Stage 1 Baby Food – How to introduce the first meal

I wanted to write this blog as lots of mums & dads ask questions on how you actually give the first meal to your baby. Where do you sit? Where do they sit? Do you use a spoon on day 1? Do you just put a spoonful of food straight into their mouths? Won’t my baby get a bit of a shock if I do that? What time of day is best? 

This blog is going to answer all these questions and give you a bit more insight into how your baby might react and what actually going actually on.

Please note this blog contains affiliate links which means that if you purchase through them I receive a small commission from the company, but the price to you remains the same. The monies earned help pay for this blog.

What age should my baby be?

Most babies are ready to start weaning at around 6 months of age. We use the word ‘around’ because all babies develop at their own pace and some will get there sooner and others a bit later. Most importantly they must be ‘developmentally ready’ for eating solid foods.

How do I assess developmental readiness?

Stage 1 Baby Food - How to introduce the first meal by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

There are lots of myths about how to tell if your baby is ready for weaning, but there are three developmental signs to look out for:

1. The absence of the tongue thrust reflex

2. A steady base i.e. can sit up well and hold their head steady

3. Have good hand-eye coordination so they can bring objects up to their mouth to explore.

If you want to see your baby is developmentally ready, download my FREE guide
which goes through three simple tests you can do at home to check.

What happens if I give solids too early?

Your baby will likely push the food back out of her mouth with her tongue if the tongue thrust reflex is still present or she may struggle to pick up finger foods and get them into her mouth. She may seem disinterested or get frustrated and cry. Don’t worry though, you wont have done any harm, just stop trying and come back to it in a few weeks time.

My baby is now 6 months and isn’t developmentally ready, what should I do?

There is a fourth sign of being ready for solids that isn’t a developmental one, it’s a nutritional one. At 6 months baby’s nutrition stores begin to run low and their nutritional requirements become greater. Food has to be introduced in order for them to meet their needs for growth and development. Therefore I would still advise you to start solids if your baby isn’t showing the typical developmental signs of readiness.

What baby weaning equipment do I need?

TidyTot Bib and Tray Kit

You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment but there are a few essential items:

  • A highchair with a tray

  • A bib

I really like the Tidy Tot Tray and bib kit
where the coverall bib actually attaches to the tray!

  • A small bowl or pot

What food should I start with?

Research has found that babies who are introduced to vegetables first are more likely to be eating vegetables when they grow into older children. The key appears to be giving different single vegetables at each meal but repeating those vegetables frequently so that your baby gets used to them.

Sweeter vegetables like butternut squash or carrot will be more readily accepted as your baby’s sweet taste buds are more mature, and bitter vegetables like spinach or courgette may take a little more getting used to. Therefore it makes sense to get them used to these first before moving on to the sweeter tastes.

Some bitter vegetables can be ‘windy’ like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage and cause your little one to have tummy aches or constipation at the start of weaning while their digestive systems get used to something more than milk. You may want to avoid the windy ones on day one, and go for something a little gentler.

Here is my list of suggested first foods, you can use them in any order:

Bitter veg

Bitter Vegetables you can use for your babies first meal by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

  • avocado

  • potato

  • cucumber

  • aubergine

  • spinach

  • asparagus

  • green beans

Windy veg

Windy Veggies you can use for your babies first meal by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

  • kale

  • cabbage

  • cauliflower

  • broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • artichoke

  • leeks

  • celery

Sweeter veg

Sweeter Veggies Windy Veggies you can use for your babies first meal by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

  • carrot

  • butternut squash or pumpkin

  • sweet potato

  • peas

  • sweetcorn

  • parsnip

  • swede

Once you have offered a week or two of vegetables and providing your baby is over 6 months old you can start to offer meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans and pulses, fruits, bread, pasta etc. Your baby will need these for nutrition. For more information about nutrition download my FREE baby superfoods
guide here.

What time of day should it be?

Think about your baby’s routine. It usually goes something like: sleep – eat – play. You want to be introducing solids during the ‘play’ part of her routine. It’s often better to choose a time in the morning or around lunchtime when you have the whole day ahead of you to observe how she reacts. 

She needs to be not-tired nor hungry however, avoid offering solids straight after a feed as she’ll be too full up with milk to be interested in the food.

It’s also good to choose a time when you are relaxed, not distracted or in a rush as the first experience of food for your baby warrants 100% of your attention for it to be a positive experience for her.

Where should my baby sit?

The position your baby sits in for her meals is very important because having a stable base means your baby can focus all of her attention on the job in hand and not need to concentrate on keeping herself stable.

