You know that meme about how parents’ treatment of pacifiers changes as they have more kids, from sterilizing the thing every time it touches anything but baby lips to grabbing it from under a church pew and poking it back into baby’s mouth?
That’s totally me, minus the pacifier.
With my first child, I read every book there was about breastfeeding, baby development, and feeding that baby. I knew at each month if he was ahead or behind the milestones and what foods he should or shouldn’t be eating. It was from one of these books that I was inspired to make homemade yogurt for the first time, and now I’m practically famous for pushing it on everyone who will listen.
I wrote down everything he ate practically to the teaspoon, and if I could find the right box to unpack, I know I still have that notebook.
First food? Rice cereal.
Second? Peaches, made into baby food in August (when they’re in season in Michigan) by the dutiful mother whose baby was only four months. Baby food was supposed to have a freezer life of about two months, so it had to be served right away when he was six months!
I was such a rule follower that I remember just about hyperventilating when I realized that I had allowed my 8-or-9-month-old to sip from my straw at a restaurant, and good Heavens! There was lemon squeezed into the water! Babies are NOT supposed to have citrus until a year!
Now Jonathan has already had homemade guacamole between six and seven months, complete with the lime juice. I hope he survives.
Changes from One Child to the Next
I hope you know by now that I just make things up as I go along a lot nowadays.
I’m really stumbling through starting solids with Jonathan, reading a bit here and there but certainly not following “the books” like I used to, for lots of reasons. The poor child has no notebook of first foods (nor a baby book or calendar to record his life’s milestones…but he’s a star here at KS!). I think he’ll probably be scarred as an adult, and his future wife might hate me if she doesn’t get to read about his culinary delights from age six months to one year like Paul’s wife will.
Paul and Leah both began life with rice cereal, and I made baby food “cubes” for both by pureeing fruits and vegetables and freezing them in ice cube trays. I’m guessing Leah had a lot fewer simply because I was busier with parenting two kids.
I made quite a few “super baby porridges” for Paul, from the book Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. They’re made of whole grains and legumes in a 2:1 ratio, ground in the blender and cooked with milk or water. It’s a decent book, but that was a lot of unsoaked grain going on for a little gut. I realized when I got more into cooking with dry beans that because I was grinding the legumes dry, I didn’t even rinse them! Gah!
I made “baby pancakes” with the boxed cereal and even a sample can of formula that I figured I should use up since it was there. (My hair stands on end as I type that.) He did stay free from sugary treats for his first year and got indoctrinated into plain, unsweetened yogurt starting at about 9 months, homemade, with whole milk. Some of the produce I used was organic, but much of it was not, and the meat, milk and eggs in our house were all conventionally grown.
He ate dozens of boxes of “Os” as snacks, which obviously have some sugar in them, so he wasn’t completely sugar-free for the first 12 months. I didn’t even think like that, just that these were whole grain, low sugar, and much better and cheaper than the Gerber “puffs” that others were using for on-the-go snacks.
I was proud of my healthy boy, eating lots of whole grains, varied vegetables including green things, and all that yogurt. I can picture the nasty-looking mixture of a cube of pureed chicken, one of sweet potato, and one of spinach. He’d lap it right up, and I was so impressed!
By the time Leah came along and was ready for food, I was just starting to read Nourishing Traditions, so she had far, far less boxed cereal (maybe only 2-3 boxes total? I think I remember throwing some partial boxes away once she was too old anyway…) and tried things like egg yolk much earlier than Paul (she hated it hard-boiled, for the record). Her cubes were made in the same way but heated in a toaster oven or over the stove rather than in a microwave, and she was exposed to far less plastic than her older brother.
She, too, was raised on plain yogurt, and we were starting raw milk and getting better eggs by the time she was about 9 months old, and grassfed meat began at least partially around her first birthday. She didn’t get candy until 18 months at Halloween, but that was all downhill from there.
Who Holds the Spoon?
I don’t really love the “weaning” part of the phrase, because even though, yes, any food other than breastmilk begins the weaning process, feeding solids is much less about stopping breastfeeding than the name would imply. Let’s call it “baby led feeding” or perhaps “Mommy doesn’t have to work so hard.”
