I have been asked about baby food introduction more than anything else and all I can share is what we did, and what has worked for us. Nourishing your child is, in my opinion, the second most important place to put your energy. In my world, it falls immediately after the unconditional love and affection bit.
Nourishing my baby is one of the scariest, biggest and widest unknowns I have ever encountered. Even knowing what I know about health and nutrition, determining what to feed my son had me hitting the books and asking for advice from all the holistic mamas I know. Every child is different and every child's needs will vary as will every parent's comfort level in defying what seems to have been the way things have 'always been done'.
I have outlined below what we have done for our son and for our family that works and makes sense for us. You are encouraged to take what you want, leave what you don't and define a lifestyle and diet that works for you!
Key Resources for baby food introduction
I don't have the time to get into why we have chosen what we have chosen below. But if you believe you would like to follow a similar path, I highly recommend picking up these two books that goes into in-depth detail:
- Super Nutrition for Babies by Katherine Erlrich
- Nourishing Traditions for Mom and Baby by Sally Fallon
Birth to 5 Months
From birth to the 5 month mark, I exclusively nursed our son. There were times when my milk was plentiful and times when I struggled. I made nursing my son a priority and it wasn't always easy. He would wake to feed anywhere from two to four times at night, from birth until he was six months old, after which time this dropped down to once or twice. (He stopped waking up to eat on his own around eight months, the same time he started eating with a lot more gusto).
Committing to nursing 100% was not easy. As I have my own business I was going into work three days a week. I would usually nurse my son right before I left. He would get one bottle of pumped milk while I was at work, and I would pump at work, and be home in time to nurse him before his final nap.
If you are committing to nursing 100% and want to try and make that doable, start pumping as soon as you can find the space in your day, bag it and freeze it. Get your baby used to taking a bottle as early as possible. Some say there can be nipple confusion if you start on a bottle too early. In my experience, you can get a slow flow nipple for the bottle so you don't make it too easy – and the consensus among my mom friends is that they will always prefer the real deal. The trickier part is getting them to accept the bottle. Our son would only take a bottle when I was out of the house, and he'd be given it in his bouncy chair, or sitting upright, as opposed to being cradled as he was when he was nursed.
My last thing about nursing 100% and how hard it is – I knew that I wasn't making enough milk to nurse him, or just didn't have the energy to nurse as frequently as he wanted. As he was up there in his weight class, I wasn't too worried, but I knew his sleeping would improve when we could get more food into him.
First Two Foods Introduced at 5 Months
Though many begin food introduction at four months, the typical holistic recommendation is to wait until six months for any food introduction but because our son was so hungry, always crying after nursing as he couldn't get enough (and yes, I was supplementing to increase my milk) we started earlier.
- Bone Broth: This was an easy one and he LOVED bone broth from the start. I made a basic broth, adding a pinch of salt and he was all over it and it agreed with him very well. He couldn't get enough.
- Egg Yolk: This wasn't such a success. I soft boiled the yolk and mashed it up. He ate it three or four times without issue. The final time, however, he had an allergic reaction to it and two hours after eating it, he was throwing up and dry heaving for an hour until he just fell asleep. It was terrifying. This, apparently, is the common allergic reaction to egg yolk, where a baby will be fine for the first few exposures and then have a reaction. We have not re-introduced eggs to date and will wait at least until 18 months if not two years to try again.
Six Months to Eight Months: The Purée Stage
I was stoked to make purées and I was determined to spice them up, literally. A few of my own guidelines I followed with purées were:
- Avoid straight-up sweet/fruit purées. I felt like this would make introducing the savoury ones more difficult.
- Thin the purées with bone broth and/or fats like ghee, tallow, or coconut oil.
- Add spices, and don't be shy about it – turmeric, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne, ginger, garlic etc.
- Purée meats, poultry and organs along with vegetables and broth.
- Offer a variety of different purées throughout the day and sometimes at a single meal to keep it interesting.
- Introduce different flavours: savoury, sour, pungent etc.
You want to ensure your baby is hungry when they sit down to eat. You don't want them so hungry that they're irritable and too hungry to calm down to eat, but it helps when they're ready. And they're also human, so some of the things that can stimulate our appetite can help them too.
The 'Kraut Trick
One of our go-to 'tricks' to get our little man eating was to give him a few spoonfuls of sauerkraut juice. He loved it and even if halfway through a meal he stopped eating, a little sip of kraut juice would get him back in the game!
Sample Purée Recipes
- Carrot, broth, chicken, turmeric, sea salt
- Carrot, chicken broth, beef fat, cinnamon clove
- Squash, ghee, broth, sea salt
- Squash, ghee, broth, cinnamon
- Beets, beef fat, sea salt
- Sweet potato, ghee, sea salt
- Celery root, beef fat, sea salt
- Apricot, ghee, cinnamon, cardamom
- Carrot, cinnamon, turmeric, beef broth, beef fat
- Sweet potato, beef broth, beef fat, salt
- Stewed beef, beef broth
- Boiled chicken liver, broth, sea salt
- Chicken (from chicken soup), broth, turmeric, ghee
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What About Baby-Led Weaning (Also Known as Baby-Led Feeding)?
