When can a baby eat real food

When, What, and How to Introduce Solid Foods | Nutrition

For more information about how to know if your baby is ready to starting eating foods, what first foods to offer, and what to expect, watch these videos from 1,000 Days.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend children be introduced to foods other than breast milk or infant formula when they are about 6 months old.  Introducing foods before 4 months old is not recommended. Every child is different. How do you know if your child is ready for foods other than breast milk or infant formula? You can look for these signs that your child is developmentally ready.

Your child:

  • Sits up alone or with support.
  • Is able to control head and neck.
  • Opens the mouth when food is offered.
  • Swallows food rather than pushes it back out onto the chin.
  • Brings objects to the mouth.
  • Tries to grasp small objects, such as toys or food.
  • Transfers food from the front to the back of the tongue to swallow.

What Foods Should I Introduce to My Child First?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that for most children, you do not need to give foods in a certain order. Your child can begin eating solid foods at about 6 months old. By the time he or she is 7 or 8 months old, your child can eat a variety of foods from different food groups. These foods include infant cereals, meat or other proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains, yogurts and cheeses, and more.

If your child is eating infant cereals, it is important to offer a variety of fortifiedalert icon infant cereals such as oat, barley, and multi-grain instead of only rice cereal. Only providing infant rice cereal is not recommended by the Food and Drug Administration because there is a risk for children to be exposed to arsenic. Visit the U.S. Food & Drug Administrationexternal icon to learn more.

How Should I Introduce My Child to Foods?

Your child needs certain vitamins and minerals to grow healthy and strong.

Now that your child is starting to eat food, be sure to choose foods that give your child all the vitamins and minerals they need.

Click here to learn more about some of these vitamins & minerals.

Let your child try one single-ingredient food at a time at first. This helps you see if your child has any problems with that food, such as food allergies. Wait 3 to 5 days between each new food. Before you know it, your child will be on his or her way to eating and enjoying lots of new foods.

Introduce potentially allergenic foods when other foods are introduced.

Potentially allergenic foods include cow’s milk products, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy, and sesame. Drinking cow’s milk or fortified soy beverages is not recommended until your child is older than 12 months, but other cow’s milk products, such as yogurt, can be introduced before 12 months. If your child has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, talk with your child’s doctor or nurse about when and how to safely introduce foods with peanuts.

How Should I Prepare Food for My Child to Eat?

At first, it’s easier for your child to eat foods that are mashed, pureed, or strained and very smooth in texture. It can take time for your child to adjust to new food textures. Your child might cough, gag, or spit up. As your baby’s oral skills develop, thicker and lumpier foods can be introduced.

Some foods are potential choking hazards, so it is important to feed your child foods that are the right texture for his or her development. To help prevent choking, prepare foods that can be easily dissolved with saliva and do not require chewing. Feed small portions and encourage your baby to eat slowly. Always watch your child while he or she is eating.

Here are some tips for preparing foods:

  • Mix cereals and mashed cooked grains with breast milk, formula, or water to make it smooth and easy for your baby to swallow.
  • Mash or puree vegetables, fruits and other foods until they are smooth.
  • Hard fruits and vegetables, like apples and carrots, usually need to be cooked so they can be easily mashed or pureed.
  • Cook food until it is soft enough to easily mash with a fork.
  • Remove all fat, skin, and bones from poultry, meat, and fish, before cooking.
  • Remove seeds and hard pits from fruit, and then cut the fruit into small pieces.
  • Cut soft food into small pieces or thin slices.
  • Cut cylindrical foods like hot dogs, sausage and string cheese into short thin strips instead of round pieces that could get stuck in the airway.
  • Cut small spherical foods like grapes, cherries, berries and tomatoes into small pieces.
  • Cook and finely grind or mash whole-grain kernels of wheat, barley, rice, and other grains.

Learn more about potential choking hazards and how to prevent your child from choking.

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Solids, Finger Foods, and More

Written by Gina Shaw

In this Article

  • Baby Milestone 1: When They Can Start Solids
  • Baby Milestone 2: When They’re Ready to Move From Puree to Chunks
  • Baby Milestone 3: When They Can Sit in a High Chair
  • Baby Milestone 4: When They Can Manage Finger Foods
  • Baby Milestone 5: When They Start Using Spoons
  • Baby Milestone 6: When They Can Try Highly Allergenic Foods
  • Baby Milestone 7: When They Can Drink Water
  • Baby Milestone 8: When They Can Completely Feed Themselves

There are many milestones that need to be achieved when a baby is ready to start to eat solid foods. Here are some of the big ones.