The idea is that babies should learn to feed themselves from an early age, and if that means delaying food longer than six months, it’s okay. They should be ready to eat even chunks of soft foods and start scraping at them on the tray with their developing pincer grasp. The whole food experience is “baby-led” not parent driven.
John loves to hold his own spoon.
With my spoon-fed babies, I remember countless choruses of “Open wide! Ahhhhhh….” and swooping spoons with airplane noises and trying to get the child to finish X amount of food. I scraped a lot of chins and reheated dozens of baby food “ice cubes” for my tots. And the high chair tray was still a mess more often than not.
This time around, I’m perfectly happy for John to start food slowly, to eat one meal a day for quite some time, and to pick at our table food rather than need his own few hours of preparation each week. Have you seen how many things I make homemade already? I spend plenty of time in the kitchen without making extra baby food, too.
When I want to make sure he at least tastes the food and doesn’t solely play with it, I’ve just put a bit on my own fingertip. The feel of my finger is very familiar, and I still can sometimes let him be “in charge” as he’ll grab my hand and “feed himself” with my finger as the spoon. I’m careful to respect that if he turns his head or makes a negative noise, I stop trying to put something into his mouth.
I’m hoping that this more relaxed attitude will result in a healthy eater who understands when he is hungry and full and enjoys a variety of foods and spices.
The One Goal I Set For Feeding My Baby
Before John was born, many people asked me questions about feeding babies but with the history I just detailed for you, I really didn’t know what I was going to do myself.
The only thing I felt certain of was that I wanted him to have no grains until at least a year, and no gluten for some time after that. I hadn’t a clue how to go about that, but because of a clear gluten sensitivity in my husband and the fact that humans don’t really produce the enzyme needed to digest grains until a year and not in full capacity until the 24-month molars come in, I was determined like a mama bear to try.
This meant I was NOT starting with rice cereal; therefore I was taking quite a departure from the other children.
Here’s what John has been eating so far:
Real Foods for Baby’s First Foods
- Avocado (Guacamole too)
- Chicken bone broth (homemade)
- Egg yolk
- Sweet potato
- Tidbits from my plate, like being allowed to chew on a carrot, apple slice, or melon
Why These Real Foods?
The first stipulation for all foods for baby is the one Leah likes to talk about all the time: mushy foods. It really does have to be soft enough for baby to enjoy gumming it, although not necessarily as liquidy as commercial baby food.
High in healthy monounsaturated fat, mushy, and easy to serve, avocados have been a huge hit with John. I always knew they were a good first food, but if they weren’t in a season where they’re on sale for a buck or less often, I don’t know if I’d stock them too regularly. $1.99 each is a bit steep, or at least it feels that way to old frugal me.
Sometimes I make the whole thing into guacamole before I remember to pull some out for the baby, so yes, he has had it fully seasoned and with lime juice. We need to start training his tastebuds early to like the spicy food we like!
Rich in nutrients beyond belief, chicken stock from well-raised animals is an excellent first food. It’s easy to eat for baby and should be part of everyone’s daily or weekly eating regimen. Sadly, we haven’t had as much stock around lately in my meal planning, for whatever reason. (I’m still poking along on paper, but every time I can’t find my recipe at 4:30 or whatever, I think, “You fool, if you would just get going on Plan to Eat, you would have collected your recipes when you planned this meal!”)
He does make a funny face with the chicken stock, but he’ll accept a few more bites.
We allow our kids to play with toys in the high chair as soon as they can sit in it. This allows them to be included in family table time and get used to sitting during a meal.
Banana is such an easy fruit to serve, and it’s high in amylase, an enzyme key to digestion. It should help the baby digest itself so seems to be a better choice than apples or pears or whatnot. I’ve read since we started that uncooked fruits (and maybe fruits in general?) are not even recommended this early, but because of the amylase, I’m not going to stress out too much.
Egg yolks have a nutritional profile that could be a cousin to breastmilk, including high cholesterol and healthy brain fats. They’re recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation as the very first food for infants, as early as 4 months. A caveat is that I would only use pastured eggs for this purpose, especially since they’re only lightly cooked, ideally – also it seems silly to serve a tiny baby hormones and antibiotics from conventional eggs. Here’s how to choose the healthiest eggs for your family.
