By Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, whose 16-month-old eats more than your mom.
One of the most common questions we’re asked (usually by parents, but sometimes by overachievers hoping to become pregnant) is, “How do you feed your kid?” Now, one of the things we’ve come to realize over the last year-plus is never ever ever give parenting advice unless it comes from your own personal experience. And even then, you should probably not give parenting advice.
So, a few things. One, we didn’t want to tackle this question until we had some solid experience actually feeding a real, live child. Two, this is not parenting advice. Only you can decide how and what to feed your child, and what we did with our kid isn’t what you should do with yours. Three, always include your pediatrician or family practitioner in the conversation when it comes to your child’s diet and transitioning them from breast milk or formula to real food.
Real Food: When?
First, the vast majority of major health organizations (like the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and Health Canada) recommend waiting until baby is six months old—not four to six, as you may have heard—before introducing solids. In addition, many experts (including the Weston A. Price foundation) recommend that mothers breastfeed for the first twelve months, slowly transitioning from milk to solid foods between six months and one year old. (Even if your baby is formula fed, you should still wait until six months before introducing real food.)
Prior to six months, your baby’s digestive system may not be ready for solid foods. Their “open gut” (similar to “leaky gut” in adults) means that larger proteins from real food may cross through the gut barrier into the bloodstream, triggering an immune response and increasing the likelihood of food allergies and possibly autoimmune conditions. In addition, younger babies may not be developmentally ready for real food, unable to properly move food around in their mouths.
Why might you introduce real food earlier? If your baby continues to demand more breast milk than you can supply (common during the six or nine month growth spurts), you might be faced with the decision of introducing solids or introducing formula. In that case, you’ll have to decide whether your baby is developmentally ready for real food, or whether you’ll want to use some kind of formula (traditional or alternative) as a dietary supplement.
Note: Many experts say that it’s time to start babies on solids when they express interest in real food. We’re not sure about that—our kid wanted to put everything on our dinner plates in his mouth all the time, but that didn’t mean he was ready to eat a steak. Babies are curious by nature, so make sure this isn’t the only marker you’re using to determine whether or not your baby is ready for solids.
On the other end, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that there is no benefit to purposefully delaying the introduction of solid foods past six months, saying, “There is no current convincing evidence that delaying their introduction beyond this period (six months) has a significant protective effect on the development of atopic disease.” So you can wait beyond six months if you choose (or if your doctor recommends it), but waiting isn’t necessarily better.
Real Food: What?
So what should you feed your baby when it’s time to introduce solids? A quick Google search will give you 13,523 different answers, all of them contradictory. Here’s where you, your doctor, your baby, and your instincts need to work together to arrive at an approach that’s right for you. However, let’s talk about some options from the experts.
Skip the cereals. The traditional approach is to use pureed vegetables, fruits, and cereals as baby’s first food. For so many reasons, we’re not even going to entertain the idea of cereals. What’s good for us is also good for our children—and the negative health consequences we experience eating certain foods can also apply to babies. Plus, vegetables and fruits are far more nutrient-dense anyway, and your baby needs calories and micronutrition to grow up healthy.
Real foods first. Try introducing simple, easy to digest real foods first. Good first foods include hard-boiled mashed egg yolk (mixing it with breast milk makes it easier to swallow), avocado, beef liver (pureed or grated frozen), and mashed banana. To be safe, try introducing just one new food at a time, allowing a day or so to see how your baby reacts.
Note: Not all babies do well with these “best” first foods. Our son, Atticus, threw up egg yolk the first two times we tried (but tolerated other foods), so we’ve avoided eggs ever since. This doesn’t mean he has an allergy, necessarily—only at this age, in his context, egg yolks aren’t working for his digestive system. Because they are such a nutrient-dense food, we’ll continue to reintroduce every 3-6 months in small quantities and see if there comes a time when he tolerates them well.
Interestingly, the Canadian government recommends starting babies on iron-containing foods—namely, meat, seafood, and eggs—at six months. If you’re going to introduce beef, lamb, chicken, or salmon at this stage, a puree will probably be the easiest for your baby to handle. (Pureed foods help him or her learn how to move food from the front of the mouth to the back, as opposed to just spitting it out straight away—which might happen for a few feedings).
Move onto whatever nutrient-dense foods you choose. When you and your baby are ready, move on to whatever vegetables, fruits, meats, and natural fat sources you choose. Some examples of early foods we introduced include roasted carrots, sweet potato, coconut milk, ground beef, shredded pork, salmon, mahi mahi, butternut squash, coconut oil, ghee, applesauce, blueberries, plantains, and spinach.
