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. 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).
The good news is that you really can’t too wrong with what you decide to start your baby on (provided they are between 4-6 months). 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 and paying attention to reading your little one as you go.
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 food and gluten-free. You also have the option to mix it to the desired consistency with baby’s usual milk, so the taste is familiar. Not all babies, however, repond well to rice cereal as it can lead to constipation and tends to be resisted because of its bland taste (my son wasn’t mad about rice cereal so I spent more time on fruit and veggies but remember that each child is different!).
Other gluten-free grains that make excellent first foods are quinoa and baby rice.
Fruit and vegetables
As with rice cereal, fuit and veggies are gluten-free and 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 pureed. They are also a fantastic source of betacarotene which is essential for growth, healthy skin, strong bones and good vision.
- Stewed/steamed apple, peaches or pear. 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 veggie choices.
- Pureed melon, mango or prunes.
- Ready-to-eat fruits and veggies are so simple and require no preparation (just what us moms want to hear!) like ripe avocado, paw-paw and banana.
The primary reason for feeding your baby solids in the first place is because they have an increased need for iron from 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. As with other first foods, introduce one type of grain at a time to gauge any reactions (mixed grains should only be used once you have tried individual grains separately).
- Red meat is recommended, along with other proteins, from six months of age. 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 pureed with a little liquid to form a nutritious and iron-packed meal.
Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron so it is recommended to have vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables along with iron-rich foods.
Babies who are predisposed to allergies should first be assessed by a paediatrician, GP or nurse.
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.