Introducing Solids: Different Approaches and Strategies

What to Know

  • Learn about the different methods for introducing solids
  • Understand the benefits or disadvantages of each
  • Learn tips about introducing solids

With so many opinions and recommendations, it can be difficult to decide how to start introducing solids to your baby. This article will review different feeding strategies, along with their potential benefits and disadvantages, so that you can choose the one that works best for you and your infant. As you begin this journey, be sure to chat with your baby’s pediatrician.

The first decision concerns timing: when should you begin feeding your baby? Research points to six months as the ideal time for introduction of solids because your little one’s intestines are mostly developed. Other important signs of readiness for food include ensuring your baby can sit up with minimal support, keep her head up and steady, and show interest in the foods you’re eating. (For more information on when to start solids, please see Introducing Solids: Signs of Readiness

Introduction of food is complementary to breastmilk and/or formula feeding, which should remain the primary source of nutrients and calories up through the first year. Think of eating as a way for your baby to explore food, tastes, and textures; rather than a way for them to get most of their nutrients.  This will allow you and your baby to set aside frustration and have more fun with the process.

There are different methods that parents may choose when it comes to baby’s first bites.  Below reviews the traditional as well as alternative approaches to feeding, including their pros and cons.

Traditional: Purees to Start

This technique has been around longest and is the one recommended by most pediatricians.  It begins with spoon-feeding purees, graduating to lumpy mixtures, soft solids, and soft table foods; progressively advancing textures as the baby matures and shows readiness.

While many pediatricians still recommend fortified single grains mixed with breastmilk or formula as the first food, followed by pureed vegetables and fruit, there is no medical evidence indicating that solids should be introduced in any specific order. This includes the theory that vegetables should be introduced before fruit. Babies have a natural preference for sweet tastes regardless of which foods come first. Rather than worry about the order of produce introduced, the primary goal is to introduce many flavors to set your infant up for successful eating both now and in the future.

The traditional method also suggests adding one new food every 2 to 3 days to check for intolerance or possible allergic reactions, although this recommendation is becoming less frequently used by professional organizations such as the AAP. After each new food, watch for symptoms such as diarrhea, rash, or vomiting. If these occur, consult with your infant’s health care provider to discuss the next steps. Vegetables and proteins are high in nutrients per serving, so having them as a consistent part of your baby’s diet alongside fruits and grains, will ensure a variety of quality nutrients are offered.

Another older recommendation is to wait until between 7 to 8 months to introduce proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish, beef, and dairy foods (excluding cow’s milk, which should be introduced at 1 year).  Research indicates this may not be necessary, and in fact introducing meat early, particularly to breastfed babies, will help them meet their increasing iron and zinc needs. Simply ensure the proteins are a texture your baby is able to tolerate.  This might mean introducing ground beef, pureed chicken, or mashed fish initially until he is able to chew (or ‘gum’) advancing textures.  (See: What’s the Deal with Seafood for more information on which fish are high in mercury and should be avoided for infants).

Though some health care providers counsel to hold off on offering fish, eggs, and other potential allergens until your infant is one year or older, new research indicates earlier introduction may actually help prevent allergies.  (To learn more, please see: Introducing Major Allergens)

When your baby is able to bring her hands to her mouth, typically between 8 and 10 months, finger foods may be introduced.  During this time she is developing her ability to ‘gum’ foods, as well as developing pincer and fine motor skills needed for self-feeding.  Very soft foods cut into small pieces are still needed as baby does not have enough teeth to break up hard foods. 

Baby Led Weaning (BLW)

This progressive technique discourages spoon feeding and supports infants to self-feed from the beginning.  The theory behind this method is that infants should be in control of what and how much they eat. Proponents also say BLW helps to better develop infants’ chewing skills and hand-eye coordination.  Because infants have more control of their ability to grasp and swallow at 6 months, BLW is recommended to start around this age and not sooner.

Per Baby Led Weaning, first foods should be soft enough to ‘smush’ between the fingers and cut into a ‘strip’ for the baby to grasp.  Advocates for this technique advise adults to never put food in the baby’s mouth. This allows the infant to be in control of the entire feeding experience. Example first foods include: Banana, avocado, mango; steamed sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, asparagus; steamed apple and pear; well-cooked fish and scrambled eggs; over-cooked pasta, etc.  Foods that are choking hazards should be avoided, as with any feeding method.  (See: Preventing Choking for more information).

Some proponents also promote feeding baby what the family is eating (“table food”); however, these foods may be too high in salt and sugar.  Feeding family foods may be acceptable so long as a separate dish is prepared without these added ingredients. 

Potential advantages: Greater acceptance of foods, weight management, promotion of oral motor and chewing skills. It should be noted that some of these benefits are contested.

Potential disadvantages include: Not meeting infant’s increasing iron needs, not meeting calorie needs, too much added sodium or sugar, risk of choking.

