You may feel like you just figured out how to successfully breastfeed, and suddenly it’s time to introduce your baby to solid foods already. Deciding what to feed your little ones can be tough for new parents.
While your baby’s first meal probably shouldn’t be a ribeye steak and potatoes, you might be surprised by what real nutritionists feed their babies and toddlers.
Introducing Solids for the First Time
When your baby shows more interest in what’s on your plate than in their bottle (or your breast)—usually when they’re between 4 to 6 months old—they’re probably ready to start solids. Dietitian Katherine Baqleh recommends that parents “start with a few mouthfuls one to two times a day after breastfeeds then increase it.”
Baqleh continues, food “textures should move from puréed to lumpy to normal by 12 months.”
It’s good to start with bland foods, like fortified cereal mixed with breast milk or formula to get your baby acclimated to solids, but you can move on to real solids pretty quickly.
After that, you can start introducing a wider variety of foods, which should contain lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates for a well-rounded meal.
Foods for Babies Over 6 Months
When introducing your baby to real foods, there are a few guidelines to follow. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends introducing “highly allergenic foods to your baby after other solid foods have been fed and tolerated, and with the first taste being at home. If no reaction occurs, then you can gradually increase the amount at a rate of one new food every 3 to 5 days.”
Always make sure foods are small, soft, and cut into tiny pieces to prevent choking. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests bananas or scrambled eggs.
Other good foods to start baby out on include:
Salmon and Peas
Nutritionist Sara Doll says “broiled salmon and peas are great for babies just starting to feed themselves.” Both salmon and peas are soft and easy to swallow.
Salmon is a great source of lean protein and healthy fat, and peas are a great source of fiber and iron, which breastfed babies may start to get low on at around 6 months.
Natalia Stasenka, a registered dietitian, says “beans and lentils are a stellar source of protein, iron, folate, zinc and manganese for the whole family, including baby.”
Just make sure to soak the beans overnight until they are very soft, and either puree or mash before feeding to baby.
All the Squash
Babies, just like their parents, have a natural affinity for sweet stuff. Jessica Shapiro, a wellness dietitian, started her baby on butternut and acorn squash.
She explains, “I continued along the vegetable spectrum [see below] before introducing fruit, other grains and meat. My theory is that I wanted my baby to appreciate vegetables before fruit to deter rejection of vegetables. Was my theory correct? Who knows, but I do know that my baby still loves vegetables.”
Transitioning to Toddler Foods
There are some foods to avoid before a baby hits the 1-year mark. According to Shapiro, these foods are:
–Milk (other dairy products are okay)
–Honey (which carries of a risk of botulism, a foodborne illness)
–Choking hazards: popcorn, chunks of raw fruits, raw vegetables, hot dogs, grapes, olives, meats. If it can fit through a toilet paper roll and doesn’t break down easily, it’s a risk.
After one year, you can start introducing your toddler to more foods and textures. Nutritionist Sarah Bester says, “There is no such thing [as a baby-friendly food]! If I’m eating it, she can eat it.”
Try some of these toddler-friendly foods:
Rachel Beller, a registered dietician, recommends giving toddlers blueberries.
Blueberries are a superfood packed with antioxidants and are a great way to satisfy and toddler’s sweet tooth without giving them a sugary dessert. They can be served for breakfast in smoothies or oatmeal or for lunch and dinner as a side or in a salad.
Beller also recommends soy foods like tofu for toddlers.
“Whole soy foods are an excellent source of lean protein and have potent anti-cancer benefits. Tofu is great for young girls because it has a protective effect as their bodies and breast tissue are developing—which lasts into adulthood.”
Dietitian Cassie says, “Smoothies are another kid-friendly option that you can jam pack full of nutrition, and they can be portable too! Make one of these, dump it into your kid’s cup (instead of juice!) and take it to-go!
“I recommend blending some carbohydrate (half of fresh or frozen banana or berries and half cup of spinach!) and healthy fat (1-2 tablespoons peanut butter to complement that banana or half an avocado blends in very nicely) and half a scoop (equivalent to about 10 grams of protein) of natural whey protein powder.”
For Picky Eaters
Babies and toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, but there are some tips and tricks you can try to get your kids to eat a variety of foods.
If you’re just introducing your baby to new foods, and they continue to turn their heads or cry during mealtime, don’t force them to try solids, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises. Instead, go back to the bottle or breast for a few days and then give solids another go.
For picky toddlers, you can try hiding healthy veggies in other meals, like sneaking broccoli into pasta sauce or green veggies into a sweet smoothie. Check out this easy recipe for sneaky veggie mac n’ cheese!
Dietitians recommend these foods to tempt your picky eater:
Hummus and Other Dips
Sticking food into creamy dips is a fun way for both kids and adults to snack. Kids especially might warm to vegetables if they get to dip them in a flavorful (but still healthy!) spread.
“My girls struggle with eating vegetables, so we rely on dips like hummus, guacamole, and even ranch and ketchup to encourage them to eat more veggies,” says registered dietitian Holley Grainger. “With dips, they’ll eat carrots, cucumbers, butter lettuce, canned green beans, and broccoli.”
One way to get your threenager to eat snacks they might not otherwise touch is to serve it in creative ways.
Instead of boring apple slices, try making your toddler an apple sandwich with nut butter instead. Simply slice the apple into rings, spread on your favorite nut butter, and sprinkle with granola or raisins before placing another apple slice on top.
Hold on…pizza? Yes, if your kid loves pizza (and what kid doesn’t?), serve up a healthier version for picky eaters to ensure they get their nutrients in. Use a whole-grain English muffin for the crust and top with turkey pepperoni and pasta sauce. Gisela Bouvier suggests a homemade sauce packed with pureed veggies.
When her daughter refused veggies at mealtimes, Bouvier said, “As her mother and dietitian, this was very concerning to me. Although I continue to introduce vegetables to her, hoping that she will eat them again, I find ways to hide them as well to ensure she gets the nutrients she needs. Smoothies and pasta sauces have been the greatest hits.”