By the time your little one is six months old, it is time to get him started on complementary foods. When you introduce complementary foods to him, be sure to start with soft, liquid or pureed foods. At this point in time, his main source of nutrition should still come from breast milk – complementary foods are meant to complement his dietary intake, which in the beginning is still mainly breast milk.
Before you start giving your baby complementary foods, check for the following signs that will let you know that he is ready to handle solid foods:
- He doesn’t have extrusion reflex anymore (i.e. he does not instinctively use his tongue to push things out of his mouth).
- He demonstrates good head and neck control.
- He is able to sit upright with some support.
- His weight has doubled (compared to his birth weight).
- He shows an active interest in your food (e.g. he tries to grab your food).
- Despite regular feeds of breast milk, he still shows signs of hunger or wants to nurse often.
Getting started on complementary foods
If your baby shows signs that he is ready, then it’s time to get started! You can use this exciting opportunity to introduce a variety of foods so that baby learns to eat a wide variety of different foods. You may use the following table as a guide on how much to provide him daily, but do observe your baby’s needs and adjust the frequency or amount to suit him.
Any hard foods (e.g. carrots, potatoes, etc.) should be steamed or cooked. Generally, babies between 6-8 months should be fed with pureed, mashed, and semi-solid foods and by the time they are 8 months old, they can eat finger foods. Once they are between 9-11 months, they would have developed their chewing skills and can eat coarsely chopped foods. By the time they are 12 months, they would have ‘graduated’ to eating family foods.
Be sure to keep track of the foods you give him by introducing new foods to him once every two to three days. This allows you to identify any signs of an allergic reaction towards a particular food. If you are uncertain, consult your baby’s doctor. You may start off with rice cereals, then move on to a single type of fruit (e.g. apple, banana or papaya) followed by a single type of vegetable (e.g. spinach or carrots). Only once you have observed that your baby is able to eat each food type without any problems, should you go on to serve two or more food types together.
Watch out for choking hazards
Certain foods require extra care as they can cause choking. These include foods such as grapes, raisins, rambutan, hard textured sweets, popcorn, peanuts, nuts, mini cup jelly, raw hard vegetables, and untoasted bread (especially white bread that sticks together).
The principle of balance, moderation, and variety (BMV) is just as applicable to babies as it is to adults. BMV is all about observing:
- a balanced diet which includes foods from all five food groups in the Malaysian Food Pyramid,
- giving your baby moderate portions (served according to the recommended number of servings per food group), and
- made up of a variety of foods that will meet all his nutritional needs.
Don’t worry if the food tastes bland to you; since your baby is new to the different types of food, they actually taste flavourful to them! You can also add nutrients and flavour to baby’s food by using any homemade soup as a base (without adding salt or other additives!).
Lastly, remember that fresh is best. You can’t go wrong by making your own selection of healthy foods for baby as you will know what has gone into it – you can be assured of the quality of the ingredients that are used, and best of all, it will be additive-free!
Never add flavourings (e.g. salt, soya sauce or sugar) to your baby’s foods. Too much salt can damage baby’s immature kidneys while too much sugar may cause tooth decay and it may interfere with their appetite.
Strapped for time?
While the best option is to make your baby’s complementary foods yourself, many parents nowadays find they have less time to spend in the kitchen than they would like. There are also times when you may be travelling, thus bringing home-prepared food may not be convenient.
One way to handle this is to compromise a little – there are commercial baby foods available that can be used either wholly or as a base for your own complementary foods. While there are many choices available in the market today, be sure to read labels carefully and choose wisely.
First, look at the age category, texture and the types of complementary foods. Some are single-food based (e.g. cereal-based), while others offer a combination of food groups or are a complete meal on its own and there are some that are suitable as a snack.
Choose appropriately for your baby and most importantly, don’t forget to read the ingredients list as well as the nutrition information panel. It is vital that you check to ensure your choice is as free of additives as possible (e.g. preservatives, thickening agents, salt, and sugar).
An educational collaboration with Nutrition Society of Malaysia.