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Eating Wisely:

Starting Solids

Joanie Randle
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 3, May-June 1999, pp. 86-87

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

During their baby's first year, parents may be quizzed almost daily about their child's eating habits. “How long do you plan on breastfeeding?” “When do you plan on starting solids?” and “Is he eating food yet?” These are some of the most frequently asked questions parents hear from relatives, friends, and even strangers. A generation or so ago, the goal of many parents was to have the biggest baby who ate the most foods in the largest quantities at the earliest age possible. This mindset, although in decline, has been slow to die off. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics has published new guidelines that recommend starting solids at six months, mothers still tell of pediatricians discussing solid foods as early as the two-month well-baby checkup.

THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING suggests that babies begin solid foods around the middle of the first year. Of course, a baby's readiness for solids depends more on the particular baby than on the half-year birthday mark. Some physical skills are needed. A baby needs to be able to sit up well and to coordinate his mouth and tongue to chew and swallow. A baby can do this only when the newborn reflex to thrust the tongue out has begun to fade. Baby may be able to pick up small objects and put them in his mouth. A baby who is diving for the food on your plate or grabbing for the food on your fork may be ready to begin experimenting with solid foods or he may just be trying out his hand-eye coordination. A sudden increase in the number of times your baby wants to breastfeed can be a sign of readiness, but it may also be a sign of an illness coming on, teething, a developmental spurt, or a change in routine. Follow your baby's cues. If his increased frequency of nursing has not subsided after four or five days, it may be time to offer him some simple first foods.

Once you have determined that your baby is ready for solid foods, you need to decide what foods to offer him. It is wise to introduce only one food at a time, allowing at least a week before the introduction of another new food, so you can detect the cause of any allergic reactions. THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING makes the following suggestions for introducing solids: begin with a raw mashed banana, boiled or baked sweet potato, or raw mashed avocado; follow with meat, fish, whole grain breads and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables. If you wait at least a week between the introduction of each new food it may take several months before your baby is ready to sit down to “three square meals a day.” Chapter 13, “Ready for Solids,” in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING is full of tips and suggestions that will make the addition of solid foods to your baby's diet go more smoothly. Another source of information is the cookbook Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. This cookbook features many meatless recipes and includes variations for making recipes suitable for babies and children.

Fun Finger Foods

(adapted from Feeding the Whole Family)

  • Pieces of ripe avocado, peach, nectarine, banana, plum or melon
  • Pieces of steamed apple or pear
  • Dried fruit (soaked in water to make it softer)
  • Whole grain breads, crackers and pita breads
  • Whole grain pasta and noodle
  • High quality dry cereals
  • Cooked whole grains
  • Pieces of baked or boiled white or sweet potato
  • Pieces of baked or steamed squash
  • Chopped vegetables, steamed until soft (carrots, peas, etc.)
  • Well-cooked beans
  • Soft or silken tofu cubes

Foods Babies May Choke On

(adapted from Feeding the Whole Family, written by Cynthia Lair)

  • Apple chunks or slices
  • Dry cereal
  • Grapes
  • Hard Candy
  • Hard Cookies
  • Hot Dogs (even tofu-dogs)
  • Meat chunks
  • Peanut butter - or other nut butter sandwiches
  • Popcorn
  • Potato chips
  • Raw carrot sticks/slices
  • Rice cakes
  • Whole nuts and seeds
  • Whole or unseeded berries

Have children sit down when eating as choking most often occurs when children are walking or running. If you offer food in the car, be careful about what foods you use. The car may hit a bump or make a sudden turn. It's hard to see if your children are choking if they are sitting in the back seat while you're driving.

After deciding what foods baby should begin with, many mothers turn their attention to whether to use commercially prepared baby foods or homemade baby foods. Commercially prepared baby foods are expensive and may have added ingredients such as fillers, food colorings, preservatives, and additives. Making baby foods at home allows you to control the type of produce (locally grown or imported, non-organic or organic) and the cooking method. Remember that cooking methods have an impact on the nutritional value of foods. Generally, vitamins and minerals are retained better through steaming, baking, or microwave cooking than through boiling.

Homemade Convenience Foods for Baby

Once the food has been cooked, mash it with a fork or puree in a food processor or blender. You can make several servings at one time and freeze some in ice cube trays. Store the cubes in an airtight container in the freezer, thawing out cubes as needed. For easy recipes for healthful, economical baby food, read The Natural Baby Food Cookbook, by Margaret Kenda and Phyllis Williams (Available from the LLLI Online Store). Feeding an older baby from your own plate is an excellent way to get him accustomed to the food the family eats. It is not necessary to make a separate meal for your baby once he has been introduced to the foods you are preparing for the family.

Occasionally a baby will be reluctant to eat solids. He may be totally satisfied on your milk well beyond six months. Keep offering a variety of foods, one at a time, every few days. A baby who has food aversions may avoid a food because he is allergic to it or perhaps he just doesn't like the taste. If your baby is reluctant to start solids, you may want to investigate the possibility of food allergies. According to THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, foods with a high potential for causing allergic reactions include egg white, citrus fruits, corn, wheat, fish, tomatoes, chocolate, cabbage, berries, cow's milk, and nuts, especially peanuts. Delaying the start of solids until the middle of the first year helps minimize allergies because it gives the baby's digestive system time to mature. For more information on allergies and breastfeeding, see Allergies and the Breastfeeding Family from the July-August 1998 issue of NEW BEGINNINGS.


There are many different reasons for choosing a vegetarian diet. Some people do so for the health benefits, while others do so for ethical reasons. There are also different forms of vegetarian eating. Macrobiotic diets emphasize cooked vegetables, cooked grains, and soy foods, while de-emphasizing fruits and raw vegetables. Some vegetarian diets consist of strictly raw foods. Vegans eat only plants. They avoid eggs, dairy products, and foods made with any animal products (such as animal- based gelatin). Many people follow a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which means they include dairy products and eggs.

When dairy products and eggs are included in the diet, the vegetarian family need follow no special guidelines for starting baby on solids. They would simply substitute plant proteins such as beans, tofu, and nut butters for meat. Milk, cheese, and eggs are also good sources of protein. When dairy products and eggs are excluded from the diet, more care may need to be taken to ensure adequate intake of some vitamins and minerals, notably vitamin B-12, calcium, and iron.

Introducing your baby to the world of solid foods should be an enjoyable experience for both of you. Your baby has been vicariously enjoying the foods you eat as the flavors pass into your milk, so the tastes and smells will be familiar, yet newly intense and thrilling. Bon Appetit!

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