Introducing solids to your first born child is a big deal and can sometimes be a little nerve-racking. I believe there are some key ingredients (see what I did there) to help nurture this process and also have fun along the way.
This will be part 1 of our Introducing Solids series where I’ll talk about setting up the foundations for a solid journey with foods, and in the parts to come we will look at a timeline for when, what and how to introduce foods, as well as how to introduce allergens in a safe way.
I remember when Breya started approaching the four month mark and the idea of introducing solids started floating around in my head. The guidelines used to be from six months, but at this time the advice was to start as early as four months, especially if they are showing interest.
Truth be told, one of the main reasons I started early with her was because she was (and still is) a petite little poppet, but in hindsight I should have waited until six months to give her gut and its barrier a little more time to develop. We waited until six months with Harlan, even though he is also on the smaller side, and I have definitely noticed that he has better digestion than she did at his age, and also reacts less to certain foods.
Signs of Readiness
Before you begin feeding your baby solids, it’s important to make sure they are ready. There are some important signs to look out for that will help you to know. I suggest waiting until they are at least six months old and their little guts are ready for a new stimulus.
- Showing interest in your food: baby will stare at you and your food when you are eating. They might even reach out to grab it!
- Being able to sit up unassisted. The support through their midline will help them to digest their food properly;
- Loss of the ‘tongue thrust reflex’;
- Has developed enough fine motor skills to be able to attempt grasping a spoon and bringing it to their mouth.
It’s important to note that they do not need to be executing all of these perfectly before you start them on solids, but they should at least be sitting up mostly unassisted and looking interested in food.
Monkey See. Monkey Do
What happens BEFORE food starts getting introduced to our little ones is what helps set up the foundation. Our little people are such curious beings and before they can communicate with us using words, they just watch us and take everything in. They watch how we eat, what we eat, how often we eat and even how we prepare what we eat.
You know the saying “monkey see, monkey do?” I believe it’s very relevant here and they will copy what they see us do repeatedly. Dave and I love eating. We make sure we eat organic, flavoursome, home cooked (mostly) meals. So even before I held up that first spoonful of pureed veggies for our kiddos to try, they would constantly see me making and eating wholesome, nutritious food. And it matters.
Babies and Gut Development
When babies are born, their tiny guts are still developing and this can be further influenced by factors such as the mother’s diet during pregnancy, her microbiome, the mode of birth and whether the baby is breastfed or formula fed.
Regardless of what your experience has been when it comes to the factors mentioned above, being equipped with knowledge about how and what to give your bub once they start eating solids can be such a powerful and empowering tool for their immune status and wellbeing in general. Giving our little ones what they actually need from a developmental perspective in a way that is also gentle on their developing tummies is a great way to set them up for success.
Fat is Where it’s At
Fat intake is still a topic of hot debate and I’m sure there are parents out there who feel cautious about including fats in their little one’s nutrition plan. Be rest assured that good quality fats are not the enemy, and are in fact one of the most important nutrients we can give our babies. Our babies’ fast growing brains are made up of 60% fat which is being built by the fat in their diet. Fatty acids such as arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are so important for a baby’s developing nervous system, brain development, vision and immune function and protection from allergies. Fats also provide vitamin A, D, E and K which help us absorb all other nutrients better.
Pass the Protein
Protein is a crucial nutrient, especially during times of growth and repair. It’s also a vehicle for zinc uptake which is hugely important for the immune system, gut health and hormone function. My kids love meat! The best and easiest way to give it to them, especially when they are still learning to chew and swallow properly, is through slow cooks. Please see a couple of recipe links below.
It baffles me that the standard recommendation for one of the first foods to introduce is rice cereal with ‘fortified’ iron. Just to be clear, fortified means that it’s added because it’s not naturally occurring, so that should be a red flag already.
The thing is, babies don’t fully start secreting pancreatic amylase until their molar teeth have come through at around 2 years of age. So trying to digest rice cereal at six months can be quite hard for their little tummies to break down. My advice would be to go super slow with the introduction of starchy foods — pumpkin is a great one because its starch content is much lower than other carbohydrate sources. You can also combine it with things such as broth and healthy fats to slow down and ease the digestion process.
Other Key Nutrients Worth Mentioning
Micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin d and choline are also very important for a baby’s growth and development. When they hit that six month milestone, the nutrition from mama’s milk or formula is no longer enough to support their growth demands. Iron needs are actually at their highest between 6-24 months and their iron needs per day is more than that of an adult male, so make sure to include them!
Without getting too caught up in exact amounts and how to incorporate these into each meal, I would just be conscious of including foods that contain these nutrients as often as possible.
