As a first time mom, or even a new mom, we may feel a lot of pressure about introducing solids to our babies. When should we start solid baby food? What should we try first? When you decide to introduce solids to your little one, it is a considerable milestone. Most of us think, “Real food, real ACTUAL food, can be given to my baby!” And, as this time approaches, it’s pretty likely that you will be inundated with articles, charts, lists and unsolicited advice on how to introduce solids and specifically what foods to try.
But wait. Have you ever taken a minute to think about the list of first foods for baby? While it is tried and tested, we actually have a lot more to consider. For example, I am of South Asian/ Indian decent and when I was first given solids (34 years ago!), avocado was not in the picture. Also, if you’re reading this and you happen to live somewhere outside of where you consider “your home,” then it is also interesting to understand locality. Interestingly enough, ex-pats living in Mumbai, India don’t have access to avocado, but they do have access to other local produce or concepts that have been given to little ones for years.
To me, the definition of baby food is consistent with many early childhood experts, “Baby food is considered soft, easily consumed food, other than breastmilk or infant formula, roughly between the ages of four to six months and two years.” When you make something specifically for babies that primarily refers to texture. Every culture has their rationale as to what they feed their baby for first foods and that stems from genetics, tradition and environment. It’s important to understand that while global practices are different, there’s no right or wrong way.
Now that we’ve taken a step back at a more general definition of baby food, I thought it would be interesting to see what babies are given as their first solids across the world. Aren’t you curious?
Here’s a global look at what babies have been given all over the world as their first foods:
America: Oat, barley, & rice cereal, pureed vegetables, fruit
Brazil: Fruit, Beans (that have being soaked for 8 hours to avoid gas) and brown rice
Cameroon: Pap (fermented cornmeal)
China: Xifan, a rice porridge, followed by mashed fruits, soft vegetables, tofu, and fish
France: Assortment of vegetables – potatos, carrots, green beans, spinach, zucchini
India: Cracked wheat “daliya” followed by Khichdi, a mushy rice-and-lentil-based dish
Japan: Rice cereal and radish
Middle East: Hummus, baba ganoush
Mexico: Soft tortillas
South Africa: Maize (corn) porridge, fish
Thailand: Khao tom (rice soup)
United Kingdom: Rice cereal, pureed vegetables, fruit
Below I further elaborate on the traditions in a few of the countries. Who knows… It may be something you would want to introduce to your baby!
In India, at 5 months babies are traditionally introduced cracked wheat “daliya” in the form of a thick syrup. Approximately a pinch of sugar would be added — and it would be given in a bottle versus a spoon. If the baby accepts this introduction, he/she would be given it once every day. The next transition would be the remaining liquid of boiled rice in a bottle form, which is called “kanji.” This would be given once daily as well. Once these two have been accepted by the baby, the next true solid food provided is called khichdi. Khichdi is a rice and legume (yellow moong dal) based mixture (1 tablespoon rice + 1 teaspoon dal) boiled and then pureed accordingly. Sometimes it is served with a side of homemade whole milk yogurt. By 8 months, babies would be given vegetable soup and fruit based juices such as sweet lime juice. Of course these would be given in very small portions — just a few teaspoons.
The Japanese culture takes a different approach which encourages you to feed your baby foods that you may already love or cook. He’s not adjusting to texture first but rather a taste palate. Between 5 and 6 months, babies are introduced samples of the following list: rice (cooked and reboiled and mashed), bread (again, softened and mashed), potatoes, tofu, flounder, Shirasu (white anchovies, which must be rinsed of salt and mashed), plain yogurt, carrot, broccoli, apples, strawberries, melon, and watermelon. Because of locality, items like flounder and shirasu are suggested.
In the United States, there are a variety of charts to consider upon introducing solids. The most common first foods include avocado, banana, apple, sweet potato, butternut squash, oatmeal, rice and barley. This is a list that has been widely circulated and most adhered to at present. One of the primary reasons for this list is because these foods are lighter on the babies’ gastrointestinal system. These are single food introductions and most are seasonally available.
Mothers start with Pap –a traditional weaning food in Cameroon made of fermented corn. Corn is soaked for about 4 days, grinded and soaked for another 3 days to ferment and grow friendly bacteria that aid digestion and produce a variety of useful enzymes that promotes healthy flora in the lower digestive track (think sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi). Pap when cooked has a custard like creamy texture, a pinch of sugar is added for taste since it has a slight sour taste and milk is added to thin the consistency out to be light enough for baby at the start of weaning. Usually it is given either through a bottle or spoon fed.
Most of the moms in France follow recommendations from the FSP (Societé Francaise de Pédiatrie) and the main focus is the introduction of vegetables with a variety of diversification. Often a new vegetable is introduced every 3-4 days between 4-6 months of age. Moms usually start with potato and soon after the suggested vegetables include carrots, green beans, spinach, zucchini (peeled and seeds removed), leeks (whites only), baby endive or baby chard, green peas. With many of these vegetables, a little cream cheese has been mixed into the purees. Vegetables higher in fiber are recommended to introduce after 9 months of age and fruits are not recommended to introduce until later on in age.
As we’ve observed, babies eat all types of foods as first foods so the key takeaway is stress less about what you give your baby. Also, there’s no rush. We all ended up eating solids eventually. For the first 15 months, your babies are learning about texture and practicing to accept them. We want baby, mom and dad to enjoy this milestone!