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From Milk to Mashed Peas and Beyond: First Foods for Baby

teacher spoon feeding infant

Our teachers get all kinds of questions in our centers about feeding their babies: Which is better—breast or bottle? How much should a newborn eat? When do babies start eating baby food? 

We know the first year can be a whirlwind of love, sleepless nights, and learning for both parent and child. So we’ve compiled the best tips from our teachers and nutrition experts to help make feeding your baby easier in the first year. There’s even a baby feeding chart to help you figure out what a baby can eat depending on their age and developmental stage.

Feed on demand, but only until they’re full.
The first rule of thumb is an easy one to remember: Feed your baby whenever they’re hungry. But how do you tell the difference between a cry for attention and a cry for food? Your baby will give you signs like rooting (that’s the baby’s natural reflex to turn their head when you touch their cheek); sucking on inedible things like fingers, toes, clothes, or toys; or reaching out for food.

But this isn’t an all-you-can-eat milk buffet! Your baby should only eat until they’re full. You can look for signs such as turning their head away, dozing off, or looking around like they’re bored while eating. Don’t worry if they don’t finish everything. Paying attention to these signals now will help them develop healthy eating habits for years to come.

Breast or bottle: Do what’s best for you and your baby.
Don’t let anyone give you the guilt trip. The most important thing is that your baby is fed and that both of you are healthy. If you and your pediatrician decide that breastfeeding is for you, it’s still a good idea to pump milk and use a bottle occasionally. That way, explains Ann Fisher, a KinderCare infant teacher, your baby will take a bottle if someone else needs to feed them.

When should I start baby food?
Like so many things, knowing when your baby is ready for solid foods depends on how they’re developing. If your baby can sit up on their own, has good neck and head control, and shows an interest in eating solid food—like reaching for your food during mealtime—they’re probably ready for solid food.  

Once it’s time, the name of the game is exploration. Let them explore new things and enjoy all the fun that comes with messy cheeks and sloppy little fingers. Don’t focus as much on how much they eat—and remember, babies don’t need to clean their plates. But babies need a lot less food than you might think. 2-4 ounces is usually enough when it comes to solid foods.

“Focus on introducing veggies, proteins, grains, and fruit—in that order,” says Courtney Hines, KinderCare’s nutritionist. “Babies naturally tend to prefer sweet things, so save fruit for last so your baby is more inclined to try other flavors.”


Baby Feeding Chart for Newborns to 1-Year-Olds

feeding chart

Try it or not?

Try these puréed (or mashed) foods at 6 months:
• Summer squash 
• Peas 
• Sweet potato 
• Chickpeas
• Black beans
• Broccoli 
• Carrots 
• Unflavored yogurt (yes, yogurt!)
• Avocados
• Bananas
• Rice
• Tofu

Try at 8 months:
• Bread (small pieces)
• Baby-friendly cereal
• Zucchini (chopped and cooked)
• Bell pepper (chopped and cooked)
• Green beans (chopped and cooked)
• Nut butters (offered in a thin layer—no chunks—to prevent choking)

Avoid:
• Honey (Babies have little systems that can’t handle the bacteria that sometimes gets into honey until they’re a year old.)
• Juice (to keep added sugar intake to a minimum)
• Big chunks of any food (dice into ½ inch pieces or smaller)

Playing with your food isn’t so bad after all
Courtney Hines also recommends talking with your baby about the taste, feel, and look of the foods they’re trying as they’re eating. Every moment is a learning opportunity! The more your baby sees mealtime as a fun time to try new tastes, the more enjoyable it will be for everyone. 

It’s easy to focus on baby food stages, but keep in mind that the transition to solid foods will be gradual, so make sure to still offer your baby a bottle before mealtimes. And once your baby reaches their first birthday, it’s time for the next adventure: transitioning from breast milk or formula to cow’s milk!

And remember: Every baby develops at their own pace. Be sure to include your doctor in the discussion about what’s right for your baby.