She needs to be sat in a highchair with support under her feet, around her waist and behind her knees. The waist, knee and ankles should each be at 90-degree angles. 

– If your highchair doesn’t have a footrest (or it’s too far below her little legs) pile up a stack of books or boxes rather than leaving her feet dangling. She needs something to push against to anchor herself.

– If there is too much wiggle room around her waist and she is leaning to one side, roll up a towel and pop it down the side of the high chair for support.

– Avoid bumbo seats or baby pods as they cause your baby to be in a hunched forward position which squashes your baby’s tummy causing a slouch which is really uncomfortable when eating.

My favourite highchair for providing the right position is the Stokke Tripp Trapp Chair
*. Although expensive, it will grow with your child till they reach the teenage years.

Stage 1 Baby Food - How to introduce the first meal by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

Where should I sit?

At the start of weaning, you should pull up a chair and sit directly in front of your baby’s highchair. Adjust the height of your seat or your baby’s highchair to ensure you are at her eye level. I’ll come on to why this is important when we go through exactly how to give the first meal.

Should daddy be there too?

If he wants to, it’s a momentous occasion so it’s worthwhile if he can. If you are both there, you should both sit in front of the highchair tray so your baby can make direct eye contact with both of you without having to turn.

My role as the parent

Your role at the first meal is to make it as fun and reassuring as possible. Sometimes babies can feel a little unsure when they have something new put into their mouths, as they won’t know what to do with that food initially. She hasn’t yet learned the skills she needs to be able to move the food to the back of her mouth in order to swallow. You need to let her know that everything is going to be ok, and this is why I advise you to sit directly opposite your baby at eye level. It’s key to:

1. Have a happy smiley face.

2. Use a sing-song voice at all times so your baby knows that this is fun.

Even if you are BLW, sitting with your baby while she explores the food and offering lots of positive interaction is so important.

Weaning Plan for the First Meal

Traditional Weaning or Spoon Feeding

Stage 1 Baby Food - How to introduce the first meal by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

Ok, here’s where it gets interesting. If you are following the traditional weaning route, the first meal will likely be a pureed vegetable. Here’s what you do.

1. Sit opposite your baby, at eye level as described above.

2. Have a lovely happy face.

3. Plop a dollop of vegetable puree on your baby’s highchair tray and in your excited voice tell them what they’re having and show them the spoon.

4. If they go to explore it with their hands straight away, this is great. Let them continue!

5. Dip the tip of your soft baby spoon into the puree to pick up a scant trace of the veggie puree.

6. In one swift movement (not tentatively) move the spoon up to their mouth and place a scant trace of puree on their bottom lip, then withdraw the spoon.

7. Exaggerate lip-smacking movements to encourage your baby to copy and they will (hopefully) get a taste of the puree.

8. If all is well and your baby is still happy, dip the top of the spoon into the puree again and in one swift movement put the spoon straight into the baby’s mouth. You’re aiming for just inside the edges of the bottom lip.

9. Again over exaggerate lip-smacking to try and get your baby to copy.

10. Do the same again but this time say ‘aaaaaaaahh’ as the spoon is coming towards them in order to encourage them to open their mouth. If they do pop the scant trace of puree onto the bottom gum line, then say ‘mmmmmmm’ in order to encourage them to close their mouth.

11. The next step involves popping the scant trace of puree onto their tongue and make your aaaaaahhh’s and mmmmm’s to encourage open and closing.

12. Once your baby is allowing you to place the spoon on their tongue, you can start increasing the amount of food on the spoon with each mouthful for as long as your baby is happy.

13. Introduce the word ‘open’ in a sing-song voice instead of the ‘aaaaahhh’s’ when your baby is consistently opening her mouth for the spoon. This serves as a verbal cue to help her anticipate what’s coming next.

What to do if your baby gets distressed

It’s important to stop attempting to feed when your baby shows signs that they have had enough. This could be firmly closing her mouth or turning her head away. Continue talking to her in a sing-song happy voice and maintain eye contact so she knows it’s all OK. Never tap her closed lips with the spoon, no-means-no and as parents, we need to respect that. What your baby is telling you is that she needs a little more time to process what she’s learned. 

Next time you go to feed her start with the step below where she was comfortable and do that a few times before moving on.

This phase can last 2-4 weeks for some babies who are nervous or reluctant, if it’s going on for longer then it may be worth seeing your GP or HV and asking for advice.

Babies do pick up on our anxieties and emotions and so if you are worried about feeding them try not to let it show. This is where your oscar worth performance of ‘happy excited mummy’ comes into its own!

What if my baby grabs the spoon and paints the highchair tray with puree instead?

