When is the best time to introduce solids?
Good question! The World Health Organisation recommends that infants are exclusively on a milk diet until they are six months old to achieve optimal growth, development and health. However, Plunket suggests that babies could start eating solids as early as four months old, but somewhere between four and six months is optimal.
Before the age of four months, babies are too immature physically and developmentally to eat solids, but once they hit the six-month mark, solids become a very necessary part of the diet. Solids introduce vitamins and minerals, especially iron, that babies need for growth and brain development. Every baby is different and has different needs, so I suggest talking to your Plunket nurse or GP about the right time for your baby to start solids, especially if your baby was born prematurely.
What foods to introduce first?
In New Zealand, baby rice tends to be the first food of choice – as recommended by Plunket. Following the instructions on the packet, combine some baby rice with breast milk or formula and mix it up until it is a thin, smooth consistency. Start with a very small amount at first (about one teaspoon), and then as your baby’s needs increase, gradually increase the amount. There are also other grain options that parents might consider healthier, so do a little research of your own, and decide what is best for your baby.
Store-bought baby food
After the baby rice, you can then move on to other foods, including a variety of pureed vegetables that you can either make yourself or buy in pre-made pouches from the supermarket. If you purchase baby food from the supermarket, make sure that it is in its purest form (organic, where possible, is fantastic), and make sure that it contains little, or better yet, no sugar.
Homemade baby food
If you are making your own baby food, you can choose a variety of vegetables in a range of different colours. For example, kumara (white), carrot (orange) and courgette (green). Variety is important because every vegetable contains different vitamins and minerals to nourish your baby.
To make baby food at home, steam vegetables until they are very soft and completely cooked through. Using a stick blender or food processor, puree the vegetables until very smooth. You might need to add water to get to the right consistency.
As your baby gets older and develops, he will be able to eat more lumpy food, but initially, the smoother the better. When making your baby homemade meals, you do not need to add any kind of seasoning or flavouring to it – keep it as bland as possible. To save time and effort, make up a batch and freeze it in ice block trays for later use.
The sugar debate
You may have noticed that so far I haven’t talked about introducing fruit into your baby’s diet. I believe it is important to start the way you wish to go on. There is nothing wrong with fruit in small doses – it contains lots of lovely nutrients, but it also contains high amounts of sugar. So if you are feeding your baby lots of fruit, then you are flooding his little body with a lot of sugar, which is not ideal. I am finding in my private practice that many babies who have started solids by eating a lot of fruit have developed quite a sweet tooth.
Getting them to eat vegetables and meat (when they are old enough) and anything without a sweetness to it is very challenging. So I recommend keeping fruit to a minimum, start with pureed vegetables, and if you do want to give some fruit to your baby, dilute it and mix it in with baby rice or bland vegetables so that it is not too sweet.
Which meal to start with?
When you introduce solids, you start with just one meal at a time, so the time of day is completely up to you. I tend to go for either mid-morning or mid-afternoon because when you move your baby from one meal a day to two meals a day, they will be evenly spaced. But again, go with whatever works for you and your baby.
When, how and what to feed your baby is entirely your choice and decision but I would encourage you to keep their meals healthy and balanced right from the start. Do you own research and decide what you think is best for your baby, based on what will give them the best start in life, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice!
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