For more information on the potential benefits and disadvantages of Baby Led Weaning, please read Introducing Solids: Baby Led Weaning.

Feed Almost Anything, Anytime

This method is similar to the traditional method in that you may choose to start with pureed foods and advance textures as appropriate; but it differs in that a much wider variety of foods are offered from the start.  This includes: fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, chicken, meat, combination foods, mixed grains, beans, dairy (still not cow’s milk to drink though), etc.  Another difference is that this method does not require waiting 2 to 3 days to introduce a new food, but rather new foods are introduced anytime and in any combination – not just one at a time.  As long as the food is a consistency that your baby can handle, the food is within the realm of possibility.

As with any feeding strategy, avoiding foods with added salt and sugar is key to your infant’s health as well as the foundation to building healthy taste preferences.  Should you decide to follow this more relaxed strategy, it may be important to keep a food log of what your infant eats so that if symptoms of a possible food intolerance or allergy pop up, you can see what items it may be linked to.

How do you decide?

Baby feeding is exciting, yet can also be riddled with questions of how to proceed and progress. Speak with your infant’s pediatrician to gather more information and ensure they support the method you choose. This will allow for better care of your infant as you introduce solids. 

If you’re unsure of how to start, begin with what you are most comfortable with and progress as you see best and safest for you and your baby.   If you begin using one method and it doesn’t feel right, there is no harm in switching to another.  But most of all, enjoy the journey!

Tips and information on introduction of solids

  • Feed baby when she is not overly hungry and is in a good mood to avoid frustration on both her and your part.
  • Diaper rash may be due to changes in the digestive process after foods are introduced and does not necessarily indicate an allergy or intolerance.  
  • Stool will become more solid, will vary in color, and may change in odor as foods are introduced.  If foods are mashed and not strained, you may find undigested pieces of food, which is not of concern.
  • Research does not support introducing vegetables before fruit. Offering a variety of both in any order is adequate.
  • Stop feeding your baby once she shows signs of being finished: turning her head, crying, not opening her mouth. Wait to offer more until she is ready at the next feeding, rather than force feed.
  • Iron is important for infants to consume starting at 6 months. This can come from fortified infant cereal or meats such as chicken, turkey, beef, and fish. 
  • Your infant may reach for your spoon!  Provide her with her own to play with and explore.
  • Have fun!

What to Do

1.First Foods

No matter which feeding style you choose, make sure that the first foods you introduce are very soft. Infants do not have teeth so what you offer must be soft enough for your baby to mash with their tongue or gums.  Examples:

  • Steamed or pureed vegetables: broccoli, peas, sweet potato, butternut squash, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots, etc.
  • Steamed, pureed, or mashed fruit, no skin: Apples, pears, banana, avocado, mango,
  • Infant cereal or over-cooked pasta
  • Well-cooked pureed or finely chopped ground beef, chicken, turkey, or fish.
  • Well-cooked scrambled eggs
  • Whole milk yogurt blended with pumpkin puree, banana, avocado, or blueberries.

Avoid adding salt or sugar to your infant’s food. Advance textures when your baby is ready.

Read Introducing Solids: First Foods and Advancing Textures for information on introducing solids to your infant. 

2. Finger Foods

When your baby is ready to feed herself, or if you choose the Baby Led Weaning method, here are some finger foods to try.  Place four to five pieces of food on your infant’s tray to start, adding more as she feeds herself (or attempts to!).

Soft Finger foods:

  • Steamed strips (for baby to grasp if pincer skills still need development) or bite-sized piece of sweet potato, winter squash, and carrot. 
  • Ripe banana, avocado, mango, peaches, watermelon, plum, cantaloupe, honeydew melon.
  • Scrambled egg
  • Toast strips or pieces (smeared with a thin layer of avocado or small amount of nut butter if you like)
  • Small cubes of tofu
  • Over-cooked pasta, cut into pieces

Once your baby becomes better at ‘gumming’ foods well before swallowing, slightly firmer foods may be tried in addition to the above foods.

  • Small pieces of cheese
  • Cucumber
  • Roasted or cooked beans and sweet peas (If you notice these coming out whole on the other end, slightly smush them with your finger to break the skin and allow for better digestion).
  • Steamed broccoli or cauliflower ‘trees’
  • O-shaped toasted cereal
  • Chopped hard-boiled egg
  • Pea-sized pieces of cooked chicken, ground beef, turkey, or fish.

