As a pediatric dietitian and a mom, one of the most common questions I receive is about ‘introducing solids’. Questions like: “‘Do I have to offer a single food one at a time? Can I offer blended foods?” and “What do I start with?”
There’s no shortage of information out there, but filtering the mass of do’s and don’ts can be daunting.
Up until now, your baby has been lovingly fed by breast or bottle –breastmilk or formula –either way, both are a miracle of nature and food science. An actual ‘one stop shop’ for complete nutrition for your babe. I’m a mom of two, I know this time is/was NOT easy. Feeding young infants has so many challenges in itself, but generally, you knew the nutrition was THERE. It was all packed into a glorious nutritionally complete ‘wonder’ food.
Now your baby is somewhere between 4-6 months old, and all of a sudden you need to make decisions about what’s the most nutritious food for your baby. What used to be a narrow scope of choice, is now endless and can be overwhelming. Especially if you are getting advice from multiple sources.
What parents want to know is — How do I meet my baby’s nutritional needs? And yes, this is the ultimate goal. Healthy, nourished, happy, playful, brilliant babies! Of course. But what this is really asking is ‘what foods do I offer and when?” “What do I start with?”
So let’s talk about getting started. Iron rich foods need to be among the first foods. Full stop. Start slowly with a couple teaspoons of pureed iron-rich foods. There are some nutrients that are particularly important for brain development around this age, like iron, zinc, vitamin A, copper and lutein. Veggies like sweet potatoes and carrots are great first foods, as they are sources of some of these nutrients. Pureed meat, spinach, and peas are also good foods to start with. You do not need to offer one food at a time for every food.
Historically, Pediatricians and Dietitians had recommended offering a single food one at a time, for 2-3 days, for the purpose of monitoring for allergic reactions or stomach upset. But this is now widely regarded as outdated advice for the majority of babies. That being said, if your doctor or dietitian advises this for your child for a specific reason, by all means, you should follow their direction. Particularly if you have a family history of a certain food allergy, I suggest trying that food on its own first, to look for a reaction. To this point, some parents are more comfortable offering a common allergen (such as nuts, eggs, fish etc) one at a time, at first.
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 do not include a recommendation to offer a single food one at a time. These guidelines recommend “a nutrient-dense diverse diet, from about 6 months of age, including a variety of food sources”.
Infancy is a critical time of growth and development. Complementary foods (meaning the foods you start with that ‘complement’ your breast milk/formula) need to include those rich in iron and zinc. You will not find these nutrients in fruit or most vegetables. If you were to offer a single fruit or vegetable every 2-3 days, then you might miss the window of opportunity to provide your baby with these, and other, important nutrients. Variety is important. So it’s okay to offer blends of food or a few foods simultaneously. You can still take it slow and follow your own parental ‘gut’, there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feed your baby. Enjoy the journey!