The WAPF suggests a soft-boiled egg to retain enzymes in the yolk. That’s right – not exactly raw eggs, but not fully cooked yolks to be sure.
To serve egg yolk to a baby, we’ve tried a couple options:
- Separate the yolk from the white and scramble it lightly, just enough to be warm but not totally solidly cooked. I will do it this way at times when we’re eating eggs anyway as a family, because the pan is already dirty.
- Cook a soft fried egg and feed the baby with a spoon from the very center. An adult can eat the rest along with at least one other egg with the yolk.
- Soft boil the eggs. When I’m hard boiling eggs for the week to have egg salad on hand for lunches, I bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat. After 3 minutes, I pull out one egg and immediately run it under cold water. I use a butter knife to chop off the top and scoop out the yolk with a demitasse spoon and add a bit of Real Salt for minerals. I will keep leftovers in the fridge for just a day or two.
And what a mess it makes! John loved getting the whole bowl to himself (with constant supervision). He’s saying, “I think I can fit this whole thing in my mouth!”
I’m a big fan of vegetables, and sweet potato is a nice, easy, soft one that’s also got plenty of vitamins. Serve with real butter for proper absorption of those fat soluble vitamins.
I have since read (in a book that’s now off the market) that the starches in sweet potatoes are difficult for baby to digest and create a good environment for bad bacteria, but that squash would be a better substitute. I made some grain-free Paleo pancakes this morning with squash that I froze in the fall, so John can have some proper vegetable later today! heather also says that veggies should be cooked very well, preferably in broth to break down the hard-to-digest parts and increase nutrient density. That would bring me back to making baby food cubes instead of letting John eat what the family is eating, which doesn’t quite appeal to me as much. I’ll have to ponder it…but at least I can plan to make chicken rice soup soon and feed him the carrots from it…
My pediatrician concurs that until at least 8-10 months, the eating experience is really just that: focused on experiencing food and textures, and not really for nourishment. Baby still gets everything he needs from mother’s breast milk, with one exception. Iron stores are pretty depleted by six months, which is one reason rice cereal, fortified with iron, is recommended as a first food.
Since we’re not going there, ever, our doctor highly recommended that I incorporate red meat as early as I could for the iron. I pulled some slow-cooked roast out before I used it in beef stroganoff for the family and have been mashing it with my fingernail with a bit of water…but he struggles with the texture nonetheless. I might try making some food cubes, pureeing it well with some broth, instead.
There is also some iron in egg yolks, and legumes are a source as well, but beans should probably wait until about 9-10 months at least. I need to look into the research on legumes and digestibility a little more before we offer them to John – they make such great finger foods once the pincer grasp develops that I hate to lose them.
Kate Tietje’s new Breast to Bib discusses the grains/legumes issue, sharing that the enzyme needed to digest this entire food group properly is not in full production until between 24-30 months (when the two-year molars come in). I’m bummed, because frozen peas were one of my fallback high chair tray foods for both my other kids…
The Weston A. Price Foundation also recommends servings of desiccated liver powder (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!), and I’m wondering whether that would go down easier mixed into the egg yolk or even orange mushy vegetable.for the very young infant, grating it raw over the egg yolk (only if it’s pastured and grassfed, and only once frozen 14 days minimum to kill bacteria). I bought some, and it’s waiting for me to just do it… Liver is high in iron and also B vitamins and good fats. I also have some
Sharing with mom
I’m freaking out a little less with this baby about writing everything down and waiting three days or more between whiffs of a new food. If Jonathan wants to suck on my apple, I’ve let him, watching carefully that he doesn’t get a huge chunk. I’ll hand him a carrot stick to gnaw on when he’s in the Ergo and I’m cutting veggies for dinner, and he thought the cantaloupe I let him lick was the cat’s meow.
Here’s more helpful ideas from my friend Emily McClements:
Brenden’s 6 month birthday was fast approaching and we knew that he was ready to start trying to eat, because he would let us know at every meal that he wanted some of what we were having.
