As a pediatrician and Enfamil’s Infant Development expert, I’m often asked when babies reach that ‘solid foods’ milestone. Traditionally, it’s around six months old – and the introduction of solid foods should be an enjoyable experience. But sometimes it can be filled with stress for new parents.
Most parents don’t know what to feed their baby at six months old. Even though most 6-month-olds will be ready to eat solids, they must be doing the following at this age before we continue!
Baby should do these things:
- Baby has good head and neck control and holds their head up high with wobbling.
- Baby can sit upright on their own with very minimal support. If they are focusing on sitting, they may not be interested in grabbing food.
- Baby shows an interest in food: When you are eating, they are opening their mouth or trying to grab your spoon or food off your plate.
- They have lost their tongue-thrust reflex and can move food to the back of their throat.
Baby is Ready for Solids . . . But What to Feed Them?
Now, if they’re ready, what do you feed them? It depends on whether you want to do purees or Baby-Led weaning (BLW).
Purees are a more traditional method, typically around six months, but I encourage you to consider giving them more textured (but safe) foods in a baby-led weaning style after six months. Baby-led weaning is a type of feeding that bypasses purees and goes straight to a baby self-feeding themselves. If you decide to do purees first, make sure to incorporate self-feeding principles at the latest by eight months to encourage the practice. We want to encourage this skill as early and safely as possible.
The best thing to feed your six-month-old is what you are eating in a consistency they can handle. If you are doing purees, puree down the food you’re eating with various flavors. OR, if a food is safe for baby-led weaning, do that.
If doing purees, here are some options (you can use a food processor to puree these items OR even puree down anything you’re eating!):
- Veggies: Peas, green beans, carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, eggplant, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet peas, mushrooms, cauliflower, spinach, and kale
- Fruits: Apples, pears, bananas, peaches, berries, mangoes, watermelon, avocado
- Grains: Oatmeal, rice, infant multigrain cereal, quinoa cereal
- Dairy: un-sweetened Greek yogurt with live active cultures for probiotics, cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, swiss)
If you are doing self-feeding or baby-led weaning style of feeding, safety is paramount:
- Make sure anything you give them can be squished between your finger and thumb (mimicking how their gums would mash it down). If you can’t squish it, it’s not safe.
- Start with one item at a time (example: veggies) and continue introducing other items and combining food groups as they learn and explore.
- Aim to make veggies and items into spears or wedges, but make sure they are soft according to the above-mentioned rule.
- For extra safety, pieces can be cut into the width of your pinky.
- Always make sure the baby is seated and meets all signs of readiness for BLW.
What about salt, seasonings, and sugar?
When starting to feed, start with minimal or one seasoning to see how they tolerate it. As they tolerate the food (no noticeable upset stomach during or after the meals), advance and introduce various seasonings. You can advance as fast as you would like. No five-alarm chili until they are older!
Salt is okay if you cook with it and feed them what you eat, but avoid processed canned foods like canned soups that are heavy in salt.
Avoid added sugars under two years of age as much as possible. Naturally occurring sugars in fruits contain fiber and other nutrients.
Here are how you can incorporate popular seasonings to food:
- Cinnamon: Add to apples, bananas, sweet potatoes, yogurt, or oatmeal.
- Paprika: Add to sweet potatoes, carrots, lentils, or eggs.
- Cardamom: Add to pears, carrots, or bananas.
- Turmeric: Add to lentils or cauliflower.
- Cumin: Add to carrots, cauliflower, lamb, or chicken.
- Oregano/basil/cilantro: Add to veggies.
The Introduction of Allergenic Foods is Important
If your child has moderate to severe eczema, discuss the introduction of allergenic foods with your child’s clinician. In some cases, they may recommend allergy testing before introduction. If your child does not have moderate to severe eczema, you can introduce allergenic foods whenever you start solids. For these top allergens, begin with introducing these items individually at least three times before mixing with other foods. If no allergy is noted, then combine with other foods you have introduced. Food allergies can happen at any time, but 2-3 exposures are good before combining with other foods.
Early introduction of allergenic foods on a repetitive and consistent basis is key. This doesn’t mean giving peanut powder once and not doing it again. Be consistent in exposure. Remember, if they don’t like it, continue to offer it. Try giving that food two or three times a week for consistent exposure.
How to Introduce the Top Nine Allergenic Foods:
- Puree Feeding: Yogurt or cheese in puree form
- BLW: Yogurt or cheese on a pre-loaded spoon
- Puree Feeding: Wheat infant cereal
- BLW: Lightly toasted wheat bread in strips; cooked pasta with butter
- Puree Feeding: Powdered Mix-ins in cereal, on avocado, or veggies; minced scrambled eggs (can add breastmilk or formula to make smooth)
- BLW: Hardboiled egg cut in wedges; omelet strips; mix-ins in yogurt on a pre-loaded spoon
- Puree Feeding: Hummus or tahini (with sesame)
- BLW: Hummus or tahini on a pre-loaded spoon
Tree Nuts (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts)
- Puree Feeding: Powdered Mix-ins to cereal or yogurt; or slightly watered-down nut butters (can use water, breastmilk, or formula); ground nuts in yogurt
- BLW: Spread nut butters VERY thinly on strips of toast, add nut butters in yogurt on a pre-loaded spoon, or nut butters alone on a pre-loaded spoon; ground nuts in yogurt on a pre-loaded spoon
- Puree Feeding: Yogurt made out of soy milk
- BLW: Tofu sticks; soy yogurt on a pre-loaded spoon, edamame cut for safety
Fish (Low-mercury fish include salmon, rainbow trout, canned light tuna)
- Puree Feeding: Pureed fish (may not taste great, so consider BLW)
- BLW: Strips of well-cooked fish (season as you would)
Shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster) (mussels and oysters are usually raw, so save for later or cook and mince)
- Puree Feeding: Pureed fish (may not taste great, so consider BLW)
- BLW: Crab cakes, sliced shrimp, lobster cakes
- Puree Feeding: Powdered Mix-ins to cereal or yogurt; or slightly watered-down nut butters (can use water, breastmilk, or formula)
- BLW: Creamy peanut butter in yogurt on a pre-loaded spoon; creamy peanut butter on a pre-loaded spoon; powdered mix-ins in yogurt on a pre-loaded spoon; thin spread of nut butter on strips of toast.
Foods to avoid:
Avoid honey, fruit juices, unpasteurized foods, smoked and cured meats, high-mercury fish (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and fresh tuna), and choking hazards.
The key is to know your options and develop a feasible meal plan that works for your family’s diet, culture, and beliefs! Always keep safety in mind and give them what you’re eating to minimize less work for you. Also, remember that you want to introduce food to expose children under one, but most of their nutrition will likely come from breastmilk and formula. It’s still important to expose them to various foods, to not give up if they don’t like a food and enjoy the experience!