April 26, 2013
I’ve had several friends and blog readers ask about how we approached solid food with Shiv. I am no expert, just a mama who loves to cook, but I am more than happy to share what we did when introducing our little boy to the wonderful world of eating!
First, we waited until six months to introduce any solids. You can start as early as four months, but our instinct (and our pediatrician’s advice) was to wait. By the time we fed him his first solids, he was definitely ready to go; he had already shown interest in food that we were eating, and would move his mouth in imitation when he saw us chew.
Second, we didn’t start with rice cereal; I just couldn’t get excited about my son’s first taste of solid food being something so bland. Our pediatrician confirmed that it was totally fine to start with something else—in fact, most non-American parents do—and so we chose sweet potatoes, grown by our dear friends Sharon and Greg, for the little man’s first meal. I roasted them in the oven, removed the skins, and pureed the pulp with a little bit of breast milk. He loved ‘em.
From there, we created a kind of hybrid approach that combined traditional spoon-feeding with baby led weaning. I had read about and was intrigued by baby-led weaning (BLW) and totally respected and resonated with their end goal: baby feeds him/her self, and eats what you eat. But I didn’t feel comfortable starting with BLW whole-hog, especially because Shiv’s hand-eye coordination and pincer grasp were still developing. So, we got to that same end goal we just went about it in a slightly different way! I’ve tried to outline as clearly as possible what we did.
Our pediatrician had assured us that, at this stage of a baby’s life, they were still getting their primary nutrition from breast milk/formula, so eating solids, for them, was about exploring flavors and texture. For this reason, we integrated solids into Shiv’s routine gradually; at first, offering solids at just one or two feedings a day (out of four). Sometimes, he wanted to eat a lot, sometimes he wasn’t as interested, but we didn’t stress about it. We wanted the experience of him eating to be fun for him and for us, so we let him self-regulate and trusted that his interest would grow naturally, which it did.
We stuck to vegetables for two weeks before introducing fruit; I wanted Shiv to develop a taste and appreciation for veggies before his palate encountered lots of sweet! Every two or three days, we would introduce something new: peas, cauliflower, avocado, carrots, broccoli, butternut squash, and beets. Once it was clear he was having no adverse reactions, a vegetable stayed in the rotation, and so we started mixing them together. For example, we knew that broccoli made him gassy (it was the only food I avoided while breast-feeding), so we introduced it after the other veggies, so we could mix it with, say, butternut squash or sweet potato. At this point, we did feed Shiv rice cereal (which I made from scratch, but was kind of a pain in the ass to do), but only mixed in with vegetables, never on its own.
Though we were still spoon-feeding at this point, I began to play with the texture of Shiv’s baby food pretty early on: thickening the purees by adding less breast milk or some rice cereal, stopping the pureeing process before foods were completely smooth, and even feeding him things like roasted beets chopped very finely.
Eating solids quickly became a social activity for Shiv, as it is for most of us. He made it clear that he wanted to eat when we were eating; rather, he didn’t want to be around people who were eating if HE didn’t get to eat, which makes total sense. This worked really well for us because his feeding times had already been established at 7:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m., times pretty similar to when we eat breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. At breakfast, he usually took his bottle first, but at other times of the day, he would eat solids beforehand.
After two weeks of vegetables and rice cereal, Shiv had his first fruit. It wasn’t a puree, though; it was a small piece of Jill’s morning banana. One of the things we have learned, both through reading and personal experience, is how far baby saliva + teeth-less gums can go toward breaking down small pieces of food! Though we didn’t remove purees right away we did start phasing them out in favor of Shiv-appropriate versions of our food: steamed broccoli & rice cooked in chicken broth, chunky homemade applesauce, small pieces of bread or crackers that he would suck on, then gum, then swallow.
Really, we proceeded by observing him and following his lead. When he showed interest in the apple I was eating, I just bit off tiny pieces for him to have. Sometimes, I would just let him gum on the apple after I had eaten into it. He also enjoyed eating wedges of juicy pear placed inside these little mesh bags; melon and other juicy fruits would have worked well, too, but it was wintertime here!