I had read a little bit online about an approach called Baby Led Weaning, or Baby Led Solids, but didn’t know enough about it to really feel comfortable with feeding him in that way.
So, we bought a box of rice cereal (which I would no longer recommend now knowing what I know) and started giving him mashed bananas, avocado, or rice cereal at our meals with us.
Real Baby Food
I did buy a few mesh feeders and started giving Brenden real baby food. He had different fruits, bananas, apples, pears, in them for him to feed and explore himself. He LOVED it. He couldn’t get enough. He would eat what was in the feeder and want more.
He loved being in control of what he was eating, and I loved that I didn’t have to sit and feed him, that I could either sit him in his high chair while doing other work in the kitchen and he was happily engaged in eating, or I could sit at the dinner table with my family and eat while he fed himself with the feeder. I decided I really needed to look more into this different method of feeding real baby foods that are solids foods that I had read about.
We would simply give him pieces of whatever we were eating that he could have – veggies, meat, fruit, cheese. Again, he LOVED it, and he became the happiest, most content little eater I have ever seen with real baby food. He loved to sit in his high chair and eat. He loved to explore the foods, tasting and feeling them, testing them out. He tried every different type of food that we gave him, and rarely, if ever, rejected anything. My hubby was definitely wary at first because he is very afraid of babies and children choking. He was pretty resistant because he thought that Brenden would choke. What we learned though, is that babies have a very good, innate, gag reflex that pushes food from the back of their mouth to the front so they can continue to chew and eat it until they are ready to swallow. The gagging noise sounds like they are choking, but if you watch their mouths, the food is actually not very far back on their tongues, the younger the baby the farther forward in their mouth the gag reflex is triggered.
Feeding Real Baby Food
After they gag they just keep on eating happily, without any signs of distress, almost as if it never happened. Slowly, as my hubby saw the advantages to feeding our son this way, and that he really would be okay and not choke, he got on board with the idea and we have been feeding our son, who is now14 months old, in this way exclusively (in addition to nursing) since he was about 8 month old.
When Does Baby Start Eating Real Food?
Wait until baby is ready
When can babies eat real food? You are their parent and you know best, but don’t try to force a baby to eat just because they are a certain age. They should be able to sit up well on their own. They may have some teeth, or none at all. When we started this method of feeding, Brenden only had 2 teeth on the bottom, and he now only has 6, 4 on the top and 2 on the bottom, and no molars, but he chews and eats pretty much any food just like he has a mouth full of teeth.
Give baby some pieces of real food, and let them go at it
They can explore, touch, play with, and maybe even eat some of the food. A good bib is definitely necessary, or eating without a shirt is a great option too. It can definitely be messy, but you know, I found spoon feeding baby food to be pretty messy sometimes too, so I’m not sure it’s any worse.
Offer lots of different types of food
And let baby decide what he likes and wants to eat. We were surprised that our son loved meat, and would sometimes eat that exclusively at a meal. Also offer foods with different spices and flavors, no need to serve bland baby food, babies want their food to taste good too!
The emphasis remains on breastfeeding
Continue to nursing your baby often when you are beginning to feed them solid foods. While baby is exploring food and learning to feed themselves, you can relax in knowing that they are still getting all of the nutrition they need through breast milk. I still nurse my 14 month old son a few times per day because the benefits of breastfeeding are just that important to me.
Advantages of Feeding Baby Real Food
Baby eats what you’re eating
No spending extra time preparing special baby foods and meals for baby. This is probably my favorite part about it, I did have to spend any extra time in the kitchen making and preparing batches of baby food for my son.
Baby is in control of what they are eating
While it is obviously always important to stay with your baby while they are eating and never leave them unattended, the method of feeding allows baby to feed themselves, so you are free to eat your own meal with them, or even do some kitchen prep while they are happily entertained with their food in their high chair.
When you feed baby what you are eating, you don’t need to have jars or containers of baby food that have to be thrown away or recycled later.
You can feed baby a variety of foods
There are no hard and fast rules about when you should feed baby certain fruits and vegetables, but some foods like cow’s milk, honey, nuts and others, should be held off until baby is over a year old. This is great in the summer time when fresh and local food is abundant. You can introduce your baby to all of the yummy foods available at your farmer’s market and then can learn to enjoy and appreciate all different kinds of foods from a young age.