Purees may still be your baby’s preference, as texture is often an issue with younger kids. (Keep trying foods, though—you might find your baby doesn’t like the texture of avocado at six months, but loves it at eight.) You can buy pre-packaged organic purees from companies like Plum Organics, Peter Rabbit Organics, and Happy Baby Organics, or make your own using a food processor or stick blender.
Note: We love EZ-Squeezies! We made our own baby food blends and used them with these refillable pouches—less waste, and much cheaper.
However, you also don’t have to stick to purees at all. Atticus was eating raspberries, lightly mashed sweet potato, and chicken sausage at the six or seven month mark. Just choose foods that are nutritious, and don’t contain any of the potential gut- or immune-disrupting compounds as outlined in It Starts With Food. You can also start mixing and matching foods whenever you’re ready, including fruit and vegetable blends or meals that contain more than one food group.
Note: The only downside of including a lot of variety early on is that if your baby reacts negatively to a meal (digestion issues, skin disruptions, etc.), it may not be easy to determine which food was the culprit. Play this one by ear—and remember that if your baby is still being breast fed, that is still his or her primary source of nutrition, so you can afford to introduce solid foods more slowly and carefully.
You may not need to delay certain foods.The American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report in 2008, which raised serious questions about the benefits of delaying the introduction of solid foods that are thought to be highly allergenic (like fish, eggs, or nut butters) until the child is at least one year old. Further studies are needed, but unless your doctor says different, you can try things like shrimp, egg whites, or sunflower seed butter with your six to twelve-month-old.
A Day in the Life
So here is a sample day for Atticus, at 16 months old.
Note: While our meal planning recommendations call for three meals a day with no snacks, that doesn’t work for most kids. They simply cannot eat enough in just three meals, so we generally plan for three meals and two snacks a day. We’re also on a policy that if our kid is hungry, we feed him. Period. Some days, he eats nearly as much as a blue whale, but we’re not worried. He’s active, he’s growing, and everything he eats is nutrient-dense with built-in satiety signals. When he’s full, he lets us know he’s done, and if tells us he’s hungry (he’s got sign language for that), he eats.
- 3 organic chicken sausage
- 1 cup sweet potato mixed with coconut milk
- 1 plantain fried in ghee
- A lamb Epic bar
- 2-3 baby food packets (a variety of mixed vegetables and fruit)
- A few ounces of ground beef mixed with butternut squash (roasted in coconut oil) and steamed spinach
- ½ cup of applesauce
- 2-3 baby food packets (a variety of mixed vegetables and fruit) or a banana
- An ounce of broiled salmon topped with ghee
- 2-3 roasted carrots
- A small handful of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, or watermelon
Note: Our kid tends to front-load his meals, with breakfast being the largest meal of the day and dinner being relatively small. Given cortisol and leptin’s normal daily rhythms, this pattern is pretty hormonally normal. We find it interesting that he intuitively gravitates towards this meal structure.
While your baby will like different foods, tolerate different foods, and be ready for foods at a different time than ours, the take-away is this:
- Wait until your child is six months old before introducing solids
- Rely on nutrient-dense, whole, unprocessed foods at every age
- Avoid foods that may disrupt the gut or the immune system
- Work closely with your doctor when planning and introducing your baby’s first foods
For additional resources on baby’s first foods, please refer to:
Weston A. Price Foundation (website)
Wholesome Baby Food (website)
Super Nutrition for Babies (book)
The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care (book)
Note: These approaches are not 100% paleo—but they are all based on whole, nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods. Use your own judgment to exclude any foods you feel are not right for your baby.
(Photo Credits: kelly.sikkema and theloushe via Compfight cc)
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Great article! I also have a 16 month old (if I recall my son has the same birthday as Atticus). My son eats a similar diet but also breastfeeds throughout the day.
Julie, I found a list of signs to tell, whether your baby is ready to be fed with solids. I hope it hepls.
I must say I am VERY sceptical to the homemade formula in the link. In the comments they claim that it is safe for newborns.I am sure they mean well, but who in their right mind would recommend using unpasteurised cow’s milk for a newborn baby? There is a huge risk involved with regard to bacterial infections. Also, newborns have an immature intestinal system and the raw casein in cow’s milk could trigger all kinds of intestinal distress.
By recommending this recipe for newborns, do you mean that the foundation is question (and now you, in a sense, for promoting it) can garantee that this formula has been tested as the sole nutrition needed by a growing baby? Does it really contain everything a developing brain and body needs for the first 12 months of life? Do the cleanliness and quality of ingredients compare to the rigorous testing and safety evaluation that has been done on commercial formula?
