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Starting solids – adding variety to a baby’s diet

Baby trying a variety of new foodsYou have successfully started your baby on solid food and now you’re probably wondering what’s next. How do you encourage your baby to eat a variety of food? And should you introduce food from the different food groups in a certain order?

It is important to offer baby a variety of food and to introduce different flavours and textures. It assists with their development and helps to establish healthy eating behaviours that will hopefully continue through childhood and into adulthood. Teaching them to try new foods at a young age could also help curb fussy eating later on.

You don’t have to follow a particular order—the current recommendation is that you can introduce new foods in any order as long as baby’s first foods are iron-rich, nutritious and of a texture suitable for the child’s stage of development [1].

It is important to remember however that before 12 months your baby’s most important source of nutrition will be breast milk or infant formula. So don’t stress if your baby is a little fussy when starting solid food—at this stage it is mostly about experimentation, new tastes and new textures. It is important to keep mealtimes calm and relaxed so that eating is always a fun and pleasant experience (for both of you!).

The follow steps are an example of how you might introduce variety to your baby’s diet.

Here are 6 easy-to-follow steps to add variety to your baby’s diet

1. Introduce fruits and vegetables

Fresh is best. Once your baby has had their first tastes of solid food you can start to add variety from across the food groups . Vegetables and fruits are awesome—there’s so much variety in taste and they’re easy to prepare and serve.

Some fruit and vegetable ideas:

  • pumpkin
  • sweet potato
  • cauliflower
  • pear
  • banana
  • avocado
  • beans
  • spinach

2. Introduce a variety in texture

When starting out on solid food, baby’s first food was probably a smooth puree. Purees are easy for baby to swallow and move around their mouth but once they master these skills they should move on to courser textures and finger food. This helps to develop their fine motor skills as well as the muscles in the mouth, which impacts on their speech development.

Some texture variety ideas:

  • mashed pumpkin
  • mashed sweet potato
  • banana (mashed or split lengthways into segments)
  • mashed avocado
  • steamed carrot (mashed or cut into chip-sized pieces that you can squish easily with fingers)
  • minced meat
  • flaked fish

3. Introduce a variety of meat, grains and dairy

Once you’re happy that baby is getting the hang of solid food try adding more of a variety of meat, grains and dairy to their diet.

Remember that cow’s milk shouldn’t replace your baby’s breast milk or infant formula so wait until 12 months before introducing milk as a drink. You can, however, start using small amounts of full-fat cows milk in cereal etc and offer other dairy foods such as yoghurt and cheese.

Try giving toast, rice and pasta and encouraging your child to feed themselves (and preparing yourself for the mess—annoying but important for their development).

Food group variety ideas:

  • wheat-based cereal with full-fat cows milk
  • mince
  • finely chopped steamed fish (be careful to remove bones)
  • finely chopped poached chicken
  • cooked spiral pasta
  • cous cous
  • toast fingers with avocado
  • plain yoghurt

4. Introduce cooked egg

Make sure you cook egg well before serving to your baby. Egg is a potentially allergenic food but the latest feeding advice in terms of allergy prevention is that introducing cooked egg into an baby’s diet before 8 months of age—even where there is a family history of allergy—can reduce the risk of developing egg allergy [2].

Egg variety ideas:

  • strips of omelette
  • boiled eggs cut into small pieces

5. Avoid certain foods until baby is at least 12 months

While variety is important there are a few foods that shouldn’t be introduced before 12 months of age.

  • anything that presents a choking risk (raw hard vegetables, nuts)
  • honey—can contain bacteria that can cause infant botulism
  • fruit juice—has very little nutritional value and can cause tooth decay
  • junk food (lollies, chocolate, fried food, processed food, soft drinks)—has little or no nutritional value, can cause tooth decay, can be choking hazards, can have high levels of salt and sugar.

6. Try new foods several times

Don’t assume your baby doesn’t like a food—or is a fussy eater—just because they reject the taste the first time. Research shows that repeated exposure to new foods is necessary for babies and children to learn to enjoy a new flavour. Some say babies need to try something up to 12 times before they will consider it a ‘safe’ food. Keep trying new foods and keep offering food they’ve rejected in the past.

Remember that this is supposed to be a stress-free (though sadly not mess-free) experience for your baby so don’t become anxious if your baby isn’t showing interest in certain foods.

Repeated exposure ideas:

  • introduce new flavours one at a time
  • team new food with another food they like
  • leave a few days before trying again a rejected food again
  • try the same food in a different way (instead of mashed banana offer it as finger food)
  • keep flavours simple (no need to add seasoning etc)
  • don’t insist that your baby must try every new food
  • try not to become frustrated—stay calm when they refuse a food
  • offer food in small amounts—don’t overwhelm them
  • keep mealtimes happy
1. Infant Feeding Guidelines NHMRC 2012
2. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) 2016

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