At about 4-6 months of age you'll start to consider adding adding in some solid foods to supplement your breast or formula feeding. Some good ways to know if your baby is ready to start trying solid foods is if he or she:
- Can sit with minimal support
- Has good control of their head and neck
- Has doubled their birth weight
- Turns head away when full
- Puts things in their mouth
- Seems interested in your food!
Gerber has a good, short online quiz that you can take. It basically asks you the above questions and lets you know whether your baby is a good age to start trying solid foods.
Baby Cereals are usually the first recommended solid food for babies 4 to 6 months of age. This is for a few reasons. First, it gets your baby used to a unique food texture in the mouth without any new strong flavors, and gets them used to coordinating and swallowing something thicker than milk. Second, around 6 months of age your baby's iron needs usually exceed what is available in breast milk or formula, so iron fortified baby cereal is a great way to supplement. Third, cereal is unique because you mix it with breast milk or formula and that makes it a more familiar flavor for your baby.
Best Baby Cereals (4-6 months) of 2017: We purchased and tested 14 baby cereals with 3 different infants. We checked the cereal's consistency, ease of feeding, and taste. With the babies, we tested how they seemed to like it and how it affected their bowel movements. Remember that too much iron can make things a little "slow going" down there. Here are the best baby cereals we found for 2017:
1. Gerber Organic Baby Cereal. This comes in Oatmeal, Brown Rice, and Oatmeal with Peach and Apple flavors. You'll want to start with the Oatmeal and Brown Rice, and then move on to the Oatmeal with Peach and Apple flavor. We found the oatmeal to be the perfect consistency for a first food. It also wasn't quite as sweet tasting as the brown rice (the oatmeal with peach and apple was the sweetest tasting of the three). We mixed it with breast milk and the babies seemed to like it quite a bit! All varieties have just about the same nutritional composition, with 45% daily Iron content per serving, 2 grams of sugar, and about .5 to 1 gram of fat. The iron content is a good supplement for a growing baby, and not so much that it will induce constipation. Note that the Oatmeal versions are not gluten free, but the brown rice version is. Contains pretty simple ingredients: oatmeal or brown rice, two organic sources of choline to support brain and eye development (soy lecithin and choline bitartrate), and vitamins and minerals. Overall, a great first oatmeal without any additives with questionable sourcing or manufacturing practices.
2. Earth's Best Organic Baby Cereal. Like the Gerber options, this comes in several varieties including Oatmeal, Brown Rice (what they call "whole grain rice"), Oatmeal with Banana, and Whole Grain. The Oatmeal variety says it may contain traces of wheat/gluten, but the Brown Rice version is gluten free. The great thing about Earth's Best is that they genuinely take a lot of pride in the foods they produce. They're a smaller company (owned by the Hain Celestial Group) that takes genetically modified ingredients very seriously (check out their mission at Earth's Best). We're not saying that Gerber doesn't take these things seriously, but Earth's Best simply has a better track record (in our opinion). So back to the food... Other than the oatmeal and bananas variety, these options were a bit blander to the taste than the Gerber (maybe because they contain 0 grams of sugar), but the babies definitely didn't seem to mind that at all once it was mixed with breast milk! Like the Gerber, each serving contains 45% of daily Iron content, and about 1 gram of fat. So you thought the Gerber ingredients were simple? These are even simpler! Two things: the main ingredient (whole grain oats or rice) and the vitamins/minerals. Nice and simple, but also not including choline or DHA for brain and eye development.
3. Happy Baby Organic Baby Cereal with Choline, DHA, and Probiotics. If you've been looking for the Happy Bellies Oatmeal, this is it, just rebranded as Happy Baby Organic Baby Cereal. This is an oatmeal blended with a nice variety of vitamins, probiotics, choline, and DHA. The vitamins are similar to what appear in all of the other cereals on our list, including vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, and E, along with a good amount of iron, calcium, folate, and riboflavin. Regarding choline, it is an essential nutrient that's usually provided as lecithin or bitartrate, occurring in high amounts in foods such as beef liver, cauliflower, wheat germ, and soybeans. This cereal also contains 4 probiotic strains, along with a single prebiotic that also acts as a mild sweetener (fructooligosaccharides); together, these help maintain the gut flora, this the old "Happy Belly" name of this oatmeal! Like the others, this is certified organic, and contains no artificial ingredients or sweeteners. A bonus is that the packaging is made without BPA, the company partners with great organizations like Autism Speaks, Allergy Kids Foundation, and Feeding America. And by the way, you're supporting a mom-owned small business that was founded in 2006 and brought one of the first gluten-free baby food products to the market! So not only does the food taste great, consuming it will also make you feel good (well, in your tummy, and also for contributing to a company with strong values).
Our #4 choice is the newcomer Bio-Kinetics Sprouted Cereal lineup.
Fruit and Veggie Purees are the next step after your baby has graduated from baby cereal, usually around 6 to 8 months of age. Experimenting with fruit and veggie purees can be a real adventure! Don't be surprised if your baby spits out everything the first time, or even the second and third time you try it! Sometimes it can take 5-10 times for your baby to get used to a new flavor or texture, and this process is a really great developmental learning experience for your