When should solids be introduced?
From 4 to 6 months, although most commonly closer to 6 months as recommended by the Ministry of Health. Up to the first 4 to 6 months of an infant's life, breast milk or formula will provide all their nutritional requirements for growth. At around 6 months, the iron stores that baby gained in utero begin to run low, which is one of the reasons we start solids around this time.
Don't wait too long
It generally takes about a month from the time of the first introduced food for babies to work up to taking more than 10 ml a day (just over 2 teaspoons), and a month and half to be able to consume more than 100 ml a day.
Babies who were started on solids at a younger age seem to take longer to get to these amounts; hence introducing solids at 6 months appears to shorten the time.
- Foods should be a fine, runny puree and smooth in consistency.
- Introduce foods one at a time, and ensure they don't include salt, sugar or flavourings of any sort. Maintaining baby's milk source helps to ensure that any reactions can be attributed to the single food.
- Rotate foods so that you give the same one only once in a 3-5 day period. There's nothing worse than eating the same thing over and over again. This will also help reduce the risk of food reaction or allergy, and in the unlikely event of a reaction, it may become evident before the end of the day.
- Once a variety of foods has been introduced successfully, make sure you vary them frequently so that baby gains a balanced diet. Variety at this early stage may also help you get through that fussy stage in the toddler years.
- Be persistent. Many studies show that it may take up to 10 opportunities to try a new food before baby accepts it.
- Start with an iron-enriched infant cereal. While many of these are high glycaemic foods, infants who are just starting out find them easy to digest and swallow. Use breast milk or formula to mix into a smooth paste.
- Cooked and pureed vegetables such as sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, choko, parsnip, broccoli, peas, potato, zucchini, cauliflower. (See recipes here)
- Once you have introduced a few vegetables you can start to mix them and create interesting combinations.
- Mashed/cooked/pureed fruits such as avocado, apple, banana, pear, choko, strawberry etc. can also be introduced, although fruit is often best left till after a wide array of vegetables have been introduced to avoid an over fondness for sweet foods.
- If a fruit or vegetable is too runny, use baby's rice cereal as a thickener.
- By six months, baby should be consuming iron-fortified baby foods such as rice cereal (as per dietary guidelines for children).
- Remember that all babies are different. They eat different amounts, have different taste and texture preferences, and progress at different rates.
- When starting out, offer breast milk or formula first so bub gets all his or her nutrients each day.
- Avoid upset tummies by not pushing bub to eat too much initially. He or she will quickly learn to show you they are ready for more.
- Introduce new foods only once every 3-5 days and always check for reactions.
- The top foods for allergic reaction include egg, milk, seafood, nuts, soy and wheat (not in any order).
- Make your purees for storage thicker than you need so you can thin them down and warm them up after being refrigerated with boiling water, breast milk or formula.
- When preparing purees for bub to eat straight away, don't make them too thick; they should be soupy to start with until your little one is drinking water. This can help to reduce the likelihood of constipation.
- In the early days, use ice-cube trays to store cooked pureed vegetables. They are a handy size, just pop out, and are easy to thaw. Ensure they are covered and name and date the pack. Some kitchen storage companies make sealed ice-cube containers which can be very useful.
- Cook up to three or four vegies (in separate pots) and puree or mash them. Using 250 ml air-tight containers, fill only a third of the container, label, date and freeze. You can take out three at a time to make mixed vegies. This gives you the freedom to make different mixes as often as you choose and helps to ensure a varied diet.
- It is always handy to have some ice-cubes of clean boiled water in the freezer. If the pureed food is too hot, just pop in an ice-cube to cool and thin it down ready for use.
- Chop woodier vegies like parsnips into smaller pieces to cook faster and make pureeing or mashing easier.
- Buy bibs of different colours. Why? Well, use a bib the same colour as the food you are serving to bub, for example a red bib for beetroot days, a green one for pea days and so on.
- When baby starts teething, this may affect their appetite so don't be put off if he or she seems to have lost interest at this point. It is likely to just be temporary.
- It can take up to 10 or more exposures for a baby to take to something new, perseverance is important! Don't confuse rejection with permanent dislike.
- Avoid imposing adult meal and food preferences onto your baby; they don't need specific 'breakfast-type' foods such as sweet foods. There is plenty of time for that beyond 12 months.
- When bub starts to become mobile they sometimes temporarily lose interest in food as this new-found movement is more interesting to them. They will be fine and it will pass.
- Wash fruit and scrub vegetables before use or before refrigerating.
- Use hot soapy water to wash your hands.
- Use appropriate cutting boards. Wooden boards have been shown to yield the lowest bacterial covering after use and washing.
- Take care when heating food in a microwave as the food can be hotter in certain areas than others.
- Do not cross-contaminate foods, for example raw meats, poultry or eggs should not be placed together.
- Avoid using your fingers to handle food.
- Keep hair away from food.
- Reduce the food's exposure to anyone who may be unwell.
- Wash sponges in the machine or place in the microwave for two minutes and replace regularly.
- Clean up food spills with paper towels and dispose immediately.
- If in doubt, discard food that is suspicious.
- Are not given any fruit juice before 6 months of age.
- Are not given juice in bottles or other vessels that pour easily allowing a child to drink juice over the day.
- Are not given juice at bedtime.
Quick reference guide to introducing foods:
Around 6 months:
- Gluten free iron-fortified cereal i.e. rice
- Vegetables such as sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, avocado, choko, parsnip, broccoli, peas, potato, zucchini, cauliflower, beans.
- Cooked/mashed fruit such as apple, pear, banana, paw paw, rockmelon.
- Teething rusks
Pureed into a smooth paste with breastmilk or formula.
Still relies primarily on breastmilk or formula
- Iron-enriched rice cereal should be used by 6 months.
- Baby yoghurts or plain natural acidophilus yoghurts which are often more nutritious and have less additives
- Increasing variety of vegetables first, then fruit (not citrus fruits or tomato), corn, beetroot, peas, capsicum, turnip, parsnip
- Increasing variety of fruit - strawberries, mango, blueberries, watermelon, plum, star fruit and custard apples
- Brown and white rice cooked till soft
- Use of feeding cups over bottles
- Offer water regularly over the day
Mashed into a soft and lumpy consistency, similar to the texture of cottage cheese. 3-5 milk feeds per day.
- A teaspoon of almond, linseed, sunflower or hazelnut meal (powder) added to mashed foods for protein and essential fats.
- Thoroughly cooked brown and white rice.
- Vegetarian proteins such as tofu and lentils
- Cheese (cheddar has low amount of lactose)
- White meat such as fine pieces of chicken or turkey
- Lumpy food
- Start with gluten-free cereals such as corn, millet, rice, buckwheat, tapioca and quinoa - try buckwheat and rice noodles before pasta
- Nut spreads (caution with allergies)
- Expand on cheeses (cottage etc.)
- Red meat such as lamb mince
- Finger foods - grated cheese, vegetables fruit
- Vegetables, thin slices, grated
- Peeled and seeded fruit
- Cereals, couscous, semolina, tapioca, pasta, noodles etc.
- Eggs (cooked egg yolk, offer whole egg after 12 months)
- Well-cooked red meats
- Small amounts of milk, soy milk, nut milk, oat milk
- Stews, rissoles, casseroles, sandwiches, etc
- Other legumes (kidney beans, butter beans, cooked legumes, soy beans, tofu)
- Pasteurised milk and milk alternatives from 12 months
- Most foods the family eats.
This section has been written by our Nutrition Expert Leanne Cooper. Leanne is a nutritionist, a mother of two. Leanne has written a book called What do I Feed my Baby? A step-by-step guide to starting solids.