I wish there was a better alternative to comercial formula, because I certainly do not love the ingredient list. But this recipe isn’t it. Babies have died from unkowing, wellmeaning parents cooking stuff like this up in their kitchens. By all means, use pasteurised milk products and serve it to a toddler as an alternative to solids. But as a an alternative to infant formula? Not safe, people!
My 12 month old child drinks raw goats milk and he is very very happy. What do you think they did back when they didn’t pasturize milk? People need good bacteria in raw milk to fight the bad bacteria. Look up clabered milk… Just do it. I used to be just like you. Start thinking for yourself! And stop thinking that these big corporate money whores know what’s best for you. I usually don’t respond to post but I feel like you should know. Be differant and see what happens.
My son is now 4 years old. I did exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months, then I did a modified version of baby led solids (The book “Baby Led Weaning” is an excellent resource.) which basically means that I never gave purees. The way I modified it was that I did not give him all table foods right off the bat, I gave him softer foods like banana and avocado, and then I got more brave. Little gums and jaws are strong enough to mash most foods (no nuts, raw carrots, etc). I also slowly introduced one food at a time and didn’t try dairy until he was a year old, since he seemed to have a dairy sensitivity when he was breastfeeding exclusively and I ate it. I wasn’t really paleo then, just learning about it. He didn’t start having 3 meals until he was maybe 1. I continued to breastfeed on demand until he was about 18 months, and less frequently beyond that. I allowed him to self wean. He has his picky days now, but I am proud of how he eats. He only has sweets and other non paleo foods on special occasions. He loves yogurt and seems to tolerate dairy well so he has that as well as Kefir. He enjoys a wide variety of meats, fruit, and vegetables. Now don’t get me wrong, he loves cookies and grilled cheese sandwiches when he is visiting other family members, but we stay paleo in my house and he eats a great diet the majority of the time. He hardly ever gets sick, and when he does, it’s mild and short lived. You obviously can’t control everything that goes into your child’s mouth all the time, but controlling what I have in my home has made all the difference. Thanks for the great post! Whole 30 changed my family’s lives for the better :)
And I forgot to mention, we NEVER introduced cow’s milk!
Alan A says
Raina, you are an inspiration to other new parents! My wife and I have a 5 week old and an 8 year old. We have always tried to teach the 8 yo paleo. It is our intent to give the 5 week old the best nutrition possible. Your post was just the best one I’ve read. Just wanted you to know that you are an inspiration! Keep up the good work with “real” food!
Thanks so much!! I really appreciate the comment. We’re definitely not perfect, but I am proud of never having fed my son processed or fast foods. Keep up the good work, we can raise a generation of healthy kids!
Hi Melissa – my almost 9-month old currently still breastfeeds, but not sure how much longer this was last. What do you suggest in terms of milk for when she does wean? I read this article and it could have been written about us as we follow all these recommendations exactly. We haven’t introduced dairy and not sure we really want to, so wondering about alternatives instead of cow’s milk for when she’s no longer breastfeeding? Thank you!
I know I’m not the expert, but there’s no need to give any other kind of milk besides your own. It is a cultural habit (I think it comes from formula feeding – a baby gets to twelve months and doesn’t need formula any more, yet they are used to having milk in a bottle), not a nutritional necessity. Our son had water only till he was about two, and while he naturally really enjoys eating, I am pretty certain that the reason he ate such a quantity of food was because his belly wasn’t full if milk of any kind. There is no milk substitute by the way that can supply the nutrition of real food, and unless you make your own they are all really processed.
I take exception with recommendation of honey in the diets of infants. Honey should never be given under the age of twelve months because of the risk of botulism. It is an avoidable risk, especially since the natural sugars in fruits and vegetables are sweet enough!
Waiting until 1 to give honey has nothing to do with allergies, but with the risk of botulism. Introducing honey at 11 months may be okay, but at 6-7 months is too risky. Babies don’t make enough bile acid or have the right microflora to kill the botulinum spores.
Great article! I truly don’t understand why people would ask “How do you feed your kid” when the obvious answer is “with food”!! One concern I have is your comment, “Further studies are needed, but unless your doctor says different, you can try things like honey, egg whites, or sunflower seed butter with your six to twelve-month-old.” It has been common practice to NOT give any child under 2 honey due to risk of botulism, particularly with raw honey. Has this changed? I would still be very cautious of this, especially since there wouldn’t really be any need to add it. Thank you!
