The best foods and textures

A 19-step guide to introducing different textures to your baby

While most Indian mothers know that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish their babies till 6 months of age, they are often unsure about how to start complementary feeding after that. You might especially be wondering about what foods and textures to introduce so that the transition becomes easy for your child. After all, this transition can be exciting as well as challenging for them. So, remember that every child is different, and will adapt to solids at their own pace. Also, not every child will like the same food item, so you will need to be a little patient.

Here are a few tips to introduce foods of different textures and types to your baby at different ages:

  1. There are many milestones that your baby needs to reach before starting on solid foods. For example, it is recommended to start introducing solid foods when your infant is between 4 and 6 months of age. This is because at this age, they lose the ‘tongue – thrust reflex' that is used for suckling but interferes with feeding.
  2. Between 4 and 6 months, they can also independently lift their heads and keep their necks high. If your baby can sit up using support and shows curiosity about the foods you eat, then you can slowly start introducing solids to your baby. But if he or she is exclusively breastfed, then it is recommended that you wait till 6 months to start him or her on solids.
  3. Your baby’s first food should be smooth and drip easily from the spoon. You can get this consistency by straining, pureeing and mashing foods well.
  4. As your child grows up, you can gradually thicken the mixture. The best food for babies is usually a cereal. So, start with a single ingredient, iron-enriched, whole-grain food item, such as brown rice, whole-grain oats or barley.
  5. Initially, mix a small amount of cereal with breast milk or water to get a creamy soupy consistency. Do not sweeten this with fruits as it is better to start solids with single-ingredient foods.
  6. You can also start with orange or yellow vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots, before moving on to greens, as they have stronger flavours. If your kid rejects them, offer it to them again later.
  7. The first fruits you introduce can be mashed bananas, pears, apples, or even mashed avocados.
  8. The next concern comes when your baby needs to progress from purees like rice porridge, to chunky foods like bite-sized vegetables or fruits and regular rice. After a few weeks of eating rather than “drinking” their foods, babies are usually ready to tolerate more textures. But make sure that you introduce them to new textures slowly.
  9. Commercially packed baby foods are available according to different stages and can also be used if you are travelling or too busy to prepare meals. Start with stage 1 and then progress to stage 2, which is a little thicker. Stage 3 foods, which are chunkier, should be offered when your baby is about 9 months of age.
  10. You should also know that babies don’t need teeth to chew soft foods, as they can use their gums to chew well.
  11. Close monitoring is essential when you start your baby on solids. Babies can be restless and hyperactive, so make sure that your kid is buckled to his or her chair and is not able to get down from it.
  12. Babies of 7 to 11 months of age usually try grabbing your food, which indicates that you can start them on finger foods. Foods that are healthy and nutritious, soft in texture, and bite-sized, can be termed as finger foods.
  13. Best foods for children at this time can be diced well-cooked pasta, small pieces of vegetables like carrots, or soft and small pieces of chicken or meat.
  14. Avoid giving foods such as whole grapes, hot dogs, nuts and hard candies as they can pose choking hazards.
  15. Encourage your baby to self-feed. Initially, they will just be able to move the food, but gradually, they will develop a pincer grip that will help them to pick up pieces of food using their thumb and forefinger.
  16. Once your baby gets used to being fed with a spoon, they will try to hold the spoon and feed themselves. This can get very messy. So, use a plastic or waterproof bib and place a mat below the chair to make cleaning easier. Most babies don’t become an expert at this until they turn one-year-old. But do offer a soft tipped spoon to help them experiment, while you keep feeding them. This way, he or she will become more attentive about the spoon and won’t grab yours.
  17. When your child finally gets ready to use spoons, give him or her thicker, stickier foods. Yoghurt, mashed potatoes and even paneer are good choices.
  18. If you want to give your kid some dry cereal, top it up with some cream cheese or yoghurt, so that the cereal sticks to the spoon.
  19. As per doctors, you should wait till 1 year of age before introducing common allergenic foods like eggs, shellfish or nuts. And when you start, remember to introduce each food item one by one. This way, you will be able to spot allergic reactions to any particular food item.

Apart from following the above tips, make sure you don’t give plain water to your baby before he or she reaches 6 months of age. Babies get the water they need from breast milk or baby formula. Giving water separately might fill up their tiny stomachs and reduce their appetite for breast milk. At around 9 months of age, water can be introduced to them using a sippy cup. Over time, they will learn to drink from glasses and become more independent.