It was around Thanksgiving last year that I first started serving my son solid foods. It was an exciting time, but also a stressful time. Beyond the added work of figuring out mealtime, I also had fears about choking and potential allergic reactions. And like all things baby, there was a ton of conflicting information regarding what foods to actually start with.

To help you figure it all out, I compiled all the burning questions that I had and added questions I frequently saw posted in my Mom-Baby group, and had Loblaw Registered Dietician Laura McCann review them carefully.

From when to test out peanut butter to healthy (and safe!) snack ideas, her responses will help you navigate the first few months of solid foods while also providing some kitchen inspiration. I wish I had this cheat sheet a year ago!

Some friends say I should start my baby on infant rice cereal, others recommend only fruit and veggie puree, and my sister is telling me to start with meat! I’m finding it really difficult to know which one is best, what do you recommend?

First foods should be iron-rich meat and meat alternatives, such as beef, poultry, low-mercury fish, lamb, pork, eggs, tofu, well-cooked legumes and iron-fortified cereals.  Iron is important for growth and cognitive, neurological, and behavioural development.

My baby is really big for his age and I’m wondering if I should start him on solids earlier than 6 months…is 4.5 months too soon?

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is recommended. Exclusive breastfeeding is important for the healthy growth and development of infants and toddlers.

The introduction of complementary foods should be led by the infant’s signs of readiness which may occur a few weeks before or just after 6 months.  You will know your baby is ready to start other foods when he:

  • Seems hungry earlier than usual
  • Can sit up without support, and has good control of his neck muscles
  • Shows interest in food when others are eating and opens his mouth when seeing food approaching
  • Can let you know he doesn’t want food by leaning back or turning head away

If you start your baby on solid foods too early, he may:

  • Breastfeed less often causing you to produce less breast milk
  • Stop breastfeeding too early
  • Not get all the benefits of breast milk such as protection from illness
  • Have lower iron levels
  • Have a diet low in protein, fat and other important nutrients.

My five-month-old baby is breast fed, and my doctor assures me that she’s getting enough water through the breast milk, but my mother-in-law is always pressuring me to feed him water in a bottle.

Breast milk is the only food or drink your baby needs for the first 6 months of life

Your baby does not need to be given other food or liquid, not even water (as per WHO and Health Canada).   If she is gaining weight and is having five or more wet diapers daily, she’s getting enough breast milk.

If my baby has a sensitive tummy, should I avoid any fruits and veggies that may make her prone to gas? If so, which ones are the most aggravating?

When it comes to gas, everyone is individualized.  When introducing new foods, offer one (unmixed) food per day and wait at least two days to identify any aggravation related to gas.    Potential gas forming vegetable do include raw broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and onion however I would not recommend avoiding any of these vegetables in your baby’s diet unless you have confirmed that she cannot tolerate one (or them).  It’s best to minimize any unnecessary food restrictions.

How much should I expect my baby to eat in his first month of eating solids? Should I offer him three meals a day, even if most meals he basically eats nothing?

From six to eight months, work towards offering complementary foods in two to three feedings, and one to two snacks each day, depending on his/her appetite.  During this initial stage, it is important that you’re be responsive to hunger cues. Let your baby decide when he/she’s had enough.

The purpose of solids until 12 months is getting him used to foods.  Until 12 months, most of his/her calories still come from breast milk.    

When beginning my baby on solids, should I restrict him to one type of food daily, so that I can see if he has any allergies? 

Yes.  When introducing new foods, avoid offering more than one new food per day and wait at least two days before introducing another food.  This makes it easier to identify a food that may have caused a reaction.  Most signs of an allergic reaction will appear within minutes or hours after eating the food.

Continue to introduce new foods to help ensure exposure to a wide variety of family foods by one year of age.

When is the best time to give my baby her first taste of peanut butter?

Common food allergens such as peanuts, can be introduced from about six months of age. There is no evidence that the order in which solid foods are introduced to older infants affects their risk of developing a food allergy.   To introduce peanut butter in a safe manner, thinly spread peanut butter on crackers or toast.  Peanut butter served alone, or on a spoon, is potentially unsafe because it can stick in the palate or posterior pharynx and form a seal that is difficult to dislodge, leading to asphyxia.

If you or your partner have a family history of a food allergy, such as peanuts, speak to your health care provider about approaching the introduction of peanut butter on an individual basis.