Sarah Westphal says
We have four kids; four and under and this is exactly how we have always done it. Loooooooong before we heard of paleo or Whole 9. I just never saw the point of bland cereal and only tried it twice to the chagrin of our two older kids when they were babies and they never ate it and gave me the dirtiest baby looks before promptly spitting it out in disgust.
The only comment I have to say about paleo in general and our children is that we have to use some filler–as in homemade muffins, rice and potatoes-and some legumes– to keep our kids’ bellies full. Our kids eat A LOT, which we rejoice! (as in a full package of chicken legs at Costco may give us leftovers and half a package yields none!) However we can’t afford for them to eat 4 helpings each of chicken curry…which they have (and yes, they are only 4, 2, and1 year olds–our newborn is 2 mos). So we do our best with our budget and we front load the paleo nutrient dense food FIRST before we top them up with some much needed filler. They simply need the calories and I have come to feel okay about that. If they have 1-2 paleo meals per day, which is what we can afford–food is NOT cheap in Canada–then we are doing great. 80/20 for sure in this house!
What Sarah said. Zo is also 16 months and eats pretty much what we eat, plus rice and white potatoes. As a working mom, I simply do not have the time to make a million vegetable purées, nor the money for the ready to eat pouches.
But she eats an egg pretty much every morning (it was her first food, and she still likes it), plus tons of fruit and whatever vegetables I throw at her at dinner or while I’m cooking, plus all the other stuff. She’s a crazy good eater!
My 12 month old has been eatting this way since 6 mos old with the full support (and encouragement) of our pediatrician. I wish more Doctors were as educated in nutrition as ours. Our other 3 daughters have a lot of other influences from school, friends, and even other family members. They do eat whole nutrient dense foods about 70% of the time. I’ve noticed, with my preteen especially, that her moods (hormones) are much more balanced when she is off the artificial processed stuff:-).
Lloved the article, especially love the advice going around to feed kids real food! We always thought it was crazy how much my son ate, reinforces my belief that its because it was all real food (and no sippies full of milk!). But PLEASE PLEASE edit this to let people know that delaying the introduction of honey is NOT about food allergies. Honey can contain spores of a toxic bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. It can be fatal to children under 12 mos, and cooking and pasteurization don’t always kill it. Some wait till 2 years to be safe.
Sarah Espiritu says
I must echo the comments about honey. Infant botulism can be contracted through the ingestion of wild honey and must be avoided in infants until twelve months old. It is not an allergy risk, it is a serious health risk.
I am otherwise very pleased to read this article as I have a thirteen month old I am trying to feed as paleo as possible. I can’t get her to eat many vegetables yet, (unless carefully hidden) but she loves her protein and most fruits. She is also still nursing so I know she receives many nutrients from me. Thanks for the article!
I have a 9 month old and this post has been really helpful! Thanks so much!
I don’t often comment in this nature (my kid did this… Etc) but because of my dependence on egg, I wanted to pass this along. She also vomited at any taste of egg. If it was in food, or on it’s own. The doctor encouraged us to try every two weeks and see what happened. Of course, that seemed like a lot on her little system, so we spaced it a bit more. Low and behold, one morning she asked for some of my scrambled eggs and was fine (after I followed her around with a towel for clean up…) It really seemed to happen overnight. So here’s hoping his intolerance passes quickly!
I love this article. Except for the honey part.
Like above posters commented, it’s not because of allergies that it is avoided until at least one year of age. Babies guts aren’t developed enough to neutralize naturally occurring botulism that can be found in honey. 1 year is probably safe, but if you don’t have to use it, the longer you wait the better.
Dave Sill says
Yikes! The picture with the apple and carrot chunks gives me the willies. Those are perfectly-sized choking hazards.
please revise this to remove the suggestion of honey in 6-12 month olds. having this in there really ruins your credibility and makes me question what you really know.
My baby is six months old and if I have one more person (including his pediatrician) recommend cereal in his diet I might lose it. I’ve been tempted by cereal and/or formula just to see if it might help him sleep more than 2 hours at a time but otherwise I’m just going with the flow and letting him eat what we eat.
L March says
For someone that doesn’t want to give advise you sure gave plenty….. this is exactly parenting advice…. not that anyone has to follow it… some of the stuff like honey and shellfish… ummm no… most of the stuff is good advise… my advise is trust your instincts… get the info you need to make the right choice for you…
Melissa Hartwig, Whole9 says
Including honey in that list of allergenic foods was just a slip. It’s been edited.
We had the same experience with egg yolk with our youngest. We introduced at 6 months and she vomited for 2 hours following. We tried again 6 weeks later, trying a different source and preparation method with the same results. At 1 year, her pedi ran an allergy panel with her routine blood work. The allergy test was negative. I would really like to try eggs again, but I’m really nervous. Has anyone had a similar experience with a positive result?
