Starting your baby on solids is a big day! Maybe more for some than others. I admit that I didn’t understand the excitement that offering peas and carrots to someone for the first time could bring until I had a baby. It was actually embarrassing how excited I was to start Ayla on solid foods. So when she began to show readiness signs, the nutrition wheels immediately began turning in my head. What should her first food be? Should it be a puree or finger food? How slowly should I introduce each new food? Do I want to hold off on anything for a few months?
I am a planner and a researcher at heart. I have always liked to have all of the information before I get started on a project, and I instantly become a sponge for knowledge. My favourite research topics are health and nutrition related, and over the years, I have done a lot of related reading. But when it came to the world of baby nutrition, I was a pretty blank slate. Sure, lots of basic nutrition principles apply to all of us, regardless of age, but I knew there was a whole world of baby-specific nutrition articles and healthy mamas to be inspired by for this chapter of my life. The first step is to decide: purees or finger foods? There are arguments for both.
Baby Led Weaning is very child driven. Baby's cues are at the forefront of their feeding. But purees provide parents with the power to ensure their young baby is receiving all of the nutrition they need during important developmental months. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care suggests that many high iron foods, for example, may be difficult for a baby to self-feed at the six month mark.
In the end I decided to go with… both. Just like nutrition “labels”, I’ve never liked the idea of limiting or pigeon holing anyone into a category of eating. The same is true when it comes to feeding littles.
Here's what's enticing about Baby Led Weaning (or baby led feeding, as it is sometimes referred to): baby is in charge of what goes into her mouth and how much; it fosters a positive relationship with food from the very beginning. The self feeding method supports fine motor development and offers a variety of sensory experiences. Even though constant supervision is required, of course, it frees up mom and dad’s hands so they can eat at the same time. That means that family meal time can be established from the get-go, allowing parents to model eating skills at the dinner table. The women behind the Feeding Littles course really encourage this methodology when introducing solids.
Serving finger foods, as opposed to strictly purees, also means it’s easier to offer your baby a version of what you are eating, cutting back on the meal prep time. This particular feature of BLW is particularly attractive to busy parents. That said, in our home, it took a couple of months before we really saw that come to fruition. Because foods are introduced slowly, it takes some time before baby’s meals mimic your own. More on this later.
But what about purees? I think they have an important role in baby's diet too. One: smooth foods are a real-life texture, and it's important that your baby have plenty of exposure to them. Secondly, it was a more sure-fire way to ensure your child is getting a healthy dose of nutrient dense foods, daily, particularly during those earlier months. Lianne, from Sprout Right, is a big proponent of starting solids with purees, also emphasizing that your baby will most certainly get more nutrients through their food this way. For example, you may have a difficult time getting your babe to mow down on a slice of chicken, but when it is pureed with spinach and sweet potato, no problem. Personally, I love knowing my daughter had a healthy dose of iron-rich protein during at least one of her daily meals.
Know that iron-fortified cereals may not be as beneficial as many medical professionals suggest. The Nourishing Traditions author sites studies that state the iron used in fortification is not processed the same way as iron naturally occurring in food. Babies can get all of the iron they require through whole food sources (plus a host of other benefits).
So, where did we begin and why? This may be a point of contention for some, so I will preface it by saying that this was the direction our family chose to take, and by no means does that make it the only or right way. It’s what worked for us.
Against my family doctor’s suggestion, we did not begin Ayla on the very common rice cereal at four months. We decided to give her little digestive system more time to develop and hold off on all solid foods until around the six month mark. Up until this time, she was exclusively breast fed and we believed, based on current research, that this would be more than sufficient, even when it came to her iron stores. I did a lot of research, prior to this, as well as worked with her naturopath to determine when she was ready for solid foods and what to begin with. We decided Ayla’s first foods would be vegetables and fruits (Update: 2.5 years later, after further research and a second child, I would suggest that beginning with high quality animal products, including meat and/or bone broth would be another incredible option as a first food)
As you may know, we were traveling around Europe from the time Ayla was four months to six months old, and the initial plan, for simplicity reasons, was to wait until we got home to introduce solids. However, around the five to five and half month mark, she began to show us that she was ready for food! The boob is good and all, mom, but what’s that you have on your plate?? She was sitting fairly well, reaching for our forks and watching us like a hawk while we ate. So, while living in France, we decided to go for it. Much of this decision fell on the fact that we were in a country that offered easy access to high quality, organic foods. It is very important to us that we serve organic foods whenever possible. Babies are small, which means their body systems are small and cannot process large amounts of pesticides. I know eating organic can be challenging at times, particularly due to price. Use the Dirty Dozen list to guide your shopping choices and pick up the organic option of these foods whenever you can. If buying 100% organic isn’t an option for your family, The Clean 15 can help you decide which foods to buy conventionally.