Baby-led feeding is where we decide to skip purées altogether and give babies well-cooked, low-choking risk foods in sizes they can easily pick up and feed themselves. The basic rules to know if your baby is ready are:
- They are able to sit up, unsupported, by themselves
- They have at least one tooth
Adults have a gag reflex on their tongue, mostly towards the back. Babies have a much more sensitive gag reflex that takes up more of their tongue and moves back as they develop. Well, our son was able to sit on his own and had a tooth or two, but he gagged so hard when we gave him solid food that I just wasn't comfortable doing it.
Baby-led feeding didn't work for us as a food introduction technique. Many parents (and studies!) swear that it made their babies better eaters, more open to new foods, less picky, better ability to regulate food intake and loads of other claimed benefits. This all may be true, but it also doesn't need to be the only way to get there.
Eight Months to One Year
Around eight months, our son was really getting into eating and that's when it got fun!
The photos above are usually the first portion. We've found overfilling his bowl gets him a little overwhelmed. We also often serve the food mixed together rather than as pictured above which is a great way to introduce new foods.
Paleo Baby: Skipping The Grains and Beans
The resources I outlined at the top of the post go into great detail about why we are following the recommendation to avoid grains for the first 18 months of life, so I encourage you to get those books. In very top level summary, a baby's intestines is still developing and highly permeable and a baby's immune system is still getting established. Additionally, babies don't begin producing amylase, the primary enzyme to help us digest starch until around 18 months. As grains can be tougher to digest, it's recommended to avoid grains to help reduce risk of sensitivity and allergies.
We've also not had any issue with constipation and so far, he has eaten everything we've put before him. He definitely has his favourite meals (chicken and sweet potatoes) and the things that he's a little less excited about (sardines) but so far, he's been a champ with trying new foods.
From eight months onwards we began introducing a variety of foods that predominantly fit into a Paleo style of eating. His diet is mostly:
- poultry (chicken, turkey)
- fish (trout, cod, sardines, halibut, pickerel)
- fish roe
- wild game (venison, bison, elk)
- bone marrow
- fats (ghee, coconut oil, chicken schmultz, beef tallow, olive oil, flax oil)
- fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, fermented coconut milk)
- variety of vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, butternut squash, acorn squash, beets, turnips, parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower, steamed/chopped leafy greens, onions, garlic, asparagus and pretty much anything we can get organic and in-season)
- mushrooms (brown button, shiitake, oyster, lion's mane)
- chopped fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil)
- some fruits (avocado, cucumber, banana, mango, watermelon, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, apple, pear, apricots, nectarines, peaches, grapes, coconut)
To date we have avoided all dairy, grains, beans, nuts, legumes and citrus. We are waiting until 18 months to introduce grains, grain-type foods, beans and dairy. Our next introduction will be nut and seed butters.
10 Meal Ideas For A One-Year-Old
We aim to combine a protein, a cooked vegetable, and a raw food like cucumber or sauerkraut with every meal.
A few sample meals include:
- Roast chicken, roast sweet potato cooked in ghee, chopped sauerkraut
- Sardines, carrots cooked in coconut oil, cumin and lemon, sliced cucumber
- Baked trout with dijon mustard, cauliflower, chopped pickles
- Venison burger (homemade) with roasted parsnips, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli
- Fish roe, sautéed spinach in ghee and sea salt, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted sweet potato
- Liver, carrots, onions, and garlic
- Ground beef sautéed with spices and tomato (usually the toppings for our tacos/nacho dinners), with roasted garlic, fresh chopped parsley and avocado
- Curries (Butter chicken and Coconut Curry with Cod)
- Ground bison cooked with tomatoes and oil, sautéed chard with garlic, onions and ghee, sliced cucumber
- Turkey burgers (with herbs, onion and garlic), grilled zucchini, steamed carrots and sauerkraut
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About That Liver
Liver isn't a common food in our diet and so I had to find a creative way to introduce it. This was how I made it for Finn. In the beginning, I would purée it together with the broth and later, once he was eating more solid food, I would cut it into pieces and serve with vegetables.
Yield: 6 servings
- 6 chicken livers
- 3-4 carrots
- 2 cloves of garlic (okay at the 8 month mark)
- 1 tsp of turmeric
- Pinch of salt
- just enough bone broth to cover
- Simmered it for about 20 minutes
- Can purée with ghee and store in Mason jars, or scoop out the simmered livers and freeze whole.