Baby Milestone 1: When They Can Start Solids

Most pediatricians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend introducing solid foods to babies when they are between ages 4 and 6 months. That’s when they start to lose the “tongue-thrust reflex” or extrusion reflex, which is important for sucking the breast or bottle when they are younger, but interferes with feeding. Babies at this point can also lift their heads up independently and hold their necks high.

If your baby is around this age, can sit up well with support, and shows interest in the foods they see you eating, it’s probably a good time to venture into feeding your baby solid food. If your baby is exclusively breastfed, it is recommended that you wait until they are 6 months to start solids.

Baby Milestone 2: When They’re Ready to Move From Puree to Chunks

“Chunking up” babies’ food is a process -- obviously, they shouldn’t go straight from rice cereal to raisin bran. But after the first few weeks of adjusting to eating rather than just drinking their food, your baby should be ready to handle a little more texture in solid foods.

Introduce new textures slowly. Good starters are mashed bananas or mashed avocados. You can also use the “staged” store-bought baby foods -- going from the smooth puree of stage 1 to the slightly thicker stage 2 and then the chunkier stage 3 by around 9 months of age. (Babies don’t necessarily have to have a lot of teeth to handle more texture in their foods -- they can often gum soft foods very well!)

Baby Milestone 3: When They Can Sit in a High Chair

When babies are ready to eat solid foods, they can sit upright with support and hold up their head and neck. They're capable of sitting in a high chair! That's a serious milestone, but you'll need to follow these safety rules: Always buckle a baby into their chair for safety, even if they are unable to get out with the tray in place. As they get older and become more active, they may be able to squirm out. It is a good habit to buckle a child as soon as you place them in their chair -- even if you think there's no chance they could fall out or climb out. You may get distracted for a moment, which happens really easily when we are trying to do a million things at once!


Baby Milestone 4: When They Can Manage Finger Foods

Babies between ages 7 and 11 months usually tell you they’re ready to eat more grown-up foods by trying to grab them from you. Almost any food that is healthy and nutritious and has a soft texture makes a good finger food, if it’s cut small enough: diced pasta; small pieces of well-cooked vegetables such as carrots, peas, or zucchini; and pea-sized bites of chicken or soft meat. Small, unsweetened round cereals and cereal puffs are also a good choice. Avoid feeding your baby grapes, hot dogs (even cut up), nuts, and hard candy, as they are choking hazards.

At first babies “rake” food into their hand, but soon they develop the “pincer grasp” that allows them to pick up small objects between thumb and forefinger. At that point, your baby can become a pro at self-feeding, so encourage finger foods and let your baby explore!


Baby Milestone 5: When They Start Using Spoons

Almost as soon as babies adjust to being fed with a spoon, they'll want to hold and grab the spoon themselves and put it in their mouths. That doesn't mean they're graceful, of course.

Most babies don’t learn to use a spoon effectively until after their first birthday, but let a younger baby who’s interested give it a whirl for practice. Try giving them a soft-tipped spoon to hold while you feed them with another. They can get used to holding the spoon themselves and will also be distracted from grabbing yours.

When you think they are ready to actually navigate the spoon into their mouth, try thicker, stickier foods like yogurt, mashed potatoes, or cottage cheese. Another tip: Put some cream cheese on the spoon and then a few pieces of O-shaped cereal on top. The cream cheese won’t fly everywhere, and the baby can get the experience of actually getting the cereal into their mouth.

Expect a mess! Use a plastic or other waterproof bib, and put a mat under the high chair to make cleanup easier.


Baby Milestone 6: When They Can Try Highly Allergenic Foods

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing allergenic and non-allergenic foods, including peanuts, starting around 4-6 months of age, except in babies who have eczema or other food allergies. If peanut butter is tolerated, introduce milk (after age 1), egg products, wheat, and fish.



Baby Milestone 7: When They Can Drink Water

Babies don't need water during their first 6 months of life. They get all the water they need from breast milk or baby formula. Babies under age 6 months should not be given any water at all, because it’s easy to fill up their tiny stomachs -- and they should be filling up on the nutrients they receive from the milk to grow. Once they start eating mostly solid foods, around age 9 months, they can start water with meals using a sippy cup.

If your older baby shows an interest in water that you’re drinking, there’s no harm in letting them have a few sips. Just don’t let it replace the nutritious breast milk or formula they should be getting.


Baby Milestone 8: When They Can Completely Feed Themselves

Mastering eating with utensils is a long process. Most babies do not become really skilled at it until they are well past their first birthday. Encourage your child to practice safely, and again, be prepared for a little mess. (How else will you get the “oatmeal in the hair” pictures that will embarrass them years later?)


the child only eats candy and chips • Autism is

I heard that children with autism will eat if they are hungry enough. Our daughter nibbles on caramels, chips, and crackers all day, and I wish she could eat real food. I tried to give her something nutritious before, but nothing helped. I am very worried. If you just take away all the junk food from her, will she start starving? Should I go the hard way?

