Baby's First Foods: How to Introduce Solids

Introducing solids to your infant is an exciting milestone. Here's everything you need to know about timelines, safety, and recommended menu items—plus a simple baby food chart to print at home.

A 6 months old baby girl taking her meal
Photo: Getty Images

By the time your infant is 4 to 6 months old, you've probably got your bottle feeding or breastfeeding routines down to an art. As with a lot of things in parenting however, things are about to change because your child will soon be ready for solids (an exciting milestone!). Here's everything to know about starting your baby on solids, with tips for mastering mealtime.

When to Start Solids

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says you can start your child on solids between 4 and 6 months, but the answer really depends on your baby. Some babies may be perfectly content waiting longer, while others may be ready to start noshing. The best way to know if your baby is ready is to look for signs of eating readiness. Here are some signs that your little one may be ready for baby food:

  • They can sit upright and hold up their head.
  • They are curious, looking at everything around them—especially what you're eating!
  • They follow your fork with their heads and may open their mouths to try to take a bite.
  • They lost the tongue thrust reflex that automatically pushes food out of their mouth.
  • They still seem hungry after getting a full day's portion of milk (eight to 10 breastfeedings or about 32 ounces of formula).

If your baby does not seem ready to eat yet, remember, there's no need to rush this milestone. Most babies are ready to start solids between 5 and 6 months. Don't start solids before 4 months.

How to Introduce Baby to Solids

Whenever possible, the AAP recommends that babies be fed through exclusive breastfeeding or breast milk for 6 months, as well as supplemental breastfeeding until your infant turns one. If you're formula feeding, your baby should also receive formula for their first year of life. Introducing solids is more about getting them used to chewing and swallowing food than providing any significant nutritional benefit.

When you are ready to introduce solids, you should think of solid foods as a "bonus" food. So you will always start mealtimes with breast milk or formula first. Give your baby the breast or bottle first thing in the morning, before or after meals, and before bedtime. At the beginning, you'll have to experiment to find what works best. Here is a sample "menu" to help you determine an approximate amount your baby should be drinking:

  • Up to 9 months, feed your baby 20 to 28 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 3 to 4 hours.
  • At 9 to 12 months, feed them 16 to 24 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 4 to 5 hours.

That said, these numbers are a general guideline. Caregivers should practice responsive feeding and listen to an infant's cue for hunger and fullness to determine how much to feed them. Additionally, keeping your baby's recommended well-visit checkups will help your doctor track if your baby is gaining weight appropriately. The AAP says responsive feeding can help kids go on to develop healthy eating habits, lowers the risk of childhood obesity, helps your child feed themselves, and more.

As soon as your little one understands the concept of eating and shows interest in mealtime (this usually happens between 6 and 9 months), start them on a routine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If eating together as a family is important to you, it can also be a great way to spend time together during mealtime by having your baby join you at the table. Even if they aren't hungry at times, they'll get used to the idea of eating on a schedule. (That said, never force or pressure your baby to eat. If they aren't interested, just take them out of the high chair and move on.)

"My goal for the babies I care for is to get them on an eating schedule by the time they turn 1," says pediatrician Sara DuMond, M.D. "This means they should eat three meals a day with two to three snacks in between."

  • At 4 to 6 months, feed your baby two meals, each approximately two to four tablespoons.
  • At 7 to 12 months, feed them three meals, each approximately the size of your baby's fist.

But remember there's not really clear guidance on the exact amount babies should eat; it all depends on their hunger cues and appetite. All babies are different, so let your baby lead the way!

As your baby adjusts to eating solids, know that there may be days when they're more interested in peas and carrots than in the breast or bottle and, on the flip side, days when all they'll want to do is nurse. This is all normal as your baby begins to grow more independent, but for now, they still need their normal day's worth of breast milk or formula.

How To Start Solids

Baby’s First Foods by Age

Gone are the days when bland rice cereal was the norm. Today, there are no hard and fast rules for a baby's first foods. It's more important to offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats in any order to get your baby used to different tastes. And if you're wondering, the idea that introducing fruits first means your baby will only want sweets is a myth, so feel free to experiment with all the fruits you want. Stumped on what solids to start with? Here are some suggestions.

4 to 6 months: Single-grain cereals

The level of iron that's stored in utero drops after birth, and a baby reaches an all-time low at around 9 months. That's why cereals fortified with iron are an ideal early food. Combine one teaspoon of single-grain cereal with four to five teaspoons of breast milk or formula.

At first, most of the cereal will end up on your baby's chin. "The point is to get your baby used to a different type of eating," says W. Allan Walker, M.D., director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School, in Boston. "Although it's sloppy and frustrating, you need to go through this process."

