What is the best food to offer to my baby first is a question that I frequently get asked, both at work and in our circle of friends. Should I start with veggies? Does my baby really need everything that is added in this rice cereal? Will I give my baby a sweet tooth if I start with fruit?
The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommend that your baby get all of their nutritional needs met by breast milk or formula during the first year of their life. Since food introductions are purely supplemental at this point, it truly does not make a difference which tastes you choose to introduce first. That doesn’t mean that the introduction of pureed foods is not important; it’s quite the contrary.
The role of introducing solids has far more important goals than nutrition (remembering that nutrition is being met by breast milk and/or formula). It begins the sensory journey of oral eating, teaches your family’s unspoken mealtime routine (i.e. sitting in your chair, prayer, turn-taking during family conversations) and helps to strengthen muscles in the oral cavity to aid in the development of speech.
So what about those questions above?
My answer for the best pureed food choice is always the same. Simply pick something that is in season and avoid the top 8 food allergens (listed below). Your child is going to eventually have food preferences just like you do, so it’s ok to relax and take comfort in knowing that there is no preferred order for introducing fruits and vegetables.
As for the rice cereal, it’s honestly the last food that I personally offer. While the marketing on the cereal boxes and cans talk about all the wonderful additives inside, unless your pediatrician has specifically told you that you need to add this food, its unnecessary and there are much better tasting foods to try first. I know that my babies are having their nutrition met by breast milk, so the last thing that I want to do is offer them a grainier version of breast milk or formula. I do not offer rice until they are big enough to eat soft solids and enjoy rice in its true form (varies by child, but generally occurs around 12-14 months).
When I introduce pureed foods, I focus more on how I am introducing them rather than what I am introducing. My son, Henry, started his food journey eating pureed apples. As an allergy mom, I always take caution and I give a full five days to watch for any reactions to new foods before I offer another one.
Henry loves apples. Apples help his little body with digestion and are a safe food choice, so I use apples as his food base. Yes, a food base. That means that every time I offer pureed food right now it’s apples, and each week, I expand his food introductions by adding one new food into them. By adding only one new food to the apple puree, there is no question as to which food is new in the event of a food allergy reaction.
Are you wondering why I do it this way?
In general, people introduce new foods, one at a time. This method switches the taste offered on the spoon every few days and teaches many babies to expect change (sometimes good and sometimes not!). The varying change in tastes is enjoyed by some babies, but can lead others to become cautious eaters. Instead of switching to a whole new food/taste each week, these two-part blends allow me to gradually introduce new tastes and avoid large contrasts in flavors which can lead to mistrust, avoidance and ultimately food refusals (if one taste isn’t agreeable). Using a food base teaches my son that he can always trust what is being presented to him on his spoon is going to be familiar. This trust is really important to establish at this early stage of eating to avoid picky eaters later on.
I steam and blend all of our foods at home in our Vitamix and then freeze them for storage. When I defrost the puree at mealtime, I keep the purees cool (but not cold) to provide some added comfort to Henry’s sore, teething gums.
Here’s our food schedule so far:
Week 1: Apples
Week 2: Apples & Cherries (photo above: defrosted before offered by mouth)
Week 3: Apple & Pears
Week 4: Apple & Apricots
Week 5: Apple & Sweet Potato (adding in some vegetables)
Foods we avoid during the first year are the top allergenic foods:
- Cows Milk
- Egg White
Foods we avoid during early introductions that are known to cause/increase gas:
(The very last thing I want to associate with oral eating is a painful belly afterwards.)
- Cow’s Milk
Are you ready to begin pureed foods with your baby? Make sure you’ve taken all the steps to prepare your family for this next fun stage in your baby’s life.
4) Learn the REAL stages of eating and discuss an individualized plan to best meet your child’s needs with your pediatrician
Happy, Healthy Eating!