Answered by Moira Pena, occupational therapist at Toronto Children's Rehabilitation Hospital.

Thank you for your question. First, let me assure you that many parents of children on the autism spectrum face the same situation. A recent analysis of existing research on this topic confirmed that children with autism are five times more likely to have nutritional problems compared to children with typical development.

The first step in dealing with this problem is to recognize that eating problems and unusual eating behaviors are a common symptom of autism. Try not to feel guilty about your child's eating habits. It's not your fault if your daughter refuses healthy food. Your job as a parent is to offer more nutritious options. Whether or not the child decides.

Second, it's very important to talk to her pediatrician and/or dietitian to ensure that you can remove chips and crackers without fear of medical consequences. You need to make sure that she is not underweight or lacking in nutrients, only after that you can remove some foods. A pediatrician or nutritionist may recommend that she take supplements as needed. It is also important that your pediatrician or dietitian continue to monitor your daughter's health while you are trying to change her diet.

If possible, I highly recommend finding a gastroenterologist who has experience working with children with autism and eating disorders. He will be able to determine the medical reasons why your daughter may be refusing other foods. These causes may include chronic abdominal pain, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), constipation, or food intolerances.

Many children with autism also have posture problems that can interfere with eating. For example, low muscle tone can make it difficult for them to sit upright. Another common cause of eating problems in autism is various types of sensory hypersensitivity.

As you probably know, one of the symptoms of autism is the desire for sameness. Because of this, a child with autism may react with anxiety and rejection of any new food. A behavioral therapist who specializes in working with children with autism can help with this problem.

Finally, some children with autism have chewing problems and will need to develop this motor skill. However, since your daughter loves caramels and chips, it is unlikely that she has this problem.

Ten Strategies You Can Try at Home

As for things you can try on your own, I suggest you the following ten strategies. But first of all, I recommend that you take a deep breath and remind yourself that you cannot change your daughter's diet overnight. Change can only be gradual, you will move forward in small steps.

I recommend that you give yourself at least one full month during which you will regularly and consistently use the following strategies to make healthy eating more comfortable for your daughter.

At every meal and snack, offer a protein meal, fruit or vegetable, along with a small amount of her favorite chips. Now this may seem like an overwhelming task. But when a child has nutritional problems, it is important for us to offer him new food options as often as possible. Offer her favorite treats in a smaller amount than usual, but offer other foods at the same time. If she refuses lunch, you will be more comfortable, because you will know that she will still have different options for a snack. And those familiar chips? They can signal to your daughter that it's time to start eating. They can also motivate her to sit at the table with you during meals.

Make eating fun! Try to look at food intake from your daughter's point of view: food has become a source of disagreement with you and an unpleasant experience for her. Try to think of ways to make eating a joyful and enjoyable experience. I don't know how old your daughter is. If she is still small, then I would suggest games in the "grocery store" with plastic products. Or it could be going to a real grocery store where you can encourage her to pick up and put different items in the cart. Discuss products with her - their color, smell, how they feel. Compose and sing songs about food with her. And yes, encourage her to play with her food! If she doesn't want to touch the food with her fingers, suggest she use a spoon or a plastic knife to shape the food into different shapes, make figures or buildings out of the food. If possible, involve her in cooking and snacking as much as possible. The main idea here is that she begins to perceive different dishes and products as something positive. And what could be more positive than a game?

Turn eating into a habitual joint ritual. Many families are now busy all the time. So family lunches and dinners are increasingly becoming an unrealistic goal. But a family dinner can only include two people. The idea is that you need to sit together at the dinner table for at least 15 minutes. Maybe at first your daughter will not eat anything at the table at all, it's okay, everything is in order. The main thing is that she will watch her loved ones eat, she will get used to the smells, sights and sounds associated with food. These are all positive steps for her to start trying new foods.

Don't wait until you're hungry. Many parents of children with autism have told me that their children do not perceive hunger in the same way as other children. I believe that these observations deserve separate studies. In the meantime, I recommend that you don't wait until you're very hungry and don't ask your child if she wants to eat: she'll almost certainly say no. Just offer her food at the same time, according to the schedule for the day.

Offer a meal or snack every 2.5 hours. To avoid constant snacking, plan a meal or a small snack every 2.5 hours throughout the day. If possible, stick to this schedule, exclude any food at other times. It is very important that the child develops a routine regarding food - it is important that she remembers that food is only available at certain times.

