There’s one question I hear a lot, and it’s the same question I had before Isabella began eating solids- how do you know what to give her, and when?
Breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of life is the best way to give your baby a strong immune system. There’s nothing on earth like mother’s milk, and the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 full months (or more) are too many to list here. If for some reason breastfeeding isn’t an option, it’s best to avoid a cows milk formula, as it’s one of the most common allergens and causes many babies to experience colic symptoms (not to mention a LOT more spitting up). Solid foods (including rice cereal) are not nutritionally necessary before 6 months of age and can actually be harmful for your baby.
The first two years are a critical period in developing your child’s tastes and future eating habits. This is a window of time in which children tend to be more open to trying new foods. If fresh, flavorful, whole foods are all that are offered, they’ll be more likely to prefer those foods as they grow. If highly processed foods full of sugar and additives are all that are offered, they’ll tend to prefer that.
Every baby is different, and their ability to accept and eat different foods varies. Remember, it’s essential to introduce one food at a time, and only every few days. Follow The 3-Day Rule: watch for reactions like sneezing, runny nose, rashes (particularly around the mouth or diaper area), changes in stools, or changes in mood. If baby has a reaction, hold off on giving her that food for another month, then try again.
Certain foods are potentially irritating, meaning that they could cause a reaction in your baby’s sensitive and still developing digestive system. This system is designed to introduce potentially irritating foods one at a time, when baby’s body is most likely to be ready for them. There is news on the front of potentially allergenic foods (foods that are thought to encourage the development of allergies), so check out the information for yourself and do what seems best to you! This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of what foods to introduce, and when.
Steamed veggies blended with water are a great option, as well as raw pureed fruits. Younger babies need their food to be a thinner consistency.
- winter and summer squash (pumpkin, zucchini, butternut, etc.)
- sweet potatoes and yams
- cold or frozen berries in a mesh bag (fantastic for teething, very messy)
- herbs and seasonings except for garlic (just go easy)
Grains should not be offered before 8 or 9 months as baby’s digestive system hasn’t developed enough of the enzymes necessary to digest them. When you do offer them, it’s best to soak them overnight and cooked for longer than suggested on the package.
This is a great time to introduce finger foods like puffed rice, cheerios, and soft fruits cut into small pieces. Don’t expect your floors to stay clean, though.
- brown rice
- oats (We do overnight oats a lot- simply mix oats and water or rice milk and leave in fridge overnight. Easy breakfast!)
- cottage cheese
- egg yolk (That’s right- the yolk is ok. It’s the whites that are allergenic for most babies. This is a great way to get protein if you don’t do meat)
- greens (spinach, kale, collards, chard, lettuce)
- hemp milk (not a replacement for breast milk)
- rice milk (not a replacement for breast milk)
- coconut oil
- olive oil
Baby’s desire to feed herself begins to increase, as do her caloric needs. This is a great time to offer bulkier, higher calorie foods. Begin to introduce potentially irritating foods and continue to watch for allergic reactions.
- broccoli and cauliflower
- lemon and lime
- tofu (closer to 18 months)
- salmon (closer to 18 months)
- goat’s milk
Begin adding more protein through slow-cooked meats and some nuts.
- soy foods
- whole eggs
- almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts
- nut butters from the above nuts
Cautiously add allergenic foods one by one, watching closely for signs of sensitivity.
- Cow’s milk (Other dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese are easier to digest because they are cultured.)
- gluten (wheat, rye, barley, spelt)
There are two resources I found incredibly helpful as I introduced solids to Isabella. One is The Baby Book by Dr. Sears– it’s basically the bible on all things baby-related. The other is The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre, MS, CN, which includes a very conservative schedule for food introduction. Check out their website for tons of great vegan recipes.