Choosing the ideal first food for baby
How do I know my baby is ready for solids?
- Baby has good head and neck control
- Baby watches you eat and may try to get your attention by making noises ('talking to you') or reaching out for your food
- Milk feeds alone are no longer satisfying
Not ready: Baby's tongue tends to push food out, this is the extrusion reflex and it disappears around six months. Baby is not ready for solids until this has disappeared.
Ready: Mouth opens as food approaches and closes around spoon. Tongue no longer pushes food out. Tongue moves food to the back of the mouth for swallowing.
Starting solids is a significant milestone for every mother and baby. Giving your baby the right start is so important to their ongoing development.
Iron-enriched rice cereal is the ideal first food because:
- Rice is the least allergenic of all cereals
- Iron-enriched rice cereal is designed to create the perfect texture for first foods
- It does not contain added salt, sugar, preservatives or artificial additives
Regular adult cereals are not appropriate for babies as they contain less iron, more salt and sugar and more fibre than specially designed infant cereals.
Even when babies are enjoying a wide variety of foods, iron-enriched cereal remains the most important source of iron, at least for the first 18 months . There is a wide variety of infant cereals available in the supermarket to expand your baby's repertoire and taste experience as they grow (check the label to make sure the infant cereal you are buying is fortified with iron).
- Introduce one new food at a time
- Offer it for 3-5 days before introducing a new food
- It doesn’t matter in what order you introduce vegetables and fruits
- Gradually increase the texture from smooth mashed to include soft lumps
- Finely fork-mashed, soft cooked fruits and vegetables are good choices
Why is iron important?
- Iron is essential for brain development and prevention of infection
- Iron is important for making healthy blood cells and helping to transport oxygen around the body
- Baby is born with a natural store of iron but this is dwindling about
6 months of age
- Breastmilk or infant formula alone is not an adequate source of iron for babies older than 6 months
What foods contain iron?
- Cereal foods, including iron-enriched infant cereal, remain baby's most important source of iron for the first 2 years of life
- Foods that are rich in Vitamin C, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, can help improve the absorption of iron from foods
- Lean red meat is also an important source of iron and can be included in your baby’s diet from around 6 months – finely minced for them to eat easily. Lean chicken, pork, fish and eggs can also be introduced at this time but contain less iron than red meat.
Tips for introducing solids
- Offer solids after the milk feed
- Start with a very small amount, about 1 teaspoon
- Use a small soft-tipped teaspoon
- Start with a single food first
- Increase the quantity over several days, up to 2-4 tablespoons
- Baby doesn’t have to finish every mouthful, let their appetite guide them
- Once baby has had rice cereal for a few days, you can introduce mashed apples or pears and then continue to increase variety
- Try mashing pear, peaches, apricots, sweet potato, carrots or parsnip. Refrigerate or freeze any remaining mash.
- Always throw out remaining leftovers from baby’s bowl.
- Never refreeze foods that have been frozen and thawed and don’t re-freeze leftovers from baby’s bowl. Throw them out.
- If using commercial baby foods, always transfer a small portion of the food to baby’s own feeding bowl using a clean spoon and feed baby from his bowl. This way, the unused baby food will retain its quality and can be stored safely according to the manufacturers directions (usually for 24-48 hours in the fridge). It can then be served again at the next meal.
- Exposing baby to a wide variety of tastes helps reduce the risk of them becoming a fussy eater.
- Baby may screw up his nose at a new food simply because he is unfamiliar with it. It can take up to 10 times of trying a new food before baby learns to like it.
The latest advice  suggests there is little evidence that delaying introducing foods that may cause allergies such as egg, peanuts, nuts, wheat, cow's milk and fish will prevent food allergy, so there is no need to avoid introducing allergenic foods. This applies even if there are allergies in your family. If you are concerned about allergies it is best to discuss this with your doctor.
As the parent, you decide what foods to offer and let baby choose how much to eat
Remember – your baby does not need teeth to chew!
- Use an ice block tray, or freezer pot suitable for individual servings.
- Defrost blocks as you need them
- If food appears a bit runny after defrosting, add a little rice cereal to thicken
|Did you know?
A 7-month-old baby needs more iron than his father. The RDI* for iron for an adult male is 8mg, and for a 7-12 month infant it is 11mg (Reference. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Commonwealth of Australia 2006)
Why does my 18-month-old still need infant cereal?
Infant cereals are specially designed to meet the iron needs of babies up to
two years of age. They provide a range of cereal grains in appropriate texture, offering variety of tastes without addition of sugar or salt. Most adult cereals do contain salt and sugar, which are not necessary in baby's diet.
Can I give my baby cereals for older children?
Cereals for older children may contain sugar, salt and artificial additives which baby does not need. Minimally processed cereals such as rolled oats, contain no added sugar or salt, however are not iron fortified. Check the label on cereals for sugar, salt and iron to see if they are present.
Please carefully consider your child's health (including any allergies) when choosing food for your child. For concerns about the suitability of a recipe or particular food for your child, please consult your healthcare professional.
1. Karen Webb et al. Foods, nutrients and portions consumed by a sample of Australian children aged 16-24 months. Nutrition and Dietetics 2008; 65: 56-65
2. Australian Society for Clinical Immunology & Allergy (ASCIA). Infant Feeding Advice 2008
* RDI – Recommended Dietary Intake
want to know more?
For more articles, local directories of shops and services, checklists, calculators and more visit our...:: feeding info hub