This is a very good sign. Let her have the spoon and grab another, let her have a spoon for each hand and grab a third. And if she’s keen to explore the food on offer then let her do so, even if that means she’ll need a bath afterwards. Exploring the sensory characteristics of food is so important for her development. You can read more about sensory weaning

Weaning Plan for the First Meal

Baby Led Weaning

Weaning plan for the first meal by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

1. Sit opposite your baby, at eye level as described above.

2. Have a lovely happy face.

3. Place a long stick-shaped vegetable (longer than their fist) on your baby’s highchair tray and in your excited voice tell them what they’re having. Note if you can squish the veggie between your thumb and forefinger it’s the right texture, if you can’t it could be a choking risk and needs more cooking.

4. If they go to explore it with their hands straight away, this is great. let them continue! 

5. It may go up to their mouth, it may not! Either is fine, with BLW you are letting your baby be in total control of what goes into their bodies.

6. Have some of the same food on a plate for you and pick up one piece and take it to your mouth to eat, effectively you’re showing your baby what to do.

7. If they pick up the food and put it to their mouth first, copy them with yours as mimicking is the finest form of flattery for young babies!

My baby is totally disinterested, should I cut out her milk feeds to make her feel hungry?

No, at this early stage eating isn’t about hunger and all of her nutrition is coming from milk. If you’ve tried all of the above, the timing is right, you are being as enthusiastic as possible, then I would suggest stopping for a week or two, particularly if your baby is less than 26 weeks (6 months) old. If your baby is over 26 weeks talk to a healthcare professional as nutrition becomes more crucial now.

Should I have wipes on hand?

No, definitely not! Wipes can really uncomfortable and having your face cleaned when you have delicate skin can be really unpleasant. It’s often why babies develop highchair aversion. Leave clean up till the end of the meal, the only exception being if she gets some food in or near her eyes. 

At the end of the mealtime offer your baby a warm wet facecloth and encourage her to do the cleanup. Obviously, your highchair will still need a thorough clean afterwards, but your baby will more than likely put the cloth up to her mouth with her hands and so the cleaning has begun. Next, take your little one over to the sink and allow her to splash in some warm bubbles to get clean or if it’s been a real sensory experience, pop her in the bath!

Tommee Tippee Essentials Cup

What about a drink?

It’s important to introduce a cup at the end of that first meal, not for drinking but to show your baby what it does. Initially, I like to offer babies a two-handled spouted beaker such as the Tommee Tippee first cup.

Fill in about 1/4 full so it’s not too heavy and bring it out when your baby has had enough eating.

Show your baby what it does first. Tip it upside down and show her how the water drips out on to the tray. This is why the spouted cups work well as the flow of water is slow but it’s not so slow that it doesn’t come out at all.

Next, take the cup up to your baby’s mouth and pop the spout in, tilt the cup so that the water flows out and withdraw once a drop or two has been given. Mimic the lip-smacking sound again to encourage her to swallow. 

Your baby may cough and splutter if too much comes out. This is fine, keep your happy face on and reassure her in your best sing-song voice “oops, we put too much water in your mouth, we’ll do less next time”

Leave the cup on the tray and let her play with it for a while, she may try to pick it up with the handles and may gnaw on the spout (or bottom of the cup, dripping water everywhere). These are all really good sensory experiences for her so let her continue while she’s content.

Once she’s proficient with the spouted beaker try an open cup. The Baby Cup is a tiny flexible plastic beaker holding just 50ml of water which is ideal for those first few weeks.

Ok, that’s day one done, what happens next?

Now that your baby has had her first experience of a meal, you can continue to progress by putting the spoon a little further into your baby’s mouth to just past the tongue tip and tilt the spoon down slightly to deposit the food, don’t dump it there, it’s a gentle tilt only then withdraw the spoon, your baby’s lips should clear the rest.

If your baby pushes some of the food back out of her mouth it means there was too much on the spoon for her to manage, give her a smaller amount on the spoon next time.

Wait till your baby has dealt with the food in her mouth, either by swallowing or spitting out before offering the next spoon, go at your baby’s pace.  The spoon can be placed as far as the middle of her tongue, don’t try to go further otherwise you may trigger a gag and or vomit! 

You can increase the consistency or thickness of the puree to make it a little thicker as the days go on. This is where homemade baby foods are better than shop bought ones as each will have a slightly different texture challenging your baby along the way.

Where can I find out more?

Weaning plan for the first meal by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

If you have found this useful and would like to learn more, I’d love to have you join me on my Baby Nutrition & Weaning online digital course
with daily support from me to answer all your questions in our private facebook group. I’d love to see you there!

Infographics by Holly Roper, with thanks

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA - Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

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