Starting Solid Foods: What Foods Can My Baby Eat?

This post is Part 3 in a series about starting solid foods. Be sure to read Part 1 about when to introduce solids and how to know your baby's ready to start solids and Part 2 about choosing a healthy first food for baby. But now you're wondering what other foods are safe to feed your baby?

Answers to commonly asked questions about safe baby food. CanDo Kiddo

Starting solid foods can bring lots of advice from the parenting peanut gallery (pun intended). Whether that advice is solicited or unsolicited, it's important to keep in mind that recommendations and research are always changing. What was recommended even 3 years ago for your sister's baby may not match the most recent evidence or advice from professionals. 

Here are current answers I found to some some baby food questions parents often ask. And just as a reminder, I'm not a doctor, gastroenterologist or nutritionist. I'm a curious parent - much like many of you. But I'm also a child development nerd happy to dig through scholarly publications and research journals to find answers.

Common Baby Food Questions:

Why Can't I Feed My Baby Honey?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not have any honey before 12 months of age. You may know that it's because honey can cause Botulism but here are some other interesting facts I learned about Infant Botulism:

  • According to The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, an average of 145 cases of Botulism are reported each year with 65% of these in infants.
  • The most common causes of infant Botulism is assumed to be babies accidentally swallowing small amounts of dirt or dust contaminated with Botulism spores. This is hard to avoid but since honey is a known source of possible contamination and isn't a necessary food, the recommendation is to avoid it.
  • The 12 month recommendation stems from the fact that the intestines of infants don't move the spores that cause Botulism through the way that mature guts do and so the spores can germinate and produce a toxin in the intestines. The greatest risk is in babies under 6 months but the risk does continue until a year of age. 
  • Because manufacturing processes can't be guaranteed, several sources recommend against exposing babies to honey even when baked into foods. That means no Honey Nut Cheerios for your little one.

Do Carrots and Spinach Cause Nitrate Poisoning?

I heard this one and got worried since carrots were one of my baby's favorite foods! It seems the risk of nitrate poisoning is low and only in babies less than 4 months of age. The risk in early infancy is related to very young babies having more nitrate metabolizing triglycerides. Since the general recommendation is start solids at around 6 months of age, with 4 months being the earliest recommended age to start solids, nitrate poisoning is very unlikely for most babies.

Will Carrots And Sweet Potatoes Make My Baby Turn Yellow?

Maybe. Carotenemia is a yellowing of the skin due to high blood levels of beta carotene from foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash. It's a harmless condition more common in fair-skinned babies, but can be confused with Jaundice.

How Much Salt Can My Baby Have?

The primary body system that handles salt is the Renal or Kidney system. Infants' renal systems are still developing and aren't able to handle much added salt. Too much salt can be dangerous and even fatal to babies because their kidneys can't keep up with processing the sodium as waste and it becomes toxic. 

Learn about what first foods are safe for babies. CanDo Kiddo

So how much salt can baby have? Interestingly, the United States does't have a maximum recommended intake for babies under 1 year of age. Instead, there is an "adequate intake level" set by the Institute of Medicine at 370 mg of sodium per day for babies 6-12 months old.  For reference, a 1/4 teaspoon of table salt has 581 mg of sodium.

That information sounds consistent with other, unreferenced sources (like this one) which recommend that babies can have cooked foods that have a small amount of salt added during cooking but strongly advise against putting table salt directly on babies' foods. A dash of salt in a bowl of muffin batter is different than a dash of salt on a small serving of food on baby's plate.

If you plan on giving your baby the same table foods that you eat (which we'll explore more next week in part 4 of this series), consider the salt content using the conversion of 1 teaspoon of salt = 2,325 mg of salt. Given the fact that your baby is probably consuming small portion sizes (likely a cup or less of any one food at a meal), recipes you make at home with small amounts of salt are likely fine. 

Be cautious of prepared foods such as processed foods, canned vegetables, prepared soups and foods from restaurants, which tend to have high levels of salt and are probably best omitted from baby's diet until after 1 year of age. For example, Kraft Mac and Cheese has 561 mg of sodium per serving. Even if your baby is only eating a fraction of a serving, she's likely close to her daily adequate intake level of 370 mg.

Can My Baby Have Milk?

The milk question is particularly confusing to me as a mom. I've heard that a big part of the no milk recommendation is to prevent parents from switching babies from expensive formula to milk. This is a big concern and it's important to remember that cow's milk does not offer the important nutritional components that babies under 1 year need from breastmilk or formula. 

BUT, there a few other reasons why your baby shouldn't be give a cup of milk to drink before a year. Milk contains more sodium than is recommended for babies. For reference, a cup of whole milk has roughly 105 mg of sodium (representing nearly a third of the adequate intake level for babies 6-12 months). Milk also inhibits the body's ability to absorb iron from foods. Since iron is a very important nutrient for your growing baby, it's recommended that cow's milk intake be limited. 

However, most sources I found said that small amounts of milk or milk as an ingredient in other foods - baked goods, for example - are acceptable for babies. 

Can My Baby Have Citrus Fruits?

Yes. In fact, the Vitamin C in citrus helps aid the absorption and use of iron in foods. However, there are few things to consider. Citrus (and tomatoes) are very acidic and can cause skin irritation from contact or tummy upset if fed in larger quantities. Keep portion sizes of these foods small and less frequent. These foods may also exacerbate reflux. Be sure to keep baby's hands away from her eyes if finger feeding these foods or you'll have a sad little baby on your hands! 

When Can My Baby Have Peanut Butter, Eggs, Dairy, and Fish?

Be sure to read Part 2 of this series - Choosing Baby's First Foods, which includes the current recommendations for introducing allergenic foods as well as suggestions and tools for monitoring baby for potential reactions.

One additional consideration specific to fish is mercury exposure. Babies, young children and pregnant women (or women who may become pregnant) are at the greatest risk for dangerous mercury exposure. The Natural Resources Defense Council offers a comprehensive list of fish with mercury levels AND a mercury calculator that allows you to see exposure based on your baby's weight and type of fish.

What foods does your baby enjoy eating? Are there any you're holding off on or wondering about? Share in the comments below!

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Just listen to how excited, confident and successful first-time mom Molly was on her FIRST DAY of feeding her baby:

"We started solids today and are following your Food Before One course. Today when I handed her a pre-loaded spoon with butternut squash, she went to town! So exciting!"

Coming up next in this series...

  • How To Introduce Solids: Baby Led Weaning, Purees? As a pediatric OT with advanced training and lots of experience working with babies and kids with feeding difficulties, I can't wait to share this post with you!
  • 50 Real Food Meals For Babies: need ideas or inspiration? I'll share lots of ideas for simple, nutritious foods you can make for your baby.

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