- Healthy fats: avocado, coconut oil, ghee, coconut cream, coconut milk, cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, bone marrow, coconut yoghurt, sardines, wild caught salmon
- Easy protein: organic slow cooked meat, wild caught salmon, eggs, quinoa, amaranth
- Gentle carbohydrates: pumpkin, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, sweet potato
- Iron: organic chicken or beef liver, bone marrow, wild caught salmon, grass fed beef, lamb, organic chicken thigh, goat, venison
- Zinc: grass fed meat, pasture raised chicken, soaked beans
- Vitamin D: safe sun exposure, wild caught salmon, sardines, pasture raised eggs, ghee, butter (after 12 months)
- Choline: liver, pasture raised eggs, fish, soaked beans, cabbage, bok choy.
Now that you can see which nutrients are important for your baby and what foods include them, I’m going to show you some easy formulas to use when first introducing food to your baby. I personally started with purees and graduated to baby led weaning (BLW) once a few chompers had popped through. I suggest doing whatever feels comfortable for you.
Introducing Solids Stack
This guide is for babies aged 6-8 months when first introducing foods but I will delve into some additional foods and recipe ideas in the coming parts of this series.
The criteria that I’m aiming to meet varies between a full to partial combo of the following elements:
Healthy Fats + Easy Protein + Gentle Carb + Nourishing Liquid
- Healthy fats for benefits mentioned above and also for getting important calories for growth into bubba;
- Easy protein for cell growth and repair as well as immune function. Combining slow cooking and pureeing at the start can be a great way to introduce meat into your baby’s diet;
- Gentle carbs for micronutrients and to add bulk to the meal;
- Nourishing liquids such as broths or fermented vegetable juice (brine) are a great way to add to nutrient profile of food and support gut health.
Yummy Nutritious Combos
- Coconut oil + 1 zucchini (chopped) + beef/chicken/veggie broth: lightly boil zucchini until soft then place in blender with 1 tablespoon coconut oil and a quarter of a cup of broth (this will change based on desired consistency) and blend to desired consistency.
- 100-150g pumpkin + coconut cream: lightly boil or steam pumpkin until soft. Place in blender with approximately 2 tablespoons of coconut cream (can tweak amount for desired consistency).
- Avocado + bone broth or fermented sauerkraut juice: mash avocado to desired consistency. Add a few drops of broth or sauerkraut juice to help create a smoother texture and boost nutrition profile.
- Ghee + slow cooked chicken thigh + mushroom + chicken or veggies broth: place 1-2 organic chicken thighs in slow cooker with 1 cup broth, 2 tablespoons of ghee and 4-5 sliced mushrooms. Cook on low until chicken is cooked through and soft. Place all ingredients in blender and blitz until desired consistency is reached.
- Bone marrow (ask butcher to cut in half for you): you can place straight into 180 degree preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes until soft or scoop cold marrow out into a small pot and warm until soft.
- Slow cooked lamb combo: please refer to recipes in Grace’s Journey to Solids article. You can add fresh rosemary sprigs and bone marrow for added flavour and nutrition.
‘In A Rush’ Remedies
Having some ‘flying out the door’ options or things that are ready straight away can also be really helpful when you are under prepared or just plain tired. Because #mumlife.
My faves are:
- Organic coconut yoghurt;
- Smashed avo with a dash of broth mixed in;
- Smashed banana mixed with coconut cream and a sprinkle of spirulina powder.
When it comes to the world of food, what’s good, what’s not so good, allergies, food intolerances, choking hazards, baby led weaning etc, it can be a little overwhelming. The best advice I can give is to work with someone who you trust and has knowledge around food and health that aligns with your values. Having some recipe books on hand is also a great idea when you need to be creative with getting goodness into them. Because trust me – the time will come when there will be lots of food throwing on the floor, but it’s all part of how they learn and grow (and us parents too!)
My two favourite resources are:
- Milk to Meals by Luka McCabe & Carley Mendes.
- Bubba Yum Yum by Helen Paradin & Charlotte Gregg & Pete Evans.
What I’ve learnt from my own journey so far is that it can take time and effort to prepare nutritious delicious food but I strongly believe the dividends it will pay in the future far outweighs the sometimes laborious task of food preparation. Bringing the world of food into our babes lives is such an important and exciting time. If you have some questions or would like some more guidance, please feel free to book in a 15 minute complimentary chat or an initial introducing solids consultation for your little one. I’d love to work with you!
Stay tuned for part 2 where I delve into a more detailed timeline for introducing foods and how to combine it with breast milk and/or formula up until 12 months.
Kapourchali FR, Cresci GAM. Early-Life Gut Microbiome-The Importance of Maternal and Infant Factors in Its Establishment. Nutr Clin Pract. 2020;35(3):386-405. doi:10.1002/ncp.10490
Mutic AD, Jordan S, Edwards SM, Ferranti EP, Thul TA, Yang I. The Postpartum Maternal and Newborn Microbiomes. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 2017;42(6):326-331. doi:10.1097/NMC.0000000000000374
Mun JG, Legette LL, Ikonte CJ, Mitmesser SH. Choline and DHA in Maternal and Infant Nutrition: Synergistic Implications in Brain and Eye Health. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1125. Published 2019 May 21. doi:10.3390/nu11051125