Ayla’s very first food was carrots! She played and sucked on them more than anything else, but it was still a fun experience and gave me the confidence to really dive head first into her journey with solid foods. As a nutrition nut, I find it very exciting that I get to be Ayla’s initial guide to healthy eating and teach her all about fuelling her body. It’s amazing to think that these lessons start so early, simply by exposing them to great food from the very beginning.
So, what about the rest of the food groups? We took things very slowly (which I’ll expand on below), but after fruits and vegetables, we moved to egg yolk, followed by meats, legumes, dairy and grains.
Ayla is now 8 and a half months old and we have had so much fun introducing a variety of foods to her. I want to share more details from this experience by giving a few tips for feeding your little one that we have learned so far.
Tip #1: start slow
Making sure that you take this process nice and slow will ensure baby’s digestive system has a chance to adjust to its new roll of breaking down more than just breast milk or formula. I also think introducing new food groups is something not to be rushed. Various enzymes are needed for different kinds of foods, and taking your time to ensure your baby is fully ready for each of these may help prevent negative digestive repercussions that could be mistaken for intolerances or allergies. Many experts will suggests introducing a new food every 3-7 days. Although this is best practice for identifying negative reactions to a particular food, I would suggest it may not be practical, long term. There are a lot of foods out there to try! If you wait a week before introducing each new item, it will take a year! That said, don’t rush it. Follow your mom gut as well as your baby’s cues. Be mindful. You’ll know when you have been given the green light to introduce something new, as well as when it may be time to pull back a bit. Watch your baby’s skin reactions, temperament changes, bowel movements, etc. These are all good indicators of how quickly to move through the food list. If you’re looking for tips on what order to introduce different food categories, feel free to use the one that I listed above. It worked very well for Ayla and could be a good fit for your little one as well.
Tip #2: don’t mix a new food with her favourite food
Ayla hasn’t turned down many new foods (although not crazy about anything broccoli related…), but I quickly learned not to put something new on her tray with a food that we already know she loves. For example, when introducing cauliflower for the first time, I made the mistake of giving her sweet potato at the same time--one of her favourites. Needless to say, she went straight for the sweet potato and showed little interest in the weird looking white tree. So, next time, I offered cauliflower first and on its own. She gobbled it up! Give you baby a chance to test out and enjoy a new food without the distraction of a tasty favourite.
Tip #3: don’t shy away from new and bold flavours
I was hesitant at first to offer Ayla flavours that were a little stronger in nature, such as curry. But I realized just because she’s a baby, doesn’t mean she won’t enjoy something flavourful like this! I don’t suggest loading up a dish with hot peppers if your baby has never had them before. Take it slow and add in spices and exotic flavours a little bit at a time and see how they react. He might surprise you! If strong flavour profiles are a big part of your family’s food culture, introducing them sooner rather than later may help ensure he enjoys these foods later on.
Tip #4: prep ahead in bulk when you can and when it makes sense
I admit, I haven’t nailed this yet-- a combination of being on maternity leave (not always needing to prep in advance) and facing new challenges in the kitchen. But one thing I have been doing is creating a weekly meal plan, both for Ayla and Dave and myself. This helps with shopping and meal prepping in advance when it makes sense. Having a weekly plan means you know what you will be serving each day and can help pinpoint any dishes or parts of a meal that can be made up in advance when you have the time. Since we do a mixture of BLW and purees for Ayla, I like to make up a batch of purees and then freeze them in individual servings. Then, the morning of, I simply pop one out of the freezer so it’s thawed and ready for meal time. You can also make up things like pancakes and muffins, etc. Healthy baked goods are easy to freeze and give you a quick, nutritious snack when you’re short on time.
Tip #5: have a few go-to quick and easy snacks that you can rely on
Some days you just don’t have the creativity or energy to come up with new and exciting meals and snacks for your little one (or yourself). Having a few go-to snacks that you know you can fall back on is key, like my homemade real-food baby cookies pictured above. These are things you can quickly grab from the pantry or fridge before you run out the door. For me, I like to have a couple of healthy baked goods either in the fridge or freezer. I also bake sweet potato with cinnamon weekly, cut into strips and keep in an air-tight container in the fridge so I can use them as a snack or add them to any meal. There are a couple of packaged items that I grab from the grocery store too. I basically use Nature’s Path puffed kamut as a daily activity. I grab a handful and throw it on Ayla’s snack tray in the stroller when we go for a walk, or on her highchair tray when I need to keep her occupied before her meal is ready. I also like the Love Duck brand. They have organic freeze dried fruit bites that have no added ingredients and make for a great little sweet treat.
The journey of solid food introduction for your baby can be an exciting one, especially when you have a game plan going into it. Getting back in the kitchen for the purpose of nourishing my child has reignited my passion for nutrition, something that fell to the wayside when I was pregnant (due to the constant nausea…). When it comes to deciding what to feed your baby and how, be sure to do what works best for your family and use the method that you feel most comfortable with.
Comment below with your favourite baby-friendly meal or recipe!