Prepare a visual schedule. Remember that a clear and understandable schedule makes any task very easy for children with autism. Prepare a written list and/or picture schedule to show when you can eat or snack. Hang the schedule in her room, kitchen, and other places where she spends time. You can also use a kitchen timer or a visual timer on your phone to show her how much time is left before a snack. Here the idea is to prepare your daughter as best as possible for the meal. It will also help her get rid of her food anxiety.

Try adding physical activity before meals. In ergotherapy, we often use exercise to wake up the child's body and senses. Perhaps you should add some light exercise (even just marching around the table to music) before you sit down at the dinner table. Just remember that it's important to have fun!

Don't season your food with emotions. I find this a helpful mantra for all parents. I mean, it's important for you to track your own anxiety when your child is eating. I understand that a child's poor nutrition causes you great concern. Try to consciously reduce your anxiety and other negative emotions. It is important that eating is associated with a positive atmosphere! Believe that your child can eat new foods and celebrate every success, no matter how small!

Encourage her to set the table herself. Transfer food to large dishes so that your daughter can put the food on her plate herself. If possible, ask her to help you set the table or pass the plates to other family members. Here the main idea is that she has as much control as possible over the process of eating. At the same time, she becomes accustomed to various sensory aspects of food, such as its sight and smell.

Offer your child food that other family members eat, even if you think she will refuse. At least let her just sit at the table while people eat around her. As I mentioned, the sight, smells, proximity to food can help her try new foods in the future.

Child and spoon. When to teach a child to cutlery?

Approximately by the 9-10th month, children become interested in cutlery.

Approximately by the 9th-10th month, children develop an interest in the cutlery used by parents and with the help of which mother gives complementary foods.

While eating, the baby tries to grab a spoon, look at it, lick it, and is already trying to copy what mom does: scoop up porridge or mashed potatoes and bring it to her mouth.

Of course, the first clumsy attempts end in splashing and spilling food in all directions. Some kids love this fun and instead of learning to wield a spoon, they willingly play with it (of course, if mom allows).

At the same time, taking a toy from a little bully becomes a real problem - after all, the baby does not want to part with it at all. At this moment, the mother needs to intervene in the situation and try to direct it in a peaceful direction, that is, to teach her child to use the cutlery for its intended purpose.

When should I start teaching my baby to eat with a spoon?

From the age of 10-11 months, a child can learn how to use a spoon correctly. During feeding, put a spoon in his handle. For the first test, be sure to prepare your baby's favorite dish - let him not have the desire to scatter it in vain.

Of course, in any case, the learning process will add extra trouble for you - cleaning and washing. The baby will climb into the plate with a spoon, try to scoop up food, as a result of which you will then collect it from clothes, tables, floors.

Patience is important here. And you reassure yourself that such independent actions increase the appetite and mood of the little one. Each time, the process will go cleaner and cleaner, and the tiny handle will hold the spoon more and more confidently.

Which spoon to start with?

It's best to give your baby a special silicone spoon first - they are completely safe and fit comfortably in a child's hand. Alternatively, you can try a dessert spoon, because it looks more like the one your parents eat. At the same time, buy a children's bowl with high edges and suction cups. And it’s better to have several of them - with different pictures on the bottom, so that it would be more interesting for the baby to get to the bottom as soon as possible.

First learn how to eat mashed potatoes and cereals, only then move on to liquid dishes. Do not forget that each baby has his own development schedule, and if he does not want to learn to eat with a spoon, it's okay, it will come to him a little later.

At first, the baby will hold the spoon the way it is comfortable for him - perhaps in the fist. If at this time you start to pull it up and teach it to hold it correctly, most likely, you will only achieve that your treasure does not want to eat on its own at all.

We eat at the common table

It's better to do things differently — to sit the baby at the common table more often. He will see how you eat and try to copy your behavior.

Eating at the same table with the whole family for a child will be a real pleasure - this is communication, new impressions, and gaining experience - in particular, behavior at the table. By the way, this method is very useful for increasing the appetite of little ones. Do not forget to set a positive example for your baby - do not talk at the table, do not fidget, etc.

If the child does not want to eat with a spoon at all and continues to take food with his hands, try the opposite method - sometimes it works. Everyone at the table eats with spoons, but do not give the crumbs a spoon. The same with food - everyone eats and praises, and let the baby sit for a while with an empty plate. He will reach out and ask!

Rules of etiquette

If a child under the age of two has not yet learned how to hold a spoon, you can try to talk to him about this topic and point out mistakes, appealing that he is already big and should do everything right. The spoon is taken with three fingers - thumb, middle and index, slightly below its wide part. When the baby learns this, teach him to scoop food correctly, bring it to his mouth with the side, and not with the tapering part.

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