3. Foods to avoid

Some foods pose choking risks for infants and toddlers due to their shape or hard texture.  Here are some foods that should be avoided:

  • Hot dogs and sausages
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grapes
  • Hard, gooey, or sticky candy, such as marshmallows and caramels
  • Chunks of peanut butter (if you are introducing nut butters, spread it very thin on a slice of toast)
  • Popcorn
  • Raw vegetables, such as carrots and celery
  • Chunks of cheese and meats
  • Chewing gum
  • Small foods with pits such as cherries and olives
  • Large pieces of bread
  • Added salt and sugar

To learn more, please read our article on Preventing Choking

4. Go with the method that feels right to you

Know that there are no studies showing any one feeding method as superior to another, so go with the one that is right for you and your family.  Whether you choose the traditional, Baby Led Weaning, or the ‘anything’ approach, how your baby reacts to it – and how comfortable you are – is the best indicator that it is working… or not!  Taking into account the benefits and disadvantages of each will help you feed your baby what they need both for health and exploration.  For additional support, speak with your pediatrician about your decision.  And remember that you can switch techniques at any point!

5. Meet your baby’s iron needs

Iron needs increase after 6 months of age, so including foods with iron is an important part of feeding.  Note that iron from vegetables and beans is better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C.  Pair these foods with some citrus fruit to accomplish this. 

Food high in iron:

  • Iron-fortified cereals and grains, such as oatmeal and pasta
  • Red meat (ground beef)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as: spinach, Swiss chard, beet and collard greens, Bok choy, and kale
  • Lentils and beans
  • Tofu

For other nutrients that your baby needs between the ages of 6 and 12 months, read this article:  Nutritional Requirements for 6-12 Month Olds.


General Timeline of Feeding Guidelines and Tips for Babies under 12 months

6 months: Exploration

  • Continue to breast and/or formula feed.
  • You can introduce new foods every 2-3 days to allow baby to acclimate to new textures and flavors, as well as to watch for adverse reactions.
  • Amount of food consumed may be minimal as your baby discovers food, plays with spoons and bowls, and learns to swallow rather than reflexively push food out of his mouth.
  • Food order of introduction is not critical.
  • Include iron-rich or iron-fortified foods.
  • Feed once or twice per day, about 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. Graduate up to 2 to 3 small meals per day, of 2 to 4 tablespoons once baby is ready.
  • Feed when baby is slightly hunger, but not ravenous.  60 to 90 minutes after breastmilk/ formula may work well.
  • No need to add salt and sugar to your baby’s food.
  • Stop feeding when baby indicates she is finished.

7 to 8 months: Exploration and Flavor immersion

  • Continue to breast or formula feed.
  • Offer a variety of foods, including vegetable, fruit, meat, poultry, fish, egg, small amounts of diluted nut butters*, grains, and unsweetened yogurt and cheese (but no cow’s milk until after 1 year), in a texture and size your baby can handle.
  • Continue to repeat foods even if it seems your baby did not enjoy it the first few times.  Babies develop a liking for food over time and with multiple exposures.
  • Infants are open to many flavors. The wider the variety of foods and flavors offered on a repetitive basis, the increased likelihood of being a less picky eater in the future.
  • Advance texture of food as your infant is ready.
  • Encourage and explore self-feeding soft foods, such as banana and avocado. Your baby may not be able to self-feed yet, which is absolutely normal.
  • Begin teaching how to drink water from a cup.  Aim for no more than a couple ounces total for the day.
  • Feed 2-3 small meals, the size of baby’s fist, with optional nutritious snacks.
  • Continue to avoid adding salt and sugar.
  • Stop feeding when baby indicates she is finished.

* If there aren’t any food allergies in baby’s/your immediate family, then your little one is likely low risk for an allergy.  The current recommendation is to introduce all foods (including peanut butter, eggs, fish, soy, and other allergens) when your baby is developmentally ready for that texture, as early as 6 months.

8 to 10 months: Flavor immersion and Finger Foods

  • Continue breast or formula feeding.
  • Lumpy foods and advanced textures should be introduced before 10 months, as your baby is ready, to help prevent difficulty feeding later in childhood.
  • Provide soft, baby-size pieces of foods for self-feeding, such as small pieces of: soft cheese, toasted bread, tofu, beans, cooked pasta, steamed broccoli, roasted winter squash, soft cooked eggs, etc.  You should be able to ‘smush’ the food between your fingers.
  • Avoid foods that are choking hazards (see: Preventing Choking for more information)[
  • Include baby in family meals when able.
  • Begin offering soft combination table foods around 9 months, such as: casseroles, pasta with sauce, etc.
  • Make sure table foods are not laden with salt and sugar.
  • Stop feeding when baby indicates she is finished.

10 to 12 months: Finger foods and Family meals

  • Continue to breast or formula feed.
  • Continue offering a wide variety of foods.
  • Begin to structure family meal time (see: Family Meals for more information)
  • Begin providing fluids in a cup.
  • Continue to offer soft “smush-able” foods to help prevent choking.
  • Provide 3 to 4 small meals per day plus nutritious snacks.
  • Continue to avoid excessive salt, sugar, and fried foods.

12 + months: Regular eating and Bottle weaning

Sources

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