When can babies eat baby food? Tips to introduce solids

Health organizations recommend introducing solid foods into a baby’s diet around the age of 6 months. The term “solids” includes pureed or mashed solid foods, such as baby food.

This information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, it is important for people to note that many preprepared baby foods available in stores contain multiple ingredients. To begin with, it is best to choose single-ingredient purees with no salt or additives.

This allows parents and caregivers to introduce one new food at a time, to monitor whether a baby has any allergies or intolerances. People may wish to buy single-ingredient baby foods or make them at home using a blender.

This article discusses when babies can eat baby food, how to introduce solids, and whether to introduce foods in a certain order. We also explore ways to approach common issues with introducing new foods.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a baby does not need any extra nutrition or energy from solid foods, which includes baby food, until around 6 months old. This is because, until this age, babies rely on their own iron stores rather than sourcing it from their diet.

However, after 6 months, the iron stores start to reduce. Since breast milk and formula do not contain enough iron to meet a baby’s nutritional needs, they need to start eating solid foods too.

Before a baby can begin solids, they should be able to:

  • sit up straight with support
  • hold their head in a steady, upright position
  • show interest in food and open their mouth to receive it
  • swallow food instead of spitting it back out, using their tongue to move it to the back of the mouth

The AAP advises that the baby should also be double their birth weight or weigh at least 13 pounds — 5.9 kilograms.

Different babies reach these milestones at different ages. If a child has not begun to do these things or has not gained this much weight, it is worth consulting a pediatrician before introducing solids.

While many organizations recommend starting solid foods at 6 months, there remains debate about whether it is OK to introduce them sooner. According to a 2021 review, 90% of parents in Australia introduce solids before this age, and in the United States, many introduce them earlier than the recommended minimum of 4 months.

In previous studies, the most common reasons for doing this included:

  • the baby being hungry all the time
  • the baby seeming interested in solid food
  • solid foods helping the baby sleep longer

It may be that some babies develop faster than others, and so are ready to begin solids sooner.

The authors of the 2021 review also describe a “sensitive period” between 4–9 months when a baby is most open to receiving new textures and tastes. Some studies suggest that introducing food earlier than 6 months may:

  • increase willingness to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables later
  • decrease the risk of having feeding problems
  • reduce the risk of developing food allergies

However, more research is necessary to determine if this is true.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) advises that caregivers can give babies single-ingredient baby food from 4–6 months and introduce common allergens before 6 months. The organization also says that delaying allergenic foods until after 6 months may increase the risk of a baby developing an allergy.

However, there are potential risks to introducing foods earlier than 6 months. If they are not ready for solids, they may have an increased risk of choking. Additionally, their digestive system may not yet cope with the food, which could lead to gas, bloating, or diarrhea.

Ultimately, caregivers should observe the baby’s response to foods and not force a transition to solids if they do not appear ready.

To introduce baby food, it is best to offer single-ingredient purees, trying them one at a time. Caregivers can either purchase single-ingredient baby food from stores or mash or puree an ingredient they have at home.

  1. Wash the hands before preparing the food. Then, blend or mash the ingredient to a smooth texture, making sure there are no lumps.
  2. Cook the food thoroughly and allow it to cool until lukewarm.
  3. Wash the baby’s hands and sit them down with a bowl and baby spoon. A person may also want to use a bib.
  4. Try to guide half a spoonful of food into the baby’s mouth. Talk them through the process, encouraging them to open their mouth and taste it. If the food seems too thick, try watering it down a little.
  5. Stay with the baby at all times while they eat to monitor for signs of choking or an allergic reaction.
  6. Finish the meal with breast milk or formula, and wash the bowls, utensils, and spoon in hot soapy water when finished.

If the baby refuses to eat the food, cries, or keeps turning away, do not make them eat. Instead, go back to feeding with milk or formula exclusively and try again later.

If they get on well with the food, caregivers should keep offering it to the baby at mealtimes, alongside milk or formula. Wait 3–5 days before introducing another new ingredient.

Baby self-feeding

Some caregivers opt to skip purees and baby foods altogether and move straight to allowing the baby to feed themselves with finger foods. People refer to this as baby-led weaning or baby self-feeding.

Caregivers who adopt this approach should ensure that their baby can grasp foods in the hands and bring them to the mouth before trying finger foods. Make sure all foods are easy to hold and soft enough for a baby to mash with their gums.

The AAP advises giving 4 ounces, or 113 grams, of solid foods per meal, which is around the same amount as one jar of baby food.

There is no specific order for introducing solid foods. However, it is important that early foods are soft and easy to mash. The AAAAI recommends starting with foods that are less likely to cause allergic reactions before moving on to more common allergens.

Some good candidates for a baby’s first foods could include:

Blend or mash these foods to a smooth texture, and do not add salt or seasonings. Caregivers should avoid all foods that require chewing, such as:

  • grapes
  • uncooked fruits or vegetables, except banana
  • chunks of cheese or meat
  • hard or chewy candy

The AAP also states that babies do not need fruit juice and recommends avoiding giving any until they are at least 12 months old due to their sugar content.

Once a baby tolerates their first few foods, there is no need to delay introducing more common allergens, such as eggs, dairy, nuts, or shellfish. Doing this may even increase the risk of a baby developing an allergy.

An exception is if a baby has severe eczema or a known egg allergy. Caregivers should consult a doctor before testing allergens such as peanuts if this is the case.

Some ideas for foods to introduce at this stage include:

  • plain yogurt
  • scrambled eggs
  • smooth peanut butter
  • fish flaked with a fork

After a few months of starting solid foods, the baby’s diet should include a variety of breast milk or formula, fruits, vegetables, protein, and cereals.

Learn more about how to make baby food at home here.

It takes time for babies to adjust to solid food. If they spit out or refuse to eat something, it may be because they are not sure how to eat it yet. Trying again, later on, may help.

Alternatively, the baby may feel full. Signs a baby has had enough to eat include:

  • pushing their food or spoon away
  • turning their head away
  • closing their mouth when someone offers food

Babies can also dislike a food, to begin with, because it is a new flavor or texture. In this case, perseverance is key, especially with bitter vegetables, such as broccoli or spinach. According to 1,000 Days, it may take 10–20 attempts for a baby to enjoy and accept a new food flavor or texture.

If a baby is happy eating some foods but not others, a caregiver can try:

  • mixing the new food with something they like, such as breast milk
  • continuing to offer less popular foods at mealtimes until they show interest
  • waiting a week before trying the new food again

If a baby refuses many or all foods, particularly after eating solids with little trouble, they may have another issue, such as:

In some cases, it is a good idea for caregivers to consult a pediatrician before starting solids. This is particularly true if a baby was preterm or has special needs.

Severe eczema or early allergy symptoms can also change how someone introduces baby foods. A doctor can advise on the best approach.

If a baby suddenly starts refusing food, it can signal a medical condition. Caregivers should consult a medical professional about this to get a diagnosis. They may also have tips for overcoming the problem while the baby recovers, such as providing chilled foods to ease teething pain.

Before introducing solid foods, most health organizations recommend waiting until a baby reaches 6 months of age. A baby may be interested in baby food sooner than this, but they must be able to sit up straight, hold their head steady, and be able to swallow food that is thicker than milk.

While preprepared baby foods are convenient, it is best to start with single-ingredient purees containing no additional ingredients. This helps with discovering any food allergies or intolerances. Caregivers should choose soft and smooth foods and stay with the baby while they eat.