Establishing a healthy framework for your child’s diet is one of the most important things you can do to support your child’s growth and development. It will have an impact on their health for the rest of their lives.
This post is a general guide to introducing foods to your baby. For quick reference on what experts recommend introducing when, see our printable chart.
Experiencing different foods and flavours is a big step for young babies and can be both exciting and daunting. Your baby is a unique individual so try not to have too many expectations about what is “right” and “wrong” when introducing solids. The best way to introduce new tastes is at a pace that suits your child and it can be a fun and rewarding experience for you both.
Organic food is grown using long standing practices and without the addition of chemical pesticides and fertilisers used in modern agriculture. Young children and babies in particular, whose cells are replicating rapidly and whose immature livers are not yet equipped for detoxification, could be vulnerable to agricultural chemicals, so organic foods are a healthier choice for them.
Organic farmers also generally allow produce to ripen on the plant, resulting in a higher nutrient content and fuller flavour.
WHEN? HOW MUCH? AND HOW OFTEN?!
Breast milk is a complete food for your baby. Breast milk or formula is all that is needed for the first 6 months and will continue to be an important part of the baby’s diet for some time afterwards. If you are breastfeeding you should ensure that your diet is balanced and nutritious (see our Pregnancy Guide for more information).
Your baby will be ready to try solid food at around 6 months. Start with small amounts of simple foods (eg. rice cereal, mashed banana) at a similar time once a day. After a milk feed is a good time to try as the baby will not be hungry but may be ready for more.
Try one food at a time for a few days in a row to get your baby used to it and to be able to monitor for any adverse reaction.
For the first couple of months foods should be pureed but at a later stage mashing will do. This not only enables your baby to easily swallow the food but also greatly assists digestion and the absorption of nutrients in the food.
Once your baby is regularly eating one meal a day, introduce another meal, eventually working up to 3 meals a day. Breakfast and lunch are usually easier to manage at first as the early evening is the ‘witching hour’ for many babies (and parents!)
Amounts will vary for different babies so be guided by yours. Remember that, at first, meal times are just learning about food more than providing sustenance so force-feeding isn’t necessary!
Slippery elm powder can be a useful additive to food as it is internally soothing and helps baby’s stomach lining and digestive system develop. Dissolve half a teaspoon in boiling water to create a gelatinous substance and mix in with the meal.
TIPS FOR MAKING MEALTIMES FUN AND EASY
Give yourself time to consider your baby’s nutritional needs. Your baby will pick up on your mood at mealtimes so ensure you are well prepared and relaxed when feeding solids – it does takes longer than you think even to prepare such small amounts.
Experiment with a wide variety of foods and try not to restrict your child to your own likes and dislikes. If your child does appear not to like particular foods also consider factors other than taste – children are sensitive to the temperature that food is served at (most like it warm), may not be hungry or may just want a drink of water first.
Cook and puree larger quantities of foods and then freeze in ice trays for easy meals.
Homemade frozen food is the next best thing to eating fresh.
Have ‘instant’ food on hand which can be given quickly when everything is going pear-shaped. Mashed bananas and avocados are a good quick fix in a hurry. You may need to add a bit of hot water or baby cereal to make it warm.
Don’t give up on rejected foods – try serving them in a different way:
- Steam vegetables to intensify the colour
- Grate and use for baking or in frittatas
- Puree into a soup
The more variety you can get your child to eat, the better for their health. But don’t worry too much if your child only wants one or two ‘favourite’ foods which don’t meet a ‘balanced diet’. Kids go through phases and will be picky as they learn to assert themselves. Sometimes you just have to have faith that their body will instinctively know what it needs – you just need to ensure it’s on offer when they decide they’ve had enough white bread!
Opinions vary as to the most appropriate age for certain foods especially dairy products, wheat and nuts. It is advisable that, where there is a family history of a food allergy, these foods are avoided until your child is over the age of 12 months and then introduced slowly and with care.
This guide has been prepared with the assistance of nutrition consultant Nicola Galloway. Nicola’s book 'Cooking for your Child' is a useful source of detailed information and recipes, and is available at Commonsense.
EASY REFERENCE CHART
Remember to check out our printable chart for quick reference on what experts recommend introducing when.
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