Starting your baby on solid food is fun. It’s fun to watch them try new tastes, it is fun to see them sitting at the table all grown up and it is fun to watch them cover themselves in pumpkin.
It is also quite messy. Remember, you’re the one who’ll have to clean up all that pumpkin! And when it’s not messy, it can be frustrating. A baby who seems disinterested in food can leave parents wondering what they’re doing wrong.
So with that in mind we’ve compiled this list of tips to help make starting solids a bit easier for you and your baby.
10 tips to make starting solids easier
1. Make sure your baby is ready
If your baby is developmentally ready to eat solid food then your job will be much easier. A baby who isn’t ready will be hard to feed – very frustrating. There are many signs that your baby is ready for solid food – including the ability to sit upright with support and to be able to hold up their own head. They will also become interested in watching you eat and will start grabbing at your food.
The current recommendation is that babies start eating solid food when they’re about six months old*.
2. Keep it simple
A baby will be just as happy chowing down on some banana as they would dining out on a ‘kiwifruit, papaya and coconut puree with quinoa’. By all means, if you have the time and skills to cook up gourmet food for your baby then go ahead! And save some for me! But if you don’t, then don’t feel like you’re doing your baby a disservice by handing them some chopped up bits of watermelon. All new foods are exciting for a baby.
3. Feed the baby what you’re eating
If you’re cooking up some meat and three veg or some yummy spag bol for dinner, put some aside for your baby (before you add extra salt or butter if you do). You can mash or puree their portion if you like or just make sure it is cut up in a way that will make it easy for baby to pick up. They’ll enjoy eating with the rest of the family too.
4. Make sure baby’s food is easy to eat
Imagine if someone put a steak on your plate but didn’t give you any utensils. You might just sit back with an overwhelmed look on your face and let it sit there. Similarly, your baby is going to be a much better eater if the food is easy to handle and eat. Start with a fine puree then quickly work up to thick purees and mashed foods.
When giving your baby finger food make sure it is soft enough to squish between your fingers and cut in a way that is easy for them to pick up and eat. Cut bits of steamed carrot into long sticks and leave the stalks on the steamed broccoli so they can use it as a handle. Even a banana can be made more baby-friendly by gently squeezing it until it breaks in three segments lengthways – also handy if the first segment is thrown on the floor … you have two back-ups!
5. Give your baby a plastic spoon
It could be a while before a young baby can use a spoon successfully but it takes practise so there’s no harm in giving them one straight away. If you’re spoon feeding your baby and they like to grab at the spoon (which leaves them with a fistful of food to spread in their hair) try giving them a second spoon to hold while you feed them (or you could also gently hold their hand as you feed them). Also if you give them a utensil they might try to give it a go until one day they will ‘get it’. Some babies might just want a utensil because everyone else does!
6. Put a mat under the high chair and keep a rag nearby
Buy a cheap plastic tablecloth to pop under the baby’s highchair to make clean up quicker. This is particularly handy if you’re feeding your baby anywhere near carpet. It means you can also pick up the mess in one go – whisking it away before the baby (or the dog) goes in for seconds! Also a wet face washer nearby can clean up your baby easily before they crawl off to smear banana over your new couch.
7. Let your baby set the pace
Try not to compare your baby with others or get stuck in a rut with what you ‘think’ baby should be doing. Some babies have enormous appetites, some don’t. Some are happy to be spoonfed, some are keen to feed themselves. There can be many reasons a baby isn’t interested in solid food. Try to follow their lead and go with the flow. Be ready to change if your baby is bored or impatient at mealtimes.
8. Try and try again
Don’t be discouraged if your baby turns up their cute little button nose at a certain food. Research has shown that repeated exposure to new foods is necessary for a baby to learn to enjoy a new flavour. New foods may need to be tried a number of times to increase familiarity and increase the chance of it becoming a favourite food.
9. Learn the difference between gagging and choking
The gag reflex is your body’s way of moving food from the back of your throat to the front, to avoid choking. A baby can gag quite a bit while learning to eat solid food – because they will put too much food in their mouth or push it too far back – and the sight can be distressing to a new parent.
If a baby is gagging they’ll be making some noise and look as though they are coughing mildly. If they are choking they’ll be distressed, silent and unable to breathe. If your child is gagging, don’t panic, they’ll bring the food to the front of the mouth (and more often than not they’ll eat it again – yes, gross!). However, avoid feeding your child foods that are choking hazards – small and/or hard foods such as whole nuts, cherry tomatoes – and make sure you cook vegetables and hard fruits. It is a good idea to book into a course in first aid and infant resuscitation too.
10. Prepare yourself for the mess
Starting solids is probably the first big mess your little baby will make. And boy, is it going to get messy! And food is only the start, soon they’ll be tipping blocks all over the lounge, writing on the walls and toilet training. It is best that you start to get used to the chaos now.
Of course there are ways to minimise the mess (good bibs, tablecloth on the floor etc.) but try to make sure that your need for a spotless house isn’t impeding your baby’s development. Starting solid food is important for development – and they are going to make a bit of a mess while eating. You could neatly spoon feed every meal they have and wipe their mouth after each taste but your baby won’t get a chance to practise the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills they’ll need to play, draw and write later in life.
*Infant Feeding Guidelines NHMRC 2012