Starting Solids: Food Timing & Meal Frequency
Starting Solids: Food Timing & Meal Frequency
Transitioning your baby to solids can be an exciting, frustrating and sometimes puzzling time. Here’s some advice on the timing of meals, how often to give them and at what age.
Getting the timing of your baby’s meals right when you start solids can make a big difference to their enjoyment at meal times. In the early days it can be a fine balance of being satisfied from milk but hungry enough to still want to try their food and being happy but not too tired. Of course it takes a little patience on your behalf and some trial and error, but by being attentive to their behaviours and learning to recognise and respond to your baby’s hunger and fullness cues you will gain all the confidence you need to know you are on the right track.
SIGNS YOUR BABY IS READY
At around 6 months of age1 your baby will be ready to start solids. Most babies will show signs of being ready between 5 and 6 months of age. Some signs that your baby might be ready include:
- They are interested in what you and others are eating, reaching out for food
- It’s getting harder to fill them up on breast milk or formula alone
- They are able to sit up straight (often with some support) and hold their head up on their own
- They practice little ‘chewing’ motion with their mouth especially when putting objects and their hands in their mouth
- Their tongue-extrusion reflex has gone meaning they will be able to take pureed food from a spoon without pushing it out of their mouth.
THE FIRST FEW WEEKS – ONE MEAL PER DAY
When introducing the ‘first tastes’ it’s usually a good idea to find a time during the day when they are well rested from a daytime nap and around half an hour to an hour after their milk feed when they are likely to have an appetite for solids. Whether this is late morning, midday or early afternoon it’s best decided by you and your baby’s routine. Although, we don’t recommend introducing their first solid meal too late in the day when they are more likely to be overtired or you aren’t able to watch as closely for any reactions to new foods.
Once you have found a time that works for you and your baby, keep it consistent, as your baby will quickly learn when to expect their solids. We appreciate that this can be more difficult if you have a busy schedule or need to cater to the routines of older children too but taking the time to get it right from the beginning helps to develop positive eating associations and will likely save you lots of time and energy down the track.
If you’re baby isn’t interested initially when starting solids don’t push it or force them to accept more than they are willing. Recognise and respond to their hunger and fullness cues, keep meal times relaxed and maybe wait a few days before starting again if they really don’t seem to be accepting of solids. A little break might just be the answer. However if they continue to refuse food and you are at all concerned about your child’s growth and wellbeing we recommend you consult medical advice from a relevant health care professional*.
TWO MEALS PER DAY
Every baby is different but generally once they are enjoying 1-2 tablespoons at a time you can progress to two meals per day. This may take a week or three depending on your baby – let them guide you as to how quickly you progress. Resist the temptation to compare with other babies, as they are all so different. If your baby is around 7 months, this is also a good time to introduce age appropriate finger foods. They may not actually eat much of them to begin with, but they offer so many benefits for your child including sensory experiences, oral motor skills and strength, fine motor skills and generally learning more about the wonderful world of food.
TRHEE MEALS PER DAY
Some babies will progress quite quickly and want to enjoy 3 meals per day by 6 or 7 months; others may set a slightly slower pace. But generally by 8, and definitely by 9 months your baby should be enjoying three meals per day and each meal will ideally include a nutritious, textured bowl of food with a tasting plate offering small variety of finger foods.
A WORD ON SNACKS
As your baby approaches 12 months, snacks begin to feature regularly in your child’s mealtime schedule. Babies and toddlers have high nutrition needs yet only small stomachs, so eating 4-6 times per day is very normal and expected. However it is important snack times are considered to be another opportunity to offer nutritious foods and create positive associations around food and eating. Tips to help ensure this include:
- Create a mealtime ritual around meal and snack times to help build positive associations with eating
- Ensure your children sit down to enjoy their snacks to prevent the risk of choking
- Make sure snacks are at least 1 hour away from meal times to ensure your children have an appetite for their main meal. This may need to be longer for some children who have smaller appetites or who are fussy with their food
- Enjoy snack times with your children to demonstrate positive eating behaviours
- Maintain a variety of foods at both meal and snack times and try to include 2 options at each snack, e.g. yoghurt and fruit, dips and vegetables, cheese and crackers.
*Please read our Disclaimer: if you suspect your child has a medical concern that is affecting their appetite or influencing food refusal, we recommend you consult your medical practitioner for assessment and referral to an appropriate health care provider, e.g. an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist and/or Psychologist.
1. Infant Feeding Guidelines (2012), National Health & Medical Research Council and Department of Health, Australian Government. www.eatforhealth.gov.au