Moving from bottle to baby food is a huge milestone that pediatricians generally help walk parents through. The later transition to actual table foods, however, can be a confusing process. It's done differently in every culture and country. There are tons of books and conflicting guidance about what to serve when and which foods should be reserved for later. Baby food companies label their concoctions as “1st foods,” 2nd foods,” and “3rd foods,” leaving parents to wonder, “When can my child just have food food?”
Don't worry. It's not as daunting as it seems. Here's how Nate and I have been guiding Some Boy through the baby table food transition.
When It's Time
Your baby will let you know when he or she is ready for table food. You may see your baby eyeing your meals or even reaching out for your utensils. You don't need to wait for your baby to have teeth before offering table foods. Many parents give their children table food before they have any teeth, and some skip the pureed food stage completely! This approach is called “baby-led weaning,” and takes cues from the child to let them have an active part in exploring new foods.
What to Start With
Baby's gums are powerful enough for them to mash through most soft foods, but you should hold off on really hard chunks until they have a real set of chompers. In the meantime, however, they can handle softened vegetables like steamed broccoli, carrots and potatoes. Just make sure the pieces are small enough for them to swallow after gumming them and be knowledgeable about infant CPR and what to do if your baby starts choking.
We personally started Some Boy on pureed foods and eventually gave him mixtures that were less and less pureed. Since we already made most of our baby food at home, it was easy to just chop it up a little chunkier and eventually hand him bite-sized pieces of steamed vegetables, soft fruits and shredded meat.
Spice It Up
Babies can start enjoying spices when they are about 8 months old, when their digestive system is developed enough that it is unlikely to cause digestive upset. Some Boy has already had garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger!
Ideally, you don't want to be making separate meals for your child for long. As my mom always said, “I'm not a short-order cook!” Initially, you'll likely want things spicier than your baby and there will be foods he or she isn't ready to try, but you really can pull off a piece of your bread, spoonfuls of your pasta and rice and small pieces of meat for them – especially if you think to put some aside before adding a lot of the extra ingredients and dousing it with salt or pepper.
If you're cooking up a dish and the components really aren't child-friendly, it's nice to have some last-minute options on-hand so you can enjoy an occasional adult meal without worrying about what to make for the baby. Gerber sent over their Gerber Graduates Lil' Entrees for us to try out, and they're really convenient to have in the cupboard. They're shelf-stable without any preservatives or artificial flavors, cook quickly in the microwave, and include vegetables in each entree. The company has recently reduced the sodium content throughout all their varieties and while it's still a bit higher than what I'd normally feed Some Boy, for an occasional treat it's far better than me picking him up a fast food kids meal. That's one line I have yet to cross.
What to Wait On
All of the following should be introduced after babies are a year old: honey (due to the potential for botulism), nuts (because of the potential for severe allergic reactions), and milk (formula or breast milk are better nutrition for younger babies). Experts seem split on the idea of giving babies eggs, but we've decided to wait until Some Boy is about a year old for that. We're also waiting until he's one year old before giving him small amounts of diluted juice, as we feel that whole fruit is a better nutritional option at this young age.
A Couple Rules of Thumb
Babies should be about six months before introducing any food other than breast milk or formula. Studies have shown that babies who are given solid foods before this are more likely to become obese or develop eczema. Lastly, when introducing new foods or spices to your baby, always wait four days between each one so you can keep an eye out for allergic reactions.