Baby food basics

By: Primacy Dietitians, Apr 06, 2011
baby food, what to feed your baby, food for baby

Wondering what to feed your new baby? Here's how to take the guesswork out of it

You only want what is best for your new bundle of joy. What better way to ensure your baby's health and happiness than to pave the path toward healthy eating?

Figuring out what to feed your baby doesn't have to be difficult. Follow these guidelines and you can be sure your new baby is getting everything he or she needs.

When and what can babies eat?

0 – 6 months

Breastfeeding is best for baby. Breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs, is easy to digest and is full of antibodies and other ingredients that protect your baby from becoming sick. If breast-feeding is not an option, make sure your formula is fortified with iron.

There is no need to rush solid foods, as introducing solids too early can be harmful. Until your baby is six months old, he/she will not need anything but breast milk or commercial infant formula.

What about DHA and ARA formulas? DHA and ARA are fatty acids found in breast milk and are important for brain, vision and nervous system development. Some formulas are now fortified with DHA and ARA fatty acids. Take note, however, that these new formulas are still being studied to ensure the effectiveness of the DHA and ARA sources found in formulas. Check with your doctor before choosing a formula for your baby.

The importance of vitamin D has been in the news lately for its importance in lowering the risk of cancer and other diseases. It is also important for proper growth and development of a baby's bones. There is a low amount of vitamin D in breast milk; therefore, breast-fed babies should take an infant vitamin D drop to ensure adequate intake.

6 – 9 months

Finally! Your baby is ready for "real" food. Every baby is unique and some are more ready for solids than others at six months. Here are some signs that your baby is set to begin the journey of discovering new foods:

  • Breast milk or formula is not enough to satisfy hunger
  • Baby shows interest in food, opening mouth for spoon, or…
  • Holds head up
  • Can sit up with very little help
  • Opens mouth when food is offered and does not spit it out
  • Can turn head to accept or refuse food

What to serve

Pureed, iron-rich foods are best because, at this point, the supply of iron in breast milk is not enough to keep up to your baby's growing needs. Iron-fortified infant cereals such as rice or barley are great starters. Pureed meat, poultry, cooked egg yolk and well-cooked beans and legumes are also good sources of iron.

Introduce new foods one at a time. Allow three to five days between new food introductions to help identify any potential food allergies. Keep it healthy and stay away from added sugar, salt and preservatives.

Although you start with pureed foods, gradually add more texture to your baby's food as your baby grows. Introduce soft lumps and foods that dissolve in the mouth such as crackers or biscuits. Feeding a baby only pureed food for too long can delay the development of chewing skills.

You can offer the baby water as you introduce solid foods, but the primary source of fluids should still be breast milk or formula. At seven months, babies need approximately 0.8 Litres of fluid per day (more if the weather is hot).

9-12 months

Keep up the variety and encourage new foods. At this stage, your baby is ready for more "grownup" foods such as whole grain bread, rice and pasta. Whole milk (3.25 per cent milk fat) can be introduced at this point unless there is a cow's milk allergy in the family. Experiment with new textures by offering diced and chopped foods and soft, peeled fruits. Babies need to touch and feel their food and should be encouraged to practice feeding themselves. Most babies can enjoy a balanced diet by the time they are 12 months old and can eat almost everything that their family is eating as long as it won't cause choking.

Picky eater? It can take more than 10 attempts before your baby agrees to try a new food. Keep offering a variety of foods and don't give up on the pureed broccoli! Children learn by example…if you are a picky eater, your baby will likely follow suit. Be a role model by trying new foods yourself. Never force feed or make a big deal if your baby refuses a certain food. Ultimately, parents decide what to serve and when. Babies decide which offered food they will eat, how much they eat and if they eat at all.

Avoid feeding your baby egg whites until age one. If you have allergies in the family, many health care professionals suggest that you wait to introduce allergenic foods such as peanuts, nuts and shellfish until your baby is three years old.

Safety first

  • Don't give honey to babies under one year old as there is a risk of infant botulism (food poisoning).
  • Supervise babies and children while they are eating and make sure they are sitting down.
  • Don't feed your baby peanuts, nuts or popcorn and be sure to dice or slice round foods such as hot dogs or grapes.
  • Cook hard fruits and vegetables to soften them and remove seeds.
  • Spread sticky foods like cream cheese thinly on a cracker or toast rather than bread.
  • Chop or scrape stringy meat and add broth to moisten. 
  • Serve freshly made homemade baby food or an opened jar of commercial baby food right away.
  • Store it in the fridge for two to three days. Homemade baby food can be frozen as well: two months in a refrigerator freezer and six to eight months in a deep freeze.
  • Make sure the safety seal on commercial baby food is not broken and always check the "best before" date.

Primacy Dietitians is a panel of dietitians who are all members of the Dietitians of Canada.