Our Starting Solids Journey- My Top 40 Tips for a Stress-Free Feeding Experience

14 August 2020

I received a beautiful letter/DM on my Instagram page a few months ago from a lovely reader thanking me to give her the confidence to rear a newborn baby. As a clueless new mum that I was not so long ago (geez how is that almost 2 years go?!!), it’s a huge compliment. It is also a huge responsibility. Having someone look up to me for guidance and help to raise their precious baby. The reader was about to begin her baby’s solids journey at 6 months. She said she isn’t worried or anxious because she has me. I’m flattered, so flattered, but I also feel like I should be doing more to educate new mums. I haven’t written much about our solids journey on my blog. After reading the letter, I just had to write it to help out that lovely reader. That’s one person I know that’ll surely gain some insight from this blog post. So we begin.
We had a tough start to our feeding journey. I often talked about it on my Instagram stories when we started transitioning from exclusive breastfeeding to solids. Here’s what I wrote on my Instagram feed when Aiza had just turned 6 months old and 7.5 months old.

After our rocky start, I could be described as 'anxious' at best. It took nearly 2 months for Aiza to start accepting foods. I saw her peers gobbling up platefuls but the girl wouldn’t even take a bite. I read more and educated myself on baby feeding. I learned so much in those few months so I have some wise nuggets to share. I’ll keep them short and sweet because I could legit write half a book on this topic (hence this post is super long)
Here are my best tips, tricks and advice if you are starting your baby solids feeding journey or even if you are well into it and want to get them to eat more adventurously.
  1. Don’t be like us. As a couple or family, don’t eat at different times to your baby. We gave Aiza to each other and took turns eating. She basically never got the chance to see us eating a full meal in front of her (Our Indian kitchen unit is out of view, in the garage). Of course, when we put food in front of her, she had no clue what to do with it. Let your baby watch you eating, start to finish. They will start getting curious about food and when the time comes, they’ll know that this thing goes into the mouth.
  2. Get a high chair - The best purchase you can make for your feeding journey is a quality high chair. It really pays off in the long run. While it might be tempting to keep the baby closer and feed them while they sit on your lap, it’s not sustainable. Why? a. If they are sitting on your lap, not facing you or eating while on the go, you won’t even know if and when they choke. Choking is silent and it’s the scariest thing for every parent. b. While they may be stationary now, they will grow out of your lap faster than you expected. Running around and eating is a choking hazard too. It also sets up bad precedence of eating on the go. Food should be eaten on the table while sitting at one fixed spot, engaging with it. So get it right when they are young and invest in a feeding chair. But which one to buy? I’m no feeding expert, but I’ve read a fair bit about it. The best feeding chair is the one that lets babies back be at 90 degrees angle, lets their feet and legs be at 90 degrees and supports their feet. Too often I see bulky high chairs with babies practically lying down while being fed. It’s a huge choking hazard. Stokke’s Tripp Trapp is considered the best feeding chair on the market. We own Phil n Teds Lobster. It’s a clip-on, portable seat, best suited for travel, eating out and high benchtops at home. It has no feet support so my father in law made a makeshift table for under Aiza’s feet. When Aiza was little we also put a towel under her bottom so her arms would be on the counter comfortably. Here’s a blog post by Renae from New Ways Nutrition comparing various popular high chair models. You’d even spot Aiza in this post.
  3. Start Solids at 6 months mark or even later than that if the baby isn’t showing signs of readiness. The most important being them able to sit comfortably when supported. The neck must hold the head. Don’t start solids at 4/5 months of age. The stomach isn’t ready to digest solid foods then.
  4. Start with one meal a day at 6 months. It’s an entirely new experience for both you and the baby so starting slow helps. They will reject, make faces and hate the idea so don’t be offended. Every baby is different and requires different amounts of food. Plus, babies prefer various flavors and textures. Look into the Beech-Nut baby food post to find out how much to feed your baby for optimal health and growth.
  5. Keep the environment stress free. Lower your expectations heavily. They will eat when they want to eat. Babies pick up on your stress and it backfires. Just relax and go with the flow. Don’t pressurise, don’t threaten, Don’t bribe. Just present the food and let them eat/ not eat/play.
  6. Even playing with food is counted as exposure so be glad if they brought it to their mouth and spat out. That’s success mama!
  7. Exposure exposure exposure. Don’t stop offering food if it’s rejected. Offer it again and again, often accompanied by a safe food that they’ve accepted and liked. If you don’t serve a food due to rejection, they’ll never learn to like it. Avocados and rice have been a hard one for us but we still eat them and serve to Aiza. She has accepted them on a few occasions. Rice is now an accepted food. Sweet pancakes are still a no. We have been working on porridge for a long time but it's still a miss.
