By Sydney Loney
When Elisa Lacivita first approached six-month-old daughter Mia with food on a spoon, she was terrified her baby would choke or have an allergic reaction. “I just gave her tiny tastes of things and I’d have my face right up to hers in case something went wrong,” says the Toronto mother. But before long, Mia’s meals went from plain old purée to full-out gourmet, and by nine months she was enjoying homemade beef stew and pasta with broccoli and olive oil.
“It’s intimidating when you first introduce solids and textures,” says Joanne Saab, a mom of two, a registered dietitian at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., and co-author of Better Baby Food (Robert Rose). Getting over that initial anxiety is one of the biggest hurdles parents face when starting solids. Here are some guidelines to help ease the process.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends waiting until your baby hits the six-month mark before serving puréed solid foods. And he’ll let you know when he’s ready by eyeing the food on your plate, says Dr. Henry Ukpeh, a pediatrician in Trail, B.C. “When your baby can support his head and starts showing interest in what you’re eating, that’s a sign. He should also be able to pull his face away during feeding to tell you he has had enough.” Just don’t wait too long after six months of age to introduce solid foods, adds Saab. “If you miss that window of opportunity, your baby may develop a texture aversion.”
By six months, an infant’s iron stores are depleted so it’s important to offer an iron-rich food first, says Saab. “A few years ago, meat was always the last thing introduced, but now you can start with an iron-fortified, single-grain cereal or strained meat.” Rice is a good cereal choice because it’s usually iron-fortified and is the least likely to cause an allergic reaction, says Dr. Ukpeh. After that, anything goes. It’s not true that if you give a baby fruit first, he won’t want veggies, Saab says. “Babies’ taste buds aren’t fully developed and they don’t have the same sensitivity for sweet and salty that we do.”
Jarred and homemade purées (organic or otherwise) are equally nutritious — it’s a matter of personal preference, says Saab. “Homemade is easier than you think — if you’re cooking carrots for yourself, throw in a few extra and fork-mash or purée some for your baby.” The main thing is to space it out — one new food about every three days. “If you feed them more than one food and they have an allergic reaction, you won’t know what they’re reacting to,” says Dr. Ukpeh. Food allergies are usually only a concern if you have a family history of seasonal and food allergies, he adds. Foods that can trigger reactions include eggs, nuts, fish, milk and wheat.
If you’re running out of creative ways to get your baby to open his mouth, be patient. “Just keep offering food and make it as familiar as possible,” says Dr. Ukpeh. “If there’s something your child already likes, mix it with the new food.” That was the strategy Lacivita used with her daughter. “Mia didn’t like lentils, but I mixed them with her pasta, which she loved,” says Lacivita. She also used a teething wafer as a spoon substitute when Mia got fussy at feeding time. As long as your baby is thriving and growing, you’re doing your job, says Saab. “We get so anxious about the introduction of solids, when really babies just go at their own pace — like with everything else they do.”
Sydney Loney is a Toronto writer and editor who makes a mean mixed-veggie purée for her 10-month-old son, Charlie.
By about eight months, your baby may be ready to try a little texture. “To prevent choking, start with something small and soft,” says Saab. Experiment with ripe fruit and soft, steamed vegetables, pasta and cooked, tender meats — all sliced into pieces no larger than ¼ to ½ inch.
Other good options:
To further reduce the risk of choking on solid foods, never leave a baby unattended, always feed him in a high chair or an upright position and never let him crawl with food in his mouth. It’s also a good idea to take an infant first aid/CPR class, just in case.