Don't force your baby to continue eating if they shake their head no, turn away, or refuse to open up after only one mouthful. And if they seem completely uninterested in trying cereal, wait a week or so and try again.

Once your baby is used to swallowing runny cereal, thicken it by using less water or breast milk and more cereal.

4 to 8 months: Pureed veggies, fruits, and meats

You may have heard that eating fruits before vegetables can cause a lifelong preference for sweet foods, but there's no research to back that up. So it's up to you to determine whether you begin with bananas or carrots—or pureed chicken for that matter.

The AAP also believes that introducing allergenic foods early can reduce the risk of developing a food allergy, especially if your child is at risk. If you have a strong family history of allergies in your family, talk to your baby's pediatrician about the best ways to introduce common allergens. Common allergenic foods include peanuts, eggs, and dairy. Check out this article for more information.

6 to 8 months: Single-ingredient finger foods

Whether you've begun with purees or are starting solids with finger foods, many babies enjoy experimenting with self-feeding from an early age. Don't offer any hard, raw foods (such as apple slices or carrot sticks) at this point. Make sure fruits and veggies are soft enough to mash with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger. Some good examples are cooked peas, small pieces of banana or avocado, or rice puffs.

The shape matters too. Younger babies will be picking foods up with their whole palms, so a mound of mashed potatoes or a wedge of avocado will be easier to handle than smaller foods. Don't put salt or sugar in their food—it's best if your baby learns to like it without the added seasonings or sweeteners.

9 to 12 months: Chopped, ground, or mashed foods

As soon as your child is able, transition them away from smooth purees. Incorporate more finger foods with textures like yogurt, cottage cheese, bananas, and mashed sweet potatoes. They can also use more iron, so try pureed meats like beef, chicken, and turkey.

Solid Foods to Avoid

Eating solids opens up a whole new world for your baby, but there are some foods that aren't safe for babies to eat. You should avoid giving infants under the age of one the following foods:

  • Honey: It can cause botulism, a serious illness if introduced too early.
  • Cow's milk: Stick with breast milk and formula as a primary beverage until your baby is one year old. It's fine to use cow's milk in cooking or baking, though. Cheese and yogurt are also OK.
  • Choking hazards. Avoid these choking hazards during your baby's first year: nuts, seeds, raisins, hard candy, grapes, hard raw vegetables, popcorn, peanut butter, and hot dogs.

Tips for Managing Mealtime

Mealtime with kids—and babies especially—can be challenging. Someone's probably crying, wants to be held, or needs a diaper change right as you're trying to prepare food. And then the actual act of eating? Well let's just say we never knew one small human could make such a mess. As you venture into the world of solids together, here are some tips to make meals a little more enjoyable:

Create a routine

A baby needs focus to eat, so start a routine where you wash their hands, soothe them, and then sit them down to eat. And maintain calmness by turning off the TV and any loud music. "This will help your baby become conscious of eating and learn to recognize when he's full," says Marilyn Tanner, RD, a former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Understand that starting solids takes time

It will take time for your baby to feel comfortable with the new sensations that go along with eating—the feel of a spoon in their mouth and the tastes and textures of different foods. "I reassure parents that you might get grimaces and horrible faces," says Laura Jana, M.D., co-author of Food Fights. "My daughter used to shriek when I put a spoonful of food in her mouth. But she wanted more."

Introduce a variety of foods

Most infants enjoy trying new foods, and starting solids is a great time to introduce a variety of items, such as vegetables, fish, and even spicy foods. This can help prevent pickiness later.

Prepare for messes

Your baby will likely fling food everywhere, especially if you're practicing baby-led weaning. This is common and doesn't necessarily indicate a dislike. "Getting food into their mouth takes coordination and practice for the baby," Tanner says.

Introduce water too

The AAP recommends introducing a small amount of water, in an open cup, around 6 months of age. This can help develop taste for water and fine motor skills.

Watch out for allergies

If your pediatrician has advised it or you have a strong family history of allergies, to make pinpointing allergies easier, give your child only one new food at a time and wait three or four days before trying another.

Keep an eye out for signs of an allergic reaction or intolerance, like a rash, hives, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, excessive gas, diarrhea, or blood in their stools. Call your pediatrician if you notice any of these symptoms (they can take minutes or days to appear), and go to the ER if the reaction seems serious.

Baby Food Chart for Starting Solids

And last but not least, take a page from our healthy-from-the-start handbook and take the guesswork out of what foods to introduce, and when. Print it out and keep it handy for when it's time to start solids. (And in a pinch, it can totally wipe up that mess that's bound to happen too.)

Baby Food Infographic
Christina Minopoli
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