  8. Slowly build up meal frequency. We moved on to 2 meals by 7.5 months. 3 meals by 8 months. 4/5 meals by a year. Let your baby take the lead here. At almost 2 years, Aiza is now at 4 meals. We aimed for 5 as recommended but it was too many meals in succession to each other. She wasn't hungry and it didn't go down well. I have since scaled back to 4 meals and 2 good breastfeed sessions a day.
  9. Our current schedule at 23 months is - 7:30 am Breastfeed, 9 am Breakfast, 11 am lunch, 12 pm some pumped breastmilk before nap (around 50 mls or so), 2:30-3pm meal after nap, 5:00 pm Breastfeed, 6:30-7 pm Dinner. There is a good time lag between each meal.
  10. 6 months to 1 year is the time for them (and you) to get acquainted with the idea of food. Babies still get the majority of their nutrition from breast milk or formula. So don’t stress if they take their own sweet time to accept a few morsels.
  11. Practice Division of Responsibility. Your job as a caretaker is to put healthy nutritious food in front of the baby. Their job is to eat it. You can't force them to eat.
  12. Babies are intuitive eaters. They eat as much and when they need it. They could go without a meal and then eat more at another meal. Don’t let one meal get you down. Look at the bigger picture. What did they eat in the entire day and week? It’s all self-regulatory.
  13. Start with foods that are easy to digest. We started with baby rice. She gagged and absolutely hated it. We then moved to fruits like banana. Then we did some homemade purées for a couple of days and then quickly moved on to the foods that we eat. She is not a purée fan at all and loves texture. Every baby is different. Your baby might prefer pureed foods. Aiza wanted to eat our food so we started her on that pretty early on.
  14. We followed Baby Led Weaning (BLW) loosely. Google is your best friend here because I could write an entire post on BLW. It is essentially serving the baby the same food as the adults in the house eat, but with safer/modified texture. Baby learns to eat on their own. In a way, we did combination feeding by starting with purées but we moved on to BLW very quickly as purées were rejected.
  15. No Salt, No Sugar - Baby's kidneys are not developed for high salt intake. Babies under 1 can have 400mg of salt a day. Breastmilk and formula already have some salt so there's not much room left for added salt. Most store-bought bread has a good amount of salt too. It’s very easy to go over the recommended limit, hence, best to cook their meals without salt.
  16. The recommendation is to not serve foods with added sugar to kids till they turn two. This is so they do not develop a preference for sweet-tasting foods. We followed the no salt rule till 1 but relaxed a bit in terms of sugar. I don’t serve her sugar straight up but if we are eating a cake in front of her, I don’t deny her that. Denial can lead to an obsession so I'm quite conscious of that. Moreover, it depends on the child's preference too. Aiza prefers savoury foods over sweet so I don't have to worry about her getting addicted to sugar. She's on me in this respect.
  17. Don’t label foods as bad or good in front of babies/kids. It’s setting them up for life long struggle of viewing food as the devil when it is truly a blessing and we are grateful to have it on our plate.
  18. When starting with solids, the focus should be on Iron-rich foods. Iron is the main nutrient to focus on babies and toddlers. Their bodies are growing fast so they need more blood pumping through their little hearts. Always include an Iron source in the meal and serve a vitamin C food (fruits or veggies) with it to increase Iron absorption. Limit serving dairy or calcium food with high iron food because Calcium inhibits the absorption of Iron. As a Vegetarian family, this is my primary dietary concern. I believe Aiza is not getting enough of Iron because she prefers Calcium foods at every meal.
  19. Serve it all together. The fruit, the veggies, the high-calorie food. All 3 on one plate. Don’t bring anything out from the fridge later. Don’t hide a sweet food till they are done with the main meal. Serve the dessert with the meal so it loses its power. This way nothing is special and everything is healthy. It normalises all foods.
  20. Babies need fat for brain development so step away from non-dairy milk and low-fat yoghurts. More the fat the better (unless they are allergic to dairy).
  21. The food served to baby should be of smooshable consistency. It should be easy to hold (Finger foods should be cut longer than their fist size so they can easily mouth them). The food should smoosh when pressed between two fingers.
  22. Hard food is a choking hazard (raw carrot, raw apple, whole grapes and cherry tomatoes). It's best to cut these up. Blobs and spoonfuls of nut butters is a major choking hazard too. Spread peanut butter on toast/cracker instead (thinly).
  23. Learn the difference between choking and gagging. Gagging is normal. They are learning to eat and will experiment with how far they can take the food. They’ll stop gagging as they become experienced eaters. However choking is scary and dangerous, and it is silent. Hence it’s important to always supervise when the baby eats. I’m linking shantripp’s Instagram story highlights (a former paediatric ER nurse) where she shows what to do when the baby chokes. I highly recommend you watch this video again and again. Also, make the grandparents and other caretakers watch it. It can be lifesaving.