OPENING THE FLOODGATES:
At this point in the process (3 weeks after his very first solid food), we saw our pediatrician for a check-up, and these were the only restrictions she set:
Wait until 9 months—eggs
Wait until 12 months—cow’s milk, honey, peanuts, & shellfish
Other than that, it was “game on” for things like meat/fish, beans/legumes, yogurt made with whole milk, etc. Essentially, Shiv began to eat what we ate, and we basically stopped making special food for him. I would—and still do—separate out a small portion of food for him before adding something like red pepper flakes, but I did not hold back on non-heat and spices or herbs; I cooked as I normally would. Shiv’s first protein was sockeye salmon that we poached gently & flaked off; he began devouring my mom’s homemade Indian food, from daal to tiny homemade dosas dipped in coconut chutney. He ate LOTS of yogurt, sometimes plain and sometimes with a little homemade fruit puree (usually blueberry) mixed in.
We’ve given him goat’s milk cheese but tried to avoid large quantities of cow’s milk cheese; we’ve avoided peanuts but not hyper-manically (and he’s had all kinds of other nuts); he’s eaten things cooked with butter and he had plenty of things made with eggs before the nine-month mark when we gave him his first plain egg—poached and served on buttered toast–which you see him eating here .
Note: the medical background information we have for Shiv’s birth mother doesn’t indicate any history of food allergies; if it had, we probably would have been advised to proceed differently by our pediatrician. At the same time, we know nothing about his birth father’s medical history, so we could have run into issues, but luckily we haven’t yet.
Our little boy loves to eat. He hasn’t rejected a single thing we’ve given him, though he does show preferences. Apparently, he IS related to Jill, because he’s a tiny carnivore who loves all kinds of meat, though he’ll happily down piece after piece of sautéed zucchini or Swiss chard. He seems to favor savory over sweet, though he does have a definite thing for strawberries. Bone marrow, medium-rare ribeye, Thai food, guacamole, polenta, pancakes, bacon—this kid’ll eat it.
Only in the last month or so has Shiv really developed the facility and desire to feed himself; before that, we were feeding him off our plates with our fingers or his baby spoon. Now, we make him his own little plate and set a couple of “finger food” sized pieces in front of him, which he grabs and gets into his mouth. Two pieces of equipment have proven invaluable during this stage of the process: the baby Bjorn bib and our Stokke Trip Trapp highchair. I’m not being paid to endorse either product, we just really love them both. The bib has a pocket that “catches” food that doesn’t quite make it to his mouth, and the Trip Trapp slides straight up to kitchen table, so he is right there with us when we eat. (The chair is expensive, I know; what’s cool about it is that it stays with baby as baby grows, converting into a booster seat and even eventually an adult chair, so that he can someday take it to college or have it in his first apartment.)
There’s no way of knowing whether Shiv would have been naturally adventurous on his own—I have no idea how much credit we can take for developing his palate, but I am really thrilled with the results, however we got here. We’ve spent $0 on commercial baby food, and we don’t have to worry or wonder what to cook for or feed him—we just plan our meals the way we normally would. This also makes traveling with him, whether to someone else’s house or on a vacation, much simpler; I know we will be able to find food for him no matter where we go.
There are a few things I like to keep in his diaper bag, just for emergencies/convenience’s sake: banana-flavored Baby Mum-Mums (I think they’re so weird, but he loves holding and eating them), Cheerios/their organic equivalent, and dried prunes (these are great if you are traveling and baby gets constipated).
When it comes to liquids, we’ve been pretty strict. Other than his bottle, he drinks water. We tried a sippy cup when he initially began eating solids, but he ended up preferring small sips of water from a regular cup, and now sucks from a straw as well. Next project: eating with a spoon!
This, of course, is what worked for us and our baby; by no means is our way the only or best way to do things. Still, it has been—and continues to be—so much fun to cook for and eat with this little guy, and I look forward to the day when he helps cook his own meals (and not just chew on the spatula) .
NOTES ON MAKING BABY FOOD:
I already had a food processor, and loved using it for baby-food making, but you could also use a blender or immersion blender. As someone who hates gadgets that only serve one purpose, let me emphatically say, you do not need some special “baby food maker.” That’s ridiculous. Save your money.
The only special piece of “equipment” I bought were these ice cube trays that come with lids (bonus: they are made in America & are perfect for freezing other things once you’re done with baby food!). They were really handy for making large batches of baby food ahead of time and freezing half, so that we could rotate fruits/veggies. The lid prevents freezer burn and flavor transfer; once the cubes are frozen solid, store in a Ziploc bag. That way, you can thaw just a few at a time.
There are TONS of resources online about making your own baby food/ideas for introducing texture, etc.. Here are some of my favorites:
Getting Started with Solids, Purees, & Baby-Led Weaning (really comprehensive guide by HelloBee)
Wholesome Baby Food (recipes by stages)
Designed to Nourish (recipes by stages)
Cooking for Clara (ongoing series on Food52)