Babies are more likely to be better eaters as toddlers
And young children because they have been exposed to such variety of taste and texture, and been in control of their eating, from such a young age.
I would definitely recommend anyone that has a young baby to try this relaxed and enjoyable, for both baby and parents, way of feeding baby. It has been such a great thing to watch our son eat and enjoy food on his own, our friends and family are often amazed at how well he eats for his age. We will see how he is when he reaches the typical picky eater age, but so far he has shown that he loves to eat, will happily eat all different kinds of foods, and often eats better than his older sister!
There is so much more information about feeding baby real foods that I wish I could share with you here, but this is just our family’s story and what has worked for us. For more information about this method of feeding baby, please read and research for yourself before beginning to feed your baby. I highly recommend the two books I mentioned earlier, Baby Led Weaning and Real Food for Mother and Baby.
Bon Appetit, Real Food Baby!
Emily McClements is passionate about caring for God’s creation while saving money at the same time. She is a blessed wife and mama to two young children, and blogs about her family’s journey toward natural and simple living at LiveRenewed.com.
Note from Katie:
Now that I’ve done some more professional training through the SOS Approach to Feeding, I’ve learned that between 4-7 months, babies really do need the spoon feeding so that they’re interacting with the adult and eating purees, an important step in feeding development.
Soooo…you can use some of the philosophy of Baby Led Weaning, but I do recommend that you do some gentle spoon feeding early on with purees so baby can learn those skills.
Avoiding commercial baby food is great, but beware of moving to chunky food too soon.
How Important is Organic Baby Food?
I’d like to say that everything that has passed John’s lips has been organic, but that’s just not the case. I’m going to try for organic, but sometimes it’s just not practical: my sweet potatoes were purchased in the fall, conventionally, and avocados are on the clean 15, so it’s really not as important to get them organic. It’s also hard to find organic avocados, and they don’t go on sale.
I AM making it a top priority to keep the animal products John receives organic. Mental note: I need to get a better butter! Our milk, meat and eggs are all as well-sourced as I can manage, and I do think that’s key for such a young, fragile system.
When we get more into fruits and veggies, I will use the dirty dozen to guide my purchasing. I’m willing to spend a bit more on John even when I might compromise for the rest of the family, as I did with the other two, because their bodies are so tiny and the impact of pesticides and other junk will be greater. They also don’t eat very much, so paying double doesn’t hurt the budget too badly.
I even have a bag in the freezer of organic blueberries that we picked in August marked “Save for John.” He’s going to love them!
Here is where the Eat Well, Spend Less series comes into play – avoiding buying baby food and delaying solids while relying on the (free) breastmilk both help families “spend less” on feeding baby, and doing our best to avoid grains and find nutrient-dense, easily digestible foods to introduce baby to the culinary world definitely helps the little ones to “eat well.”
Inspired by Kate’s Breast to Bib book, I hope to start supplementing with Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil – I’ve been petrified of the stinky mess feeding a baby FCLO could create (not to mention the possibility of making John scared of anything I feed him from a spoon), but Kate says I can put an 1/8 teaspoon on his bottom and let it absorb through the skin. I think I could plan that for before a bath by a few hours, and perhaps just use a disposable during that time, because seriously, I don’t know if I want to be asking on Twitter and Facebook, “How do I get cod liver oil smell out of my cloth diapers???” (FCLO is no longer irrefutably trustworthy, so do your research!)
I need to get much more broth going – I do have some frozen as ice cubes that will be easy to thaw in the fridge if I could just plan ahead the day before. I haven’t committed to feeding this boy seriously much more than making sure I washed up some bibs, but that will have to come!
I also want to get another stainless steel sippy cup and see if I think I can wash up the one we have with a straw so John can learn about the fine art of drinking. I have a stainless steel tumbler from Life Without Plastic, but that will have to wait a few months before I’m willing to put up with the dumping-out mess.
About Breast to Bib by Kate Tietje of modern alternative mama
From breastfeeding to toddlers, in Breast to Bib Kate covers the gamut of feeding babies with research and recipes.
