Baby Food Stages

Children mould with teacher from clay.

Starting solid foods is an exciting time. The first messy spoonful is a major milestone, but when exactly should you offer that spoonful? And what should be on the spoon? The baby food aisle offers little assistance – there are rows of containers with mysterious markings and secret messages. What is a stage 1? When should you be on stage 3? And what in the world is this elusive “cereal” everyone keeps talking about?

Relax. It’s not as bad as it seems. The baby food stages are simple to work through – they have much to do with your baby’s age and developmental stages, and most shocking of all – the entire progression can take as little as six months.

The Milk Stage

The first stage for a baby is milk. Breast milk or formula should be all that a baby receives for the first four to six months of life. A spoonful of cereal in the bottles won’t help them sleep better, and if reflux is a problem, speak with your pediatrician about slower nipples and a possible formula change.

The Introductory Period

Between four and six months of age (possibly a bit sooner for some babies, but speak with your pediatrician), your baby will begin showing signs of readiness. These signs include sitting up with assistance, watching you eating intently, the ability to communicate when they are full, and excellent head control. Your baby will also most likely no longer be satisfied with 24-32 ounces of formula or breast milk per day.

During this phase, you will slowly introduce your baby to the wonders of real food – or at least pureed forms of real food. You can make your own baby food or buy commercial brands, just be sure to start with the most pureed form, usually called Stage 1.

The first food most parents offer their children is rice cereal. It is found in the baby food aisle and is essentially dried flakes that are mixed with formula, breast milk, or water. Later, you can mix it with juice if you would like. Mix the cereal according to the instructions on the box and offer your baby a small spoonful. Be sure to use a soft, baby spoon to avoid hurting your little one’s gums.

Wait for your baby to open her mouth to accept the food. Gently spoon in the bite, and watch with glee as your baby thrusts it all back out again with her tongue. This is perfectly normal and will take a few meals to go away. Even after the tongue thrust reflex is gone, your baby will “chew” by smashing food on the roof of her mouth, so it will continue to be a rather messy mealtime.

After introducing rice cereal, you can begin to introduce other fruits and vegetables. You can also start with a fruit or vegetable and introduce cereal later. To introduce a food, offer it at a meal then avoid any new foods for three to five days. This will identify any allergic reactions to new foods. Work through the foods slowly until you have covered all of the basics – these include only fruits, vegetables, and grains such as oatmeal and barley. Remember, you are introducing foods only to supplement the 24-32 ounces of formula your little one should still be drinking.

Meal Time!

After the first month or two, your baby will begin to catch on to the baby food thing and show interest in having “meals” with the rest of the family. At this point, you can begin to increase the amount of solid food at a setting and introduce the next stage of foods – protein sources. Your baby should still be consuming at least 24 ounces of milk or formula per day, but you can begin to offer some of that in a cup during this phase.

If you started solids at five months, your baby will most likely have made it through all of the new foods by the middle of the sixth month. She should now be enjoying a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains along with her milk. A typical meal for a baby between six and eight months includes 3-4 tablespoons of cereal mixed with milk or formula, 2-4 tablespoons of fruit and 2-4 tablespoons of vegetables.

Some parents opt to give only one vegetable or fruit at a meal; others split the container between two meals. Be sure you pour the food out of the container, however, and store the remainder in the refrigerator. Once a baby eats from a container, bacteria are introduced meaning you must throw it out when the meal is over. If you pour out the food incrementally into another dish, you can use the original container of food for up to three days provided it is refrigerated.

At this stage you are most likely on Stage 2 foods. These are a bit less pureed than the first round of foods to help babies learn to gum their foods. You can begin to introduce meats the same way you did fruits and vegetables watching carefully for reactions. You may also introduce a dairy product such as yogurt or cottage cheese. But find dairy products created with whole milk as your baby requires the fat for optimum development. Avoid whole milk, however, until your baby is at least one year old.

Another Introduction Period

Once the proteins are introduced, your baby should be eating out of all the food groups daily. You should also be giving her slightly lumpier foods to help her learn to chew with her gums. Around seven to nine months, parents enter the most exhilarating and terrifying introduction period of all – table foods.

The first foods to offer a baby are large biscuits or toast. Babies will gnaw on the cracker and soggy sections will dissolve in their mouths. AS your baby develops a pincher grip with her finger and thumb, you can begin to introduce very small food pieces such as Cheerios, puffs, or cheese crumbs.

Any time your baby is working on table foods, watch her carefully. She must gum the food completely, and there is a considerably higher probability of choking as she is still learning to chew. Before offering the foods, learn how to deal with a choking baby, and always avoid choking hazards such as grapes, hot dogs, and anything hard. Until your baby has a full set of teeth, she will not be able to chew tough meats or hard vegetables or fruits enough to be able to swallow them safely.

Encourage self feeding with a spoon, although it will be a long time before she can do it successfully. Offer her finger foods at every meal and attempt to move your baby onto table foods completely by her first birthday, if not well before. She should also be using a cup from six to eight months, and one year is a good time to wean her off a bottle.

Celebrate Success

At your baby’s first birthday party, you will be amazed at how far she’s come. The first few timid bites of cereal have come and gone, and now she is eating cake with fierce dedication. She eats what you eat, for the most part, cut up into small bites and served on her very own plate with her very own cup. Some foods can still be spoon-fed – if she’s willing to let you, but you will be amazed at how quickly everything becomes a form of finger food. Congratulations, your baby is well on her way to true independence.

Daily Food Intake for a One-Year-Old

Food GroupNumber of ServingsServing SuggestionsBread and Cereal4One slice of bread, one cup of cereal, one cup cooked pasta or rice, one biscuitFruits and Vegetables4One piece of fruit, 125 ml of fruit juice, one cup cooked vegetables, one potato, one carrotDairy3200 ml of milk, 200 grams of yogurt, 40 g cheese, 200 ml custard Protein130 gm of lean meat or fish, one egg, one tablespoon of peanut butter, one cup baked beans, one fish stickFats12 teaspoons of wholesome fats throughout the day.

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