What is the best way to ensure my baby is getting enough protein? What meats do you recommend, and what’s the best way to serve it to my son?

From six to twelve months, the main source of energy and nutrients is breast milk (or formula).   

At six months, offer iron rich meats and meat alternatives two times per day in addition to three to five feedings of breast milk per day.   Keep meats and meat alternatives moist so they are easy to swallow, such as purees of chicken, meat or fish (such as white, salmon, or light canned tuna (in water)).  Try cooked and mashed tofu, legumes or egg.  Pay attention to his hunger cues and let her decide when she’s had enough.

What are the number one foods that baby choke on? 

Hard foods, small and round foods, and smooth and sticky solid foods.

The following foods are not safe for children younger than four years: hard candies or cough drops, gum, popcorn, marshmallows, peanuts or other nuts, seeds, fish with bones; snacks using toothpicks or skewers.

The following foods are safer when prepared as follows:

  • Grate raw carrots and hard fruits such as apples
  • Remove the pits from fruits
  • Chop grapes
  • Thinly spread peanut butter on crackers or toast. Peanut butter served alone, or on a spoon, is potentially unsafe because it can stick in the palate or posterior pharynx and form a seal that is difficult to dislodge, leading to asphyxia (AAP, 2010).
  • Finely chop foods of fibrous or stringy textures such as celery or pineapple.

It is not possible to prevent all choking incidents. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to get training in choking first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

If my baby is teething, is it safe to give her frozen blueberries or frozen raspberries to suck on? 

No, loose frozen blueberries or raspberries that can easily be swallowed are unsafe to suck on since they are also considered small and round foods.

What are your most recommended snacks for a new mom who is sleep deprived and still breast feeding around the clock?

For a satisfying, nutrient dense snack, pair together a source of protein and a source of fibre.  Some examples include:

  • Yogurt parfaits using plain yogurt (containing ≤2% M.F.), fresh or frozen fruit and high fibre cereal.  If you don’t enjoy eating plain yogurt, add a small amount of honey or maple syrup
  • Whole grain tortilla wrapped in nut or seed butter and banana
  • Hummus with veggies and whole grain pita wedges
  • Homemade trail mix with nuts and seeds, dried fruit and whole grain cereal
  • Whole grain crackers with tuna or low fat (≤20% M.F.) cheese
  • Homemade smoothies made with plain yogurt, milk or an unsweetened milk alternative and blend of your favourite fruits
  • Whole grain muffins and nut or seed butter
  • Roasted chick peas
  • Hardboiled egg, apple slices and a glass of milk
  • Diced peppers and celery with corn, legumes (try a 6 bean blend) with a vinaigrette

Some tips to help with snack preparation:

  • Try preparing your snacks when you have the most energy
  • Purchase bite sized vegetables to reduce prep time
  • Chop fruits and vegetables in bulk so they’re ready to grab and eat
  • Consider preparing enough snacks to last you for a few days at a time   
  • Make it a team effort by recruiting help from your partner

What are some of your favourite seasonal baby food ideas for this time of year?

PC Organics has a wide range of baby foods available at this time of the year.  I like the PC Organics pouches because they’re a convenient option for when you’re on the go and don’t have time to make your own baby food.  Some of the tasty flavours include peach cobbler, banana bread and apple muffin.   These items have been rated with 3 Guiding Stars, indicating that they do not contain added sugar nor added salt.   I’m available in store to assist parents and caregivers on using Guiding Stars and choosing nutritious products appropriate for you and your baby.

For homemade options, try offering small amounts of foods from your family meals modified to an appropriate texture and size for his age and development.  This is a great time of year to be consuming vegetables such as squash, carrots and sweet potatoes.  Try offering these items peeled, cooked and pureed.  For an easy soup idea for both you and baby, try making the Smooth Sweet Potato Soup recipe (attached).  It can help to keep you feeling warm now that it’s cooler outside.   

I’ll be educating customers all month on healthy baby feeding basics and tips on introducing solids to your baby.  Stop by my booth or contact me (or any of our in-store dietitians) to arrange an appointment to learn quick and easy tips for making sure your little one gets the best nutrition in his or her first year.

We like the pouches too! They’re super easy to throw in my purse and can easily be consumed while we’re in the park, at a play-date, or heading on an adventure around town. (Confession: I often bring a pouch for me, too. Yummy baby smoothies.)