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Starting Solid Foods Part 2

Ok, so you’ve been cleared by your pediatrician to introduce solid foods.  You’ve wandered timidly through the baby food aisle, and dutifully perused the websites I told you to.  You’ve read up on allergies.  You’re ready to go!  Let’s talk about getting started.

What to start with?  Conventional wisdom recommends rice cereal or banana; both are somewhat bland, and very smooth in texture.  Rice is often advised because it digests more like a fruit than a grain and it’s highly unusual for someone to be allergic to rice.  We started with breast milk mixed into INFANT rice cereal.  And speaking of cereal, there is a difference between infant rice cereal/oatmeal/etc. and adult versions- the way they're processed before they get to you.  I’d advise you to start with the infant versions; they are fortified with iron, which babies need for brain growth, and are easily mixable and broken down.  Some people disagree, saying “adult” cereal is healthier.  I agree it has more fiber, but that’s not primary importance to me in the beginning – getting baby used to food is.  And the baby cereal mixes up faster which is a definite perk when you’re doing it one-handed.  If you want to make your own cereal, give it a try after a few weeks.  Some people also recommend starting with meat so you don’t have to do an iron-fortified cereal; I had a hard enough time getting Maddie to eat rice cereal and can’t imagine the face she would have made at beef.  Starting with cereal has the advantage of being mixable with breast milk or formula, to give the baby a familiar taste, but bananas and rice are often first foods as much because of cultural habit as anything else; I’m pretty sure bananas are not a first food in, say, India. 

Again, consult with your pediatrician about where to start food-wise, but in general any of the Stage 1 foods in the baby food aisle should work; they are basically single-grain or single-fruit or –veggie foods.  Most anything in the yellow or orange color family is ok veggie-wise, and most of the fruits you’ll start with are fleshy fruits like pears and peaches.  Fruits that you CANNOT introduce the first year of baby’s life are berries, like strawberries, raspberries, etc., and citrus like oranges and so forth.  Green beans and peas are considered Stage 1 simply because they are not a high likelihood of being an allergy food.  You want to start bland, smooth, and as unlikely to cause an allergic reaction as possible.  Read up on the reference websites for food allergies (more on that tomorrow); Wholesome Baby Food has a great breakdown for you.

Regardless of what you start with, introduce only one food at a time, and wait five days to introduce another food.  Younger babies can take a few days to manifest an allergic reaction, and you’ll want to go slowly so you can identify which food caused the reaction.  And as far as the rice cereal and banana choices, we found out the hard way (no pun intended) that bananas and rice are two of the biggest causes of infant constipation.  Get ready for that ride, and make sure you introduce prunes early on in baby’s experience to help counteract that.

When during the day do you give solid foods?  That’s a question that has many different answers.  Some people say to feed solid food right before a nursing, when baby is hungriest and most likely to eat something new.  Others say after a nursing; this isn’t about forcing solids down a baby’s throat.  I’m in the post-nursing camp, myself.  I would wait about half an hour after nursing and give Maddie her solid food; that way she had a bit of hunger to encourage her to try the solids, but had gotten her fill of milk.  Because truthfully, baby’s nutrition for her entire first year of life comes almost completely from milk.  Solid foods before age 1 are primarily for getting your baby used to new textures and flavors, getting used to the idea of chewing rather than swallowing, figuring out how to tongue sweep food from front to back.  So don’t worry if your 6-month-old is acting disinterested in his strained peas.  He’s not going to starve.  Madeleine’s small for her age, and a light eater: she eats maybe 3-4 ounces of solid food, three times a day (she’s nine months old).  But she still nurses 5-6 times a day and seems to be doing just fine, so I’m not going to worry if she doesn’t eat all of her green beans.

Ideally, you’ll introduce solid foods in the morning; if an allergic reaction occurs, you’d like a fighting chance that it’ll be in the afternoon rather than at 2 a.m.  Once you’ve got a couple foods under your belt, you can do a morning and an afternoon feeding.  As baby’s food repertoire grows, keep adding foods in without taking the “safe” foods off the rotation.  You’ll eventually end up with three “meals” a day, consisting of a fruit, veggie, and starch or protein.  Again, Wholesome Baby Food has a great chart for this.  Keep track of what you’ve introduced; as the list grows longer, you’ll forget foods and you want them to stay in her palate memory.  I got a dry-erase board with magnets on the back, used electrical tape to make a permanent “week” grid on it, and I write out what she eats each meal.  That way I can see, “Oh, hey!  She hasn’t had peas in three days.  Time to have peas.”  At the top of the board, I’ve got every food in her repertoire written down.  Every few days, I erase the oldest entries. 

It’s a sickness, I know.

Wondering whether you should make your own baby food?  I do it, and it’s not because I’m Martha Stewart, or think Maddie’s mouth is too precious for store-bought food.  I make her food mostly because it’s much much cheaper.  If you’re interested in making your own food, please do so.  It’s incredibly easy.  Here – I’ll give you a recipe:

Buy a sweet potato

Peel and steam sweet potato


Done!  In general, you have to cook all foods; baby’s tummy is too sensitive for raw fruits at this time, so you’ll bake or steam your peaches, pears, etc.  The exceptions to that rule – I found mangos soft enough, and bananas and avocados are easily mashable.  Make up several pears/peaches/whatever at once, pour the puree into an ice cube tray, freeze, and bag in a zip-loc.  Dinner is then just 30 seconds in the microwave away.  If you’d like to make your own food, I’ll once again direct you to Wholesome Baby Food; they have recipes, tips, nutritional info, etc.  The exception to the homemade rule is root vegetables – beets, carrots, and turnips.  These can have nitrates in harmful amounts, even if they’re organic.  Best to buy jarred for the first few months.

If you don’t want to make baby food, you’re not a bad mommy.  Any of the Stage 1 foods should be appropriate; they will all be single-food jars, nothing mixed, and should be pure food without added sugar, salt, etc.

And here’s a tip for you – when you first start solid foods, you can feed baby with the tip of your finger.  It tastes more familiar than the spoon, trust me.  I just dipped my finger in the cereal and let her lick it off the first couple of times.  Remember, babies will look at you blankly when you put any “foreign” object in their mouth the first time, and won’t understand what to do with something they didn’t suck into their mouths themselves.  Be patient!

Hopefully you now feel a bit more prepared to introduce solid foods.  I’ll beg you to wait just one more day, since tomorrow I’ll be talking about what to avoid when starting solids.  Turn off the video camera for just a little bit longer!  Once again, here are my favorite reference sites for this subject:

Wholesome Baby Food

Kelly Mom

Ask Dr. Sears

And as a final note, please remember that I am not the authority on this.  Listen to your doctor, and read up at these websites.


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