  24. Don’t rush to make something else if the baby rejects a meal. This shows the baby that rejecting is acceptable. If you become a cook on demand, it can lead to selective and picky eating (and a burned-out mom). Stick to what you have served (provided there’s a safe/accepted food on a plate). Show baby that we eat what’s served. If not, it’s ok. They can eat at the next opportunity which will be soon (as per your daily rhythm/schedule).
  25. Introduce allergens early on - the recommendation is to introduce food allergens as soon as the baby starts solids. Some of the top allergens are peanuts, eggs, shellfish, sesame seeds, soy, dairy. It’s best to introduce them as early as you can. Also, introduce a new food in the morning so if there’s an adverse reaction you can head to the doctor promptly. I recently heard a co-worker mention that for their immuno-compromised child, they tried every new allergen on a weekend morning, parked in hospital car-park. Just in case. It sounds extreme but you gotta do what you gotta do for your precious little one. I'm so grateful that Aiza didn't have an adverse reaction to any of the foods I've offered her till date. 
  26. Self-feeding will take a while. Model it. 
  27. Adults should also enjoy the same foods as the baby. When they see you eating the same food, they embrace it.
  28. Keep the feeding environment free of pressure/ coercion. There have been times I've spent so much time and effort preparing a meal but the kid even refuses to touch it. In fact, the food they ate one day might not even get touched the next day.
  29. Exposure exposure exposure. Count it as a win if they even touch, play, taste or even spit it out.
  30. In fact, encourage them when they mouth toys and other safe things. Aiza never mouthed anything and to be honest in-laws might have discouraged her a couple of times too. When the time came to put food in the mouth, she obviously disliked that oral sensation. Hence, this is my top tip for mamas. Let them put things in the mouth. This is how they’ll put food in the mouth. By all means, discourage it once eating is established.
  31. If your baby has a bit of oral sensitivity like my daughter, it’s best to set up messy play for baby and encourage when they bring things close to their mouth. Give them a bowl of thick Greek yogurt and let them run wild with it.
  32. Embrace the mess. Babies aren’t meant to be coordinated. Their hand and mouth coordination is still building so they will drop stuff. It's a given. You have no choice but to embrace the mess. Put a catching bib on, cover the floor under their feeding chair and let them run wild. It will be messy but it’s important for their learning.
  33. Eating is a life skill. It takes a long time to learn. Practice is key so give your baby (and yourself!) lots of grace. It will take them lots of time to embrace the concept of eating. For the first 6 months of their life, they’ve associated hunger with breast milk/formula. So when they are hungry, they only want the comforting milk. So give them the time to like/accept food.
  34. Which brings me to the point of meal timings. As baby doesn’t associate hunger with food yet, they will always want milk when hungry. So feed them milk/formula half an hour or so before food so they aren't starving or cranky. The length of this gap will vary from baby to baby. You are the best judge in this case.
  35. You can make the food more interesting with different props and shapes- fork, spoon, cookie cutters, etc.
  36. Involve them in the cooking process. Hold your little one in arms and toddlers on a chair or growing tower. Involve them in the cooking process. Let them fetch ingredients (Aiza likes picking coriander and spinach from our garden). Toddlers love to help and be useful. Aiza eats more when she’s helped prepare or watched it cook. Don’t feel pressured that you have to do it each time. Just whenever you can squeeze a minute or two. It won't be easy or quick, but I promise it’s worth it.
  37. Grow some edible plants in garden/containers. It’s food exposure like no other. Babies can help themselves. At 16 month old, Aiza could pick ripe red strawberries and tomatoes. She knew the green unripe ones don’t taste that good. She picked peas too. This gets her interested in veggies and fruits and even herbs! Bottom line is to get them involved in the food journey, some way or the other.
  38. Minimise distractions -say no to gadgets at eating times. I prefer talking about things we did during the day. Anything except food, keeping the conversation casual. It's best to ask others in the house to sit still and avoid talking loud/turn on TV. When young, they get distracted very easily.
  39. In the end, just relax mama. I’m the same as you. I started as an anxious mum. Baby food wasn’t my forte. I messed up too. Even after following all these tips, I still feel disheartened when Aiza rejects a meal downright. It makes my day when she eats well. And then I give myself a pep talk every now and then. I try to not associate these feelings to her eating. It’s not me and my cooking. She just doesn't want to eat at that time. She might be teething, not-hungry, not interested, overtired, sleepy, etc etc. So try to accept it as it is and move on quickly. They catch our vibes so bring up good ones at the table. 
  40. Accept that you know what you know. After following all these tips above, my child still isn't the greatest eater. Her eating is on and off still. I don't treat it as my defeat. I put my trust in my child. She knows how much she needs to eat and when; much like her sleep. I hope you learn to put in that trust too.
Happy Feeding Mama x
You're the best


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