A quick guide to introducing solids into your baby's diet
Breastfeeding is essential for newborn babies till they become 6 months of age. However, once your baby reaches the age of 6 months, it becomes vital to supplement breast milk with solid food. Introducing solid foods into your baby’s diet is a time of great excitement as well as anxiety as babies can be fussy eaters. The habits your baby develops at this age will last a lifetime. Hence, it is very important to develop healthy eating habits from an early stage. Here are a few tips and tricks that could help you while introducing solids to your baby’s diet:
Pick the right time to introduce solid foods
There is no one answer to ‘when to start baby food?’ Each baby grows and develops at a different pace. Your baby is ready to eat solid foods when he or she can sit without support and can control head and neck movements. Hence, it is around the age of 6 months when you can get started.
Use solid food as a complement, not a replacement for breast milk
‘When to start solid food for babies?’ is not synonymous with ‘when to stop breastfeeding?’
For the first few months after you introduce your baby to solid foods, he or she will still need to be breastfed. Solid foods are not meant to replace breastfeeding but to fill the nutritional gaps between your child’s growing needs and the nutrition supplied by breast milk. As your baby grows, he will require more protein, iron, vitamins and minerals than you can offer in the form of breast milk.
Most infants do not like new flavours when they are very hungry. Hence, when it comes to introducing new foods, it is best to first breastfeed your baby a little and then you can introduce the new food.
Begin with cereals
When starting baby food, it is important to pick the right type of food. At this stage, cereals are the ideal food. These carbohydrates provide up to 4 Kcal of energy per gram. This is much higher than the energy provided by breast milk and helps your baby stay active. These cereals are also a good source of vitamins like vitamin B.
Khichadi, rice gruel, and kheer are easy ways to introduce your baby to cereals. You may initially blend this khichadi to a puree if needed. Later, when your baby reaches the age of 8-9 months, you can also add pureed fruits and vegetables to the cereal for a different taste and extra nutrition.
Pulses are a great source of energy and protein. Pulses also contain fibre that helps improve digestion and makes passing stool easier. While cereals lack an essential amino acid known as lysine, pulses are a rich source of amino acids. On the other hand, cereals contain more methionine as compared to pulses. Thus, cereals and pulses go hand in hand towards meeting your baby’s nutritional needs. Cereals and pulses should ideally be combined in a 2:1 ratio. Two popular easy to digest meals with cereal and pulses are khichadi and idlis.
Not all pulses can be digested by babies
When you introduce pulses, start with washed pulses. Cook the pulses well so that the baby’s digestive system has less work to do. You can start with a simple rasam or lentil soup. Some pulses may cause excessive flatulence. Avoid pulses like chole, rajma, lobia, and urad dal until your baby’s digestive system has matured. When your baby is older, you can introduce sprouted pulses for extra nutrition. These sprouts can be boiled and mashed into your baby’s khichadi or gruel.
Give your baby plenty of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Fruits contain a simple form of carbohydrates known as fructose. This is easy to digest and acts as a source of energy. In addition, they are packed with fibre to help your baby’s digestive system develop. The antioxidants in these foods help the immune system grow stronger and make your baby less vulnerable to the flu and infections.
The ideal way to introduce fruits and vegetables is to boil them and mash them. You can begin with bananas, potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes. You can also give your baby fruits and vegetables in the form of soups, shakes, and smoothies. As your child grows older, increase the portion size and experiment with different textures.
You can also add mashed fruits and vegetables to your baby’s milk, porridge or cereal mix.
How much solid food is enough for your baby?
Many parents wonder, ‘how much solid food for 6-month-old babies is enough?’ In the beginning, your baby may eat just about ½ tsp at each sitting. Gradually, this will increase to 1 tsp to 2 and then to about half a bowl. Do not force your child to eat a certain amount. Forcing your baby to eat something will only make them dislike the food. If your baby pushes the spoon away, leave it aside and try again after a few days.