Starting solids used to be a predictable rite of passage. The conventional wisdom was to begin with bland white-rice cereal thinned to a milky texture. Then you move on to single-ingredient purees offered in a specific order: vegetables first so your baby wouldn’t develop a sweet tooth, followed by fruits, then meat. All this while avoiding allergens and scouting for possible reactions, and steering clear of any sort of seasoning. No wonder kids became picky eaters! Recent research may inspire parents to rethink this approach, however.
“Studies show that it doesn’t matter which foods you introduce first, and including options like eggs and peanut butter can actually decrease your child’s risk for allergies,” says Jenna Helwig, food editor of our sister brand, Parents, and author of Real Baby Food. (New American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, in fact, actually recommend giving peanut protein to infants with an increased risk for allergies. Talk to your doc about them!) “Plus, if you add more flavor to your baby’s meals, he might be more likely to enjoy fruits and vegetables when he’s older. You’re training your baby’s taste buds to be more adventurous.” Helwig can attest to the success of this method: Her daughter, Rosa, now 10, was eating smoked trout and steamed mussels as a preschooler, and her favorite lunch these days is a kale salad seasoned with lots of garlic, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. We asked Helwig to share her best tips for setting babies on a path to loving good-for-you foods.
Launch your baby’s eating career with single-ingredient starter purees. Once he gets used to a food, add a pinch of powdered seasoning. (Try ginger in an apple puree, or turmeric on cauliflower!)
Once your baby handles purees well, add a little texture with mashed banana or avocado. And set up some puree playdates: Blends like zucchini and lentil, broccoli and chicken, or peaches and spinach are great starters.
Chunky is the name of the game! If you’re buying, move to “stage 3” or “hearty” combos. If you’re making your own, mash the food less and less. Offer more complex flavors too, such as curried cauliflower, or beets and yogurt with dill.
Everything you’re eating now should go on your child’s tray too. Take advantage of his ravenous appetite at breakfast—he’ll be more open to trying new things. Offer twists on classics: sausage and quinoa hash, or cornmeal pancakes with grated zucchini.