My baby is six months old. When should she start eating solids, and what should we start with?
If you can, as Michael Pollan might advise, find out what your great-grandmother, or better yet, someone of that generation living where you currently live, did. That should lead you to something that grows well in your region and climate, and that babies digest well. And also ensure that you eat whole-grain and home-made rather than out of a box.
Before I start listing foods to offer, let me emphasize that the key word is offer. Let the baby be the one to decide whether to eat and when to stop. Does anyone really doubt that a six month old baby can put food in his mouth? Hasn’t he been putting all kinds of random things in his mouth? Babies explore with their mouths and when they are ready to explore food, they will find the way. Your job is only to ensure that the food within reach is appropriate for baby’s age and to offer it in a pleasant, sociable environment.
In many parts of India ragi, or millet is the first choice. It is easily digested, high in bio-available iron and calcium, particularly when sprouted, and a good source of protein as well. For better iron absorption, ragi should be in the tummy without any other source of iron (e.g. breastmilk) at the same time. This is not something you need to stress over, but just remember not to mix the ragi with milk.
Make the ragi with plain water only – no milk, salt, spice or sweetener. After age 1 or 1 1/2 you might start adding fruit or other combinations, just as you might with other hot cereals.
Though there are different theories about why children get allergies, it is not difficult to delay foods that are considered more allergenic, like wheat, dairy, nuts, strawberries and other specific fruits and vegetables. If anything, it encourages us to diversify our own diets and explore the local. For our daughter I delayed dairy till age 2, so that the solids portion of her diet would comprise greater variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. By age 2 she could eat everything but nuts, which waited a bit longer. Foods with added sugar also waited, so that she could get familiar with the actual taste and texture of whole foods. I should also mention that we ate together, and baby ate her food on her own, without being fed or told how much to eat.
Here are the foods our baby ate, starting at 6 months. Note that this is merely a sharing of our experience and nothing more. We started with ragi and she continued to eat ragi every day for years. The rest of the foods in this list came and went but ragi was a daily staple.
Started at 6 months:
- ragi porridge -made with sprouted ragi flour and water only
- very ripe kerala plaintain called “rajolu” or as per Wikipedia “rajeli kela” (राजेळी केळ)
- sweet potato – called ratalu (राताळू)
- potato, carrot, beets, peas
We cooked all vegetables till they were soft and then sliced or cubed them, because our baby refused mashed foods. We added no salt or oil to the vegetables until she was past 12 months of age.
- సపోట (चिक्कू or, as I just found out, sapodilla), very ripe banana
Added at 8 months:
- rice. In a spice grinder, we broke the rice grains into small pieces before cooking. We just turned it on for 2-3 seconds to break it into small pieces without grinding too much, so that it would still look and feel like rice when cooked. We used brown rice – i.e. unpolished rice.
- idli – made with brown rice and unpeeled urad dal, and without salt. Here was one “mashed food” that was not “baby food.” Though we got the plates for making mini idlis, she usually took a regular sized one. (Till she was no longer a baby – now she likes both sizes.)
Added at 9 months:
- mung and tur dal – without salt or oil.
- oats – plain or with ripe banana, no salt or sugar
- cucumber, పొట్లకాయ (snake gourd), most other vegetables except tomato, cauliflower, cabbage. I think we also waited a bit on leafy greens.
- apple (cooked to soften), orange, guava, most other fruits except berries
- flax oil and flax meal – as a dip for her idlis and dosas
Added at 12-15 months:
- introduced salt.
- wheat – bread, chapati, pancake, pasta, etc
- avacado, guacamole
- dosa and pesarottu, once she could chew them well
- dates – ground and mixed into banana bread until she could chew them. Used ground dates in lieu of sugar or honey when baking.
- tomato, onion, garlic
- sambar, stir-fried vegetables with తిరగామూత (roasted spices)
- tofu, vegan pizza
- cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, leafy greens
- cow’s milk, yogurt and other dairy
- almonds and other nuts except for peanuts
- introduced foods with added sugar such as ice cream and kaju-barfi (nicknamed “rhombus surprise”), but without artificial colours, flavours, preservatives.
After age 5 even this restriction was lifted. Not that we ate a lot of it but it was no longer off-limits. With 5 years to get accustomed to the taste of real food, we were ready. Avoiding packaged food helped me diversify my (very limited) cooking repertoire, and try to make more snacks at home. So we only had to continue those good habits. To quote Michael Pollan, “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”