Nutrition 101, starting solids

First Foods

I decided to start my son on solids when he was 19 weeks old based on the tell-tale sales of readiness. Filled with anticipation at reaching the next big milestone (milestone card taken out of it’s pack, ready and waiting for a family album moment!) I sent my husband to go out and buy a particular brand of organic rice cereal. I was devastated when he returned home with the wrong one, only to have my bubble burst once more when I discovered that my son didn’t like rice cereal at all. Simple. Opting for a different brand or an organic option wasn’t going to change his mind (similar to Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham but without the change of heart at the end).

So what exactly should you be feeding your baby when starting them on solids?

The good news is that you really can’t go too wrong with what you decide to start your baby on (provided they are between 4-6 months and displaying key signs of readiness). In fact, experts recommend jumping right in with exposing your little one to as many textures and tastes as possible from the onset!

Contrary to previous schools of thought, this includes exposing them to allergens as early as possible, to combat allergies or intolerances developing later on.

Babies from around the world, across cultures, are exposed to different first foods: from tripe in Nigeria to tropical fruits in Jamaica. All it takes a bit of common sense, a sense of adventure and reading your little one’s cues as you go.

Rice cereal vs other grain options 

There is some controversy around rice cereal, given that there are nutritionally much more beneficial options available, however it remains a popular choice because it is an extremely low allergenic and gluten-free food. Unless your child is predisposed to developing an allergy or an intolerance based on your family history, there is no need to hold back on introducing allergens. Rather go for home-cooked oats or millet that are nutritionally superior (and tastier!) options. Other gluten-free grains that make excellent first foods are quinoa and rice.

You also have the option to mix these to the desired consistency with baby’s usual milk, so the taste is familiar. There is also no harm in using a little cow’s milk in your grains while cooking, and don’t be shy about adding in a little fruit purée, cinnamon or vanilla to ramp up the flavour profile.

Fruits and vegetables

As with rice cereal, fuit and veggies are gluten-free and (mostly) non allergenic choices. They are packed with soluble fibre to combat constipation and you have so many options to choose from;

  • Sweet root veggies like sweet potato, butternut, pumpkin, parsnip and carrot are generally loved by babies and are yummy first foods when cooked and puréed. They are also a fantastic source of betacarotene which is essential for growth, healthy skin, strong bones and good vision.
  • Stewed/steamed apples, peaches or pears. Given that little digestive systems aren’t yet fully equipped to handle a large amount of raw fruit and veggies (due to the high fibre content) it is recommended to cook some fruits and veggies. 
  • Puréed melon, mango or prunes.
  • Ready-to-eat fruits and veggies are so simple and require no preparation (just what us parents want to hear!) like ripe avocado, paw-paw and banana.

Some experts recommended starting little ones on veggies first, before introducing them to much sweeter tasting fruit (and naturally preferred by babies). The jury is still out on this train of thought: rather, what is important is that you expose your child to as many different tastes as possible, getting creative with fruit and veg medleys and flavour combinations.

Iron-rich foods

The primary reason for feeding your baby solids in the first place is because they have an increased need for iron from four-six months, beyond what formula and breast milk are able to offer them. Iron is responsible for carrying oxygen to red blood cells and is required for growth and development of the nervous system. Quite simply, there is no substitute for this important mineral and you need to ensure that your little one is getting enough iron-rich food choices to fuel all of his or her growing needs.

Iron fortified cereals and red meat are popular first food choices as they are both packed with iron.

  • Iron fortified cereal: the benefit of opting for dry cereal is that you are easily able to play around with the consistency as you gauge your baby’s reaction to the mixture. Pay attention to the nutritional contents on-pack to ensure that the brand you have selected isn’t crammed with sugar and other additives.
  • More recently red meat, along with other proteins, are recommended from the onset (no need to wait for the 6 month mark!). Many countries around the world are now advocating red meat as one of the top first foods due to its high iron and zinc content. Meat is a fantastic protein source as it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is essential for sleep regulation. Opt for lean cuts of beef or lamb: seasoned (no salt), cooked and puréed with a little liquid, even including some veggie combinations, to form a nutritious and iron-packed meal.

Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron, so it is recommended to serve vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables along with iron-rich foods.

What about other first foods?

Although the above covers the most popular first food choices, the latest research suggests exposing little ones to as much as possible, as early as possible (based on baby’s signs of readiness). That means there is nothing to stop you from jumping right in. A few things to help guide you as you go:

  • Introduce protein foods every third day to watch out of any allergic reactions.
  • Don’t hold back on the flavours you offer, so get creative with offering your child whole, delicious foods from the onset including flavours like nut butter, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices (no salt or sugar however). 
  • Honey should only be offered from 1 year of age due to the risk of infant botulism (rather include maple syrup in your recipes instead).  

For more guidance on getting started, read further here.

Note:

  • Babies who are predisposed to allergies should first be assessed by a paediatrician, GP or nurse.

  • If you suspect an allergic reaction consult your health care provider before excluding any food from your child’s diet.

  • Breast milk or formula should still form the bulk of your baby’s diet and should do so until one year.

  • The above information should not replace the advice of your paediatrician, GP or nurse.

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