Is your baby ready to start solids?
Most healthy, full-term babies are ready to start eating solid food around 6 months old. Before you dive in, however, make sure your baby has reached these critical developmental milestones:
- Sitting: Baby is able to sit with minimal support
- Head Control: Baby is able to hold head upright and steady for duration of meal
- Reach & Grab: Baby is able to pick up objects and easily bring them to her mouth
- Interest: Baby intently watches you eat, mouths for food, or leans forward for it
Babies who are showing all of the above developmental milestones have the foundational skills needed to safely explore solid foods. While some pediatricians still advise starting babies on rice cereal and purées around 4 months old, this is outdated advice: as of 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. National Institutes for Health, and World Health Organization all recommend waiting until your baby is around 6 months old and showing signs of readiness to introduce solids. Further, studies have shown that starting solids before 4 months of age can be associated with unhealthy weight gain, both in infancy and early childhood.1
How to get started on solid food
If your baby is showing all of the above signs of readiness, hooray! A food adventure awaits! There is no perfect way to introduce solid food to your baby for the very first time, but there are three general approaches to feeding: baby-led weaning (finger food first), spoon-feeding, and combo feeding (a mix of spoon-feeding and self-feeding). Regardless of the approach you take, solid food should complement—not replace breast milk or formula until your baby is at least one year old.
To learn more about each of these feeding approaches, hop over to our section on methods and feel free to improvise! Food is cultural and every family is different.
What are the best first foods for babies?
Contrary to popular belief, babies do not need to start solids with bland rice cereal and watery purées. In fact, most commercial baby food contains ingredients like rice, carrots, and sweet potatoes that are naturally high in toxic metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury) and are not the best choices for developing brains and bodies.2
In terms of the best first foods, there are many nutritious options, but what is “best” for your baby will be different than what is best for another’s. Nutritionally, the best first foods for babies are those high in iron, protein, calcium, vitamins A, C, D and zinc, with iron being one of the most critical of these nutrients.3 For our favorite first foods for babies, check out our guides, or browse our free First Foods database.
In addition to nutrients, consider which foods you and your family love when choosing your baby’s first foods. Because there are significant benefits to parent modeling, or eating the same foods at the same time as your baby4, first foods are best served as part of a family meal from the start, where you can model for your baby both the enjoyment and skills involved in eating.
Studies have shown that babies who are repeatedly exposed to a variety of foods in their first year of solids are more likely to accept new foods later on5 and that babies who are mostly fed a diet of bland, textureless foods are more likely to prefer these kinds of foods later in life.6
In terms of equipment, there are two categories of things you’ll want to have on hand before starting solids: items that help you create a safe eating environment and items that minimize the mess.
To prevent picky eating and to ensure you are offering the nutrients your baby needs, focus on serving a wide variety of iron-rich food, including beans, lentils, red meat, organs (such as liver), poultry, nuts, peas, and low-mercury fish, such as salmon and sardines.
What you’ll need to get started
In addition to a proper high chair, there are a few things you’ll need before you start your baby on solid food. But of equal importance to the equipment, is your own mental readiness. Make sure to create a safe eating environment. Familiarize yourself with the methods of introducing solids. And lastly, manage your expectations: learning to eat is a process and it will take your baby some time to get the hang of it.
- High chair: Upright seat, footplate, and removable tray so baby can eat at the table with you.
- Open Cup: Age-appropriate, small open cup that won’t break or shatter.
- Plates & Bowls: Dinnerware that won’t shatter or hurt someone when it flies across the room. Those that suction to the table and have a rim work best for self-feeding.
Minimizing the Mess:
- Splat Mats: 2-3 waterproof mats for underneath and around the high chair.
- Bibs & Smocks: Bib with a catch basin and 3-4 smocks (can be worn beneath the bib)
- Washcloths: Lots of them!
- Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Timing of Solid Food Introduction and Risk of Obesity in Preschool-Aged Children. Susanna Y. Huh, Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, Elsie M. Taveras, Emily Oken and Matthew W. Gillman Pediatrics. March 2011, 127 (3) e544-e551.
- Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, Lowering the Levels: A Healthy Baby Food Initiative 2019.
- NCBI, Infant and Young Child Feeding, 2009.
- Wardle J., Cooke L. Genetic and environmental determinants of children’s food preferences. Brithish Journal of Nutrition. 2008; 99(1): S15-S21. doi: 10.1017/S000711450889246X
- Bouhlal S., Issanchou S., Chabanet C., Nicklaus S. ‘Just a pinch of salt’. An experimental comparison of the effect of repeated exposure and flavor-flavor learning with salt or spice on vegetable acceptance in toddlers. Appetite. 2014;83:209–217. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.07.032.
- Bently, Amy. Inventing Baby Food. p 159. (2014).