Kate says so many good things about:
- grains, digestive enzymes, and phytic acid
- healthy fats
- fibrous vegetables being difficult to digest
- sea salt and trace minerals
My two favorite quotes:
Yes, babies allowed to feed themselves make quite a mess. But that’s
to be expected from new eaters, no matter what! Relax and enjoy.
Your baby’s at a new stage!
Babies’ needs begin to change in the second half of the first
year. They require additional iron and magnesium, which they won’t
get from breastmilk. Traditionally, babies would begin crawling around
6 months and would be playing outside in the dirt – which they would
lick off their fingers. Soil is usually rich in these very nutrients.
Many parents today are afraid to let their children play in the dirt, much
less eat it. Dirt is beneficial for a number of reasons, including that it is
full of microbes, which provides an immune challenge for them. Don’t
be afraid to let your kids play in the dirt!
I have to be honest that I didn’t love all of the recipes Kate shares; some feel too simplistic and some use ingredients like raw egg whites that I felt a little uncomfortable with for toddlers. Perhaps it would be a good book for a more rookie cook?
Finger Foods For A Real Food Baby?
The biggest question I have left to explore is what to use in church, for example, about 10 months, when we’re not having Cheerio’s or crackers? I’m thinking I might start freeze-dried fruits, even strawberries, at that age. My pediatrician says the “don’t feed until age one!” rules on allergenic foods are a bit relaxed now, especially if there’s no family history of allergies.
I’m also hoping to find some good almond flour or coconut flour cracker recipes that I can make small. Blueberries will be too messy…
I’ve had this bookmarked forever and will definitely try it sometime soon and report back: grain-free baby teething biscuits from Sheila. They’re made with potato starch, so they wouldn’t be super nourishing, but at this point, I just want something munchy and not dangerous, you know? I could try with arrowroot starch or tapioca starch, which may or may not be better for you…
A Note About Feeding Newborns
For so many reasons, both nutritionally, spiritually, developmentally, and for me, even sanity-wise, I think breast is best.
I’m very realistic about the fact that, no matter how hard they try, no matter how much help they seek, some moms just can’t breastfeed. Some have to go back to work and their supply can’t keep up. Some get terrible advice or judgment from lactation counselors, family, or others. Adopted children need nourishing options, too.
When breastmilk isn’t possible, is formula the only choice out there?
Formula relies pretty heavily on soy, which I haven’t yet written much about but stay away from myself when practical for two reasons:
- phyto-estrogens are thought to interfere with hormones
- high in omega 6 fats
Beyond the soy issue, there are often powdered foods in formula, and even though I’m not fully convinced powdered milk forms oxidized cholesterol, I don’t know that I’d be willing to use my newborn as a guinea pig.
The only other option I’ve ever heard of is one that would totally knock my socks off as a new mom: the homemade formulas in Nourishing Traditions. I do love the idea of (a) having control over ingredients, (b) the traditional foods included, and (c) avoiding the many question marks with processed formula…but…have you read those recipes? They’re full of tough-to-find ingredients like goat’s milk, pastured liver, and a bunch of things I’ve never purchased and wouldn’t know where to find.
If I was a recently postpartum mom trying to figure it out, I bet I’d throw my hands up in despair. It would seem way too daunting.
I was pretty excited to see that Radiant Life actually offers a kit to help you make the homemade formulas from NT. The kit contains all the weird unique ingredients you’d need to nourish your baby the homemade way, so you don’t have to run all over creation seeking out and pricing a million items.
You can check out the kit’s contents HERE. If you have anyone in your life who might be interested in making their own formula, or if you might ever need the info, bookmark this post. It will be worth it!
Here are some more topics you might be interested in:
- Evolution of a birth plan (including thoughts on circumcision and Vitamin K)
- Natural remedies for postpartum pain
- Meal planning after baby comes
- 8 baby items I couldn’t live without
- Non-toxic, safe baby bath wash and diaper cream options
- How to put on a Moby Wrap (including how to nurse in one)
- How to make homemade baby wipes
- How to make homemade safe baby body wash