Once your little one nears the six month mark you’ll begin the transition from milk to introducing solid food. It’s such an exciting time, but can also be quite overwhelming for parents. With so many questions about when to start, what to provide and how much, we spoke to leading Paediatric Dietitian Dr Kyla for her expert advice.
Dr Kyla, a mother of two and award-winning Paediatric Dietitian specialising in fussy eating, works closely with families to make mealtimes less stressful by empowering and supporting parents and their little ones through their transition into different meal stages.
When are babies ready to start solid food?
The clear answer is DEFINITELY not before four months. The exact age though depends on your child and their own signs of readiness.
Those physical signs are strong head and neck control (no wobbly head!) and strong trunk control. Your baby doesn’t need to be independently sitting, but they do need to be able to hold themselves up when supported in a highchair. We’re also looking for your baby to show an interest in what you’re eating, opening their mouth when food is around and putting their toys into their mouth.
What “first foods” should I start with?
The most important thing about first foods is choosing safe textures. I suggest that first puree needs to be quite smooth and runny, like a consistency of pumpkin soup. First finger foods need to be quite big pieces of food, but super soft. My baby’s first meal was pureed green peas and a baton of pumpkin.
How much should they eat?
There is no ‘should’ when it comes to how much your baby eats when you’re offering solids for the first time. Solids is about learning and experience, not about getting a certain amount of volume in. Some babies will eat lots at their first meals and some babies won’t swallow a thing. Both of these are normal!
Do parents need to do anything special to introduce potential allergens?
The most common food allergens (peanut, egg, nuts, cow’s milk, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish and sesame) need to be introduced with a bit of caution. Our best evidence for prevention of food allergy is about offering allergens early and regularly. Offer them separately to each other for at least the first three times of eating and watch for signs of an allergic rection. If your baby tolerates the allergen then ideally keep offering weekly to prevent an allergy developing. I’ve got a Baby Mealtimes step by step guide for how to introduce each allergen, with recipes, if you need more support.
How do you advise parents to deal with potential food dislikes in their baby when starting solid foods?
It can be helpful to think of the introducing solids period as a time for learning to like lots of food. You don’t have to try and pre-empt what your baby will like and instead it’s helpful to offer a variety of flavours to learn about. You can start with herbs and spices from the start - just hold the salt!
What are some of the most common mistakes that parents make when starting solid foods, and how can they be avoided?
It can feel really tempting to try and get your baby to eat a lot, in the hope of getting them to sleep longer. But it’s unlikely that a few more spoonfuls will affect your baby’s sleep patterns in any way. Instead, we want to trust our baby to decide how much they need at each meals. Letting them listen to their tummy from the start helps them develop a lifelong trust in their body.
What are some key tips you have for parents to encourage their baby to eat a variety of healthy foods as they grow older?
The most helpful thing you can do is eat a variety of foods with your baby. Our children learn from what they see, so consider any family meal is a positive learning experience. My #samefoodsametime philosophy will help your kids to grow up as confident eaters.
As a mother of two, what are your must-have baby bag essentials you’ll never leave home without?
Wipes. I never leave without wipes because my children are so messy! I also carry a small tub of playdough and some food picks, for an easy and contained activity for my two year old.
For more information on starting solids, Dr Kyla’s Baby Mealtimes resources are available to help you feed your baby with confidence. She also supports families via Toddler Mealtimes, School Mealtimes and Family Mealtimes.