“More breast milk than you can supply” is absolutely not common during growth spurts at 6 – 9 months. I am so disappointed to have read this and find it completely irrelevant to the point. It would make sense to introduce real foods at the point of baby led weaning, not because a mother is unable to provide enough milk, this is based on supply and demand.
Melissa Hartwig, Whole9 says
My experience was that although I always fed on demand, pumped, and had more than adequate supply, I could not produce enough to feed A’s hunger in his 5th month. That was why we chose to introduce solid foods at that time–as a supplement, instead of formula.
Supply is based on so many more factors besides “demand,” including maternal stress, caloric intake, and carbohydrate intake (to name a few). I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but your comment sounds quite judgmental of women who find their supply can’t match their baby’s demand. We all do the best we can, but our bodies don’t always do exactly what we need them to do.
Just a second comment like Melissa’s – I have nursed two babies for a total of three years, one who was HUNGRY ALL THE TIME and one who was more than satisfied with my breast milk. I had to supplement for the hungry one early on with food and, in the early days, with formula. This was NOT my fault – I fed him anytime he asked, and would frequently feed for hours on end. He was not satisfied. My very alternative pediatrician eventually said, “He’s just hungry. Let’s try adding formula.” Lo and behold, he stopped screaming his head off all day long and settled down. Sometimes mothers do not produce enough milk for their babies and there is no clear reason. It was not for lack of trying – I cut out virtually every allergen from my diet (including citrus fruit!) and he was still hungry. Go easy on other mamas – formula can literally be a lifesaver for some babies.
My 6 month old has been eating homemade baby food since 4 months of age. i was forced by my body to give her formula, so i decided to start her at 4 months on purees because then i can give her less of that questionable formula.
All the of mine were started on solids early. Between 4 and 6 months. I couldn’t breastfeed for longer than a few months. Not for lack of trying. I lost my milk supply on my first two. And on my third, I was determined to feed longer, took supplements, ate the right stuff, drank lots and lots of water. But hit about 4 months, and my boy wasn’t growing enough and was hungry ‘all’ the time. Finally found out that even though I was producing enough milk that time, my milk was not producing enough nutrients to supply my baby. So sometimes, formula is the only option some of us have. And I’ve never had a problem with any of my children’s digestion. We stayed allergy foods early (around 6-7 months) by 7 months they were eating dinner foods (toast, gingernut biscuits, cooked vegetables and soft fruits, grated cheese) I have to say, going through this experience with my kids. I have three children that will eat practically anything. I’ve found among friends children, the longer you wait to introduce different flavors and textures, the more likely it seems that you’ll end up with a fussy eater. I have a friend with a 17 month old who won’t eat anything that isn’t smooth pureed. ( They put off introducing anything that wasn’t pureed until he was over 1) but what it really comes down to, is what you feel comfortable with. All my kids (including my 11mo) eat what we eat, apart from obviously cutting things up small or mashing/blending some things, I have never had reason to put things in front of them that is different from the rest of us once they’re over that initial start up stage. Which is what works for us :-) I like this article, but as with anything to do with parenting, we all have our opinions and ways to do it :-)
Diana VP says
Nice article. Something I haven’t seen written about is enzymes for developing infant gut flora. My mother used to tell me about how her mother would pre-chew solids then feed her babies, back in the 1920s. Although some might find that disgusting, birds do it, surely other animals do it, and it makes total sense to provide the food with enzymes we produce in our saliva, until the baby is able to produce its own digestive enzymes. If I had it to do over again, I would totally pre-chew for my baby. I also did not produce enough milk for my son, who cried and nursed constantly. He was only 4-5 months old when his pediatrician told me to feed him formula with rice cereal and a crosscut bottle nipple. OMG that child seemed to get fat overnight! There are so many additives and fake ingredients in formula, and to top that he was sensitive to the dairy and had to have soymilk – even worse. Oh, what I would have given to have had this knowledge 28 years ago, to avoid all of the ear infections in his first two years and the ear tubes at 24 months. It was an intense time. Paleo rocks.
Grace Rachid says
Thank you so much for sharing this info. I’ve decided to start weaning my 15 month old daughter. I want to give her something to sip on other than cow’s milk before her nap when she usually nurses. Do you have any suggestions that are gentle on the tummy?
Crystal Ellefsen, Whole9 says
Watered-down canned coconut milk, unsweetened almond milk (without carageenan), or warm herbal tea might be nice options if you’re looking for something other than water.