Keeping The Baby Hydrated
You can find loads of different information about hydration for babies. My feeling was that once he was fully eating meals and snacks, and nursing a bit less, he would also likely be thirsty like any other human, so need more liquids as part of his diet.
Finn rarely, if ever, uses his bottle these days. We opted to avoid the sippy cup, for no other reason than it felt like the right thing for us to do. Instead, I opted for a silicone cup with a fitted lid and a glass straw.
Juice-free Hydration Options For A One-Year-Old
- Bone broth
- Herbal infusions of nettle
- Homemade coconut milk (1 part dried, shredded coconut blended with 2 cups of water and strained)
- Fruit-free green juice as a special treat
Supplementing A Baby's Diet with Supplements
In many cases, a baby can benefit from some supplementation. Though with adults I always recommend consulting with a natural health care practitioner before beginning a supplement regime, I stress this even more with babies. **Do not give your baby supplements without first consulting with your natural health care practitioner who has experience in infant nutrition.
Supplements We Use
- From birth: Infant probiotic (Klaire labs), Vitamin D drops
- From six months: we added in Cod Liver Oil by Genestra in addition to probiotic and Vitamin D
You can check out the Superfood Babies website for brand recommendations., as well as LittleWarrior.com.
General Best Practices For Meal Time
I can't even tell you the number of times people said to us, "You'll see", when it came to food and habits of a baby. So far, we have not seen. I had been given all kinds of advice on how to get the food in. I think I may have ignored most of it. My objective with what I did with meal time was that, ultimately, I wanted our son to get accustomed to meal time and to sit and eat without distraction or entertainment while eating.
Perhaps the fact that I am completely clueless about most things relating to baby and baby stuff, I haven't bought a lot of feeding gadgets, snacking tools or the like.
The things you will not find in our kitchen include:
- Those cups with the out only lid for cheerios and what not
- Sippy cups
- Plates with dividers so food doesn't touch
- Ready made smoothie packets where kids can suck back purées
- Freeze-dried fruit snacks
Our meal time practices include:
- Sit in the same spot for every meal (we now vary between a clip-on counter chair, a Stokke high chair, and if outside, a portable high chair that was lent to us).
- Eat out of the same bowl and spoon
- Meal time ends when the baby stops eating, not when the bowl or jar is empty.
- Give him time. Our son has been a slow eater from day one. He can take upwards of 45 minutes to eat his lunch and start pushing his bowl away (or starts throwing food on the floor).
- Avoiding snacks between meals. He eats or nurses every three hours or so. All meals and snacks are served seated, not on the go. I recognize this isn't always possible, especially with more than one child but we only have one child.
My Favourite Meal Time Tools
- Silicone Fresh Food Teether: We didn't use this a lot but it really helped our baby nail the whole chewing thing. In the early days as we were transitioning off purées, we'd fill it with cucumber and sauerkraut, and sometimes harder to chew meats. These days we pull it out as a special treat and fill it with frozen watermelon as a teething aid for those pesky molars.
- Counter Chair: We use this one that was given to us by friends. He often has his breakfast in this chair and it also keeps him busy watching us as we prepare dinner and make smoothies.
- High chair: We chose the Stokke Tripp Trapp chair because we liked that it pulls up to the table, the child sits upright and it can grow with him
- Pelican bib: This was also given to us, it catches the extra food and is easy to clean
- Avanchy bowl and spoon: It's bamboo and silicone and suctions on to the table so he can't throw it at the wall (though he has worked out how to get his little thumb under it and dislodge it). We've managed just fine with one bowl and one spoon.
- Silicone cup and straw friendly lid (also only one of these cups)
- Baby size glass straw (7inch)
- Bamboo cutlery
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Where We're At Today
As I write this, our 13-month-old son eats largely the same as what we eat. Where we might accompany our meal with some rice or noodles once in a while, we just omit that for him.
Above is our son devouring our Coconut Curry with Cod. We have breakfast and dinner together as a family. We eat dinner with Finn at 6pm and he is often eating long after we are done. For us this works and he seems to really enjoy eating along side us.
I have outlined below some of the recipes he has loved from my blog.
Recipes Our Baby Loves
- Bone Broth
- Gluten-Free Salmon Cakes
- Simple Butter Chicken
- Thai Red Curry with Chicken
- Coconut Curry with Cod
- Roasted Beets
- Celery Root and Apple Soup
- Roasted Butternut Squash Coconut Milk Soup
This is what I have for you. Consider this my offering in place of writing a whole book on the topic, which is not in the cards for me. If you have questions, I would be happy for you to post below and perhaps I can answer them for you or point you in the direction to get the answers you want. I recognize the choices we have made may not fall into what you deem the best for your child. That's A-OK. Let's make a deal. I won't judge you and you won't judge me and then we're all good.
Header photo: Catherine Farquharson