mealtime Kit)
- Add salt later for adults and older children
Make-ahead Goodness from the Freezer
- Stove-top steaming, high pressure cooking (Instant Pot) and roasting are time-savers when making a variety of foods in just one prep sesh
- To freeze, divide blends or mashes into a freezer tray. Once frozen, pop out and store in a Stasher bag (get yours in the Wild Little Berry First Tastes Mealtime Kit). Defrost in the refrigerator overnight and serve the next day.
No Cook Meals
- Smashed or pureed canned beans, avocado and plain, whole yogurt makes a balanced and quick meal for your baby
- Other no cook options for beginner eaters: mango, berries, banana, kiwi, baby cereal with thinned natural peanut butter
Store-bought or Delivery Baby Food
- Benefits: Increased variety, on-the-go convenience, meals in a hurry and options for when the family meal just doesn't work for baby. Dinner solved!
- If store-bought or delivery baby food is your go-to option, think about mix and matching brands or supplementing with homemade foods. Why?
- Some companies are fabulous at introducing your little one to new flavors but don’t include any allergens. It’s peace of mind for babies and toddlers with existing food allergies. But now is the time to introduce your baby to common allergens for food allergy prevention.
- On the other hand, some products are super convenient but offer very little flavor or texture variations and bitter foods are masked with fruit. Now’s the time to expose your little one to diverse tastes and textures.
- Lastly, variety is one of the most effective ways (other than avoiding or limiting rice-based products and juices) to minimize heavy metals in your baby’s food.
Of course, we want to choose safe foods. Once we know what’s off the table for babies and how to present food safely, we can get pretty creative with what we offer our little ones. Even serving them what’s on the family menu with just a few modifications.
WHAT TO TRY: SAFE FOODS
What should NOT be on the table for babies?
- Honey (raw or cooked until 12 months)
- High-sodium foods and highly processed foods (minimize added salt)
- Added sugar
- Sweetened beverages and juice (a small amount of prune or apple juice may help with occasional constipation- only offer as needed and per your doctor’s recommendations)
- Cow’s milk as a beverage (until at least 12 months), but it’s okay as an ingredient
- Raw or undercooked eggs, meats, poultry and seafood
- Unpasteurized foods
- Seafood high in mercury or other contaminants (find best choices, good choices and choices to avoid at fda.gov)
- Potential choking hazards (think hard, round, sticky, slippery and/or chewy foods) like whole grapes/ cherry tomatoes, hard raw fruits and vegetables, uncooked dried fruit, fresh doughy breads, granola bars, chips, popcorn, whole nuts and seeds, chunks of nut or seed butter, whole hot dogs/ sausages, coin-shaped foods, tough meats, chewing gum, hard and sticky candy
For babies starting solids around 6 months (but not before 4 months), blends and mashes are typically developmentally appropriate to start. Those first few smooth purees can be helpful with the transition to solids, but don’t get stuck here! Move onto thick and then fork-mashed blends.
If your baby has developed a palmer grasp and shown readiness for soft handheld foods (usually between 6 and 8 months), offer strips of food the shape and size of 1-2 adult fingers. Make sure the food can be easily squishable between your fingers.
Mealtimes with babies can feel more calm after taking an infant CPR class (check your local hospital for virtual and in-person options)!
And supervising your baby while eating is a must. Anyways, you don’t want to miss the hilarious faces your baby will make when trying new foods. The wrinkled nose. The full-body wiggle. The “what was that” face. And my favorite “the best thing I ever ate” food dance.
So, there is no such thing as the perfect first food. Other than your "my 1st food" photos, it doesn't matter much. Use these ideas for first foods and what to offer next as a guide and do what works for you and your baby!