Safety should be first priority
Good nutrition in the early years, especially the first year, is crucial for your baby’s development. With all of the different foods, vitamins and minerals to think about, it may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but it gets easier with time and practice.
For the first four to six months (or until your baby is developmentally ready), an infant’s diet should consist of only breastmilk or iron-fortified formula. Your child’s pediatrician will provide you with a recommendation on when to start introducing foods based on your baby’s development. Once developmental milestones have been reached, the fun of introducing solids begins!
Most babies start with eating a single grain-fortified infant cereal, like oatmeal, rice cereal or barley. This can be prepared on its own or with breastmilk or formula mixed in for a smooth consistency. Be sure to feed this from a spoon and avoid putting it in a bottle. Over time, start introducing different pureed vegetables, fruits and meats to ensure your baby is getting a variety of vitamins and minerals. Be sure to use pureed foods that don’t have any added salt or sugar.
When first introducing new foods, start with one food at a time and wait three to five days in between each food to ensure your baby tolerates it and doesn’t have any allergies or reactions. Your baby may reject their first taste of food because it’s a new texture and taste. Don’t sweat it! Simply try again in a few days. If this continues to happen, reach out to your child’s pediatrician.
Remember, breast milk and formula should still constitute the majority of a baby’s diet.
Safety is the first priority when feeding baby, so it’s important to know the foods to avoid to keep your child safe. If your baby is under 4 months old, it’s recommended to avoid feeding certain homemade baby foods, including squash, carrots, beets, green beans or spinach, as these homemade foods can be high in nitrates, which could cause a blood disease called methemoglobinemia.
Babies under 1 year of age also shouldn’t eat honey or cow’s milk. Honey can cause a very serious illness known as infant botulism if consumed before 1 year of age. Cow’s milk isn’t recommended in infants younger than 1 year old because it isn’t a good source of iron and could lead to an iron deficiency if consumed in place of breast milk or formula.
Some foods can be a choking hazard for a baby, even as your baby transitions beyond simply eating pureed foods. These include raw vegetables, grapes, hot dogs, fruit chunks, or chunks of meat or cheese. If you plan to feed your baby any of these foods, make sure they are cut into small pieces. Some foods like seeds, nuts, hard candy and popcorn can’t be made safe and are choking hazards. It’s recommended to avoid these foods until your child is at the appropriate age. Your child’s pediatrician should be able to provide some guidance for when your child is ready.
Food safety is also something to keep in mind at all ages and stages of your child’s development. Bacteria can sneak their way into baby’s food, so precautions should be taken. If your child is bottle-fed, breast milk and formula are only good for an hour after baby’s mouth has touched the bottle. Once baby has begun drinking from the bottle, bacteria are introduced to the milk, and they can grow over time to an unsafe amount. The same rule of thumb goes for pureed foods.
Instead of feeding directly from the jar or container, try spooning out your baby’s serving before feeding, refrigerate the remaining, and discard any leftover food after an hour. Saliva from the spoon can quickly spoil baby food. When storing extra food, keep in mind that opened jars of baby food can last in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Mealtimes can be a fun, enriching experience for baby as your child grows and develops. Parenting comes with many challenges along the way, and as with everything, every child is vastly different in what will work for them in regard to eating. Certain guidelines should be followed, but keep in mind that your baby’s individual needs and your pediatrician’s recommendations will ultimately help guide you in your journey. For more information about healthy eating across all life stages, visit myplate.gov.
Abigail McAlister is an assistant extension agent (general nutrition) for the LSU AgCenter. She is also a registered dietitian. Her main focus is adult nutrition education and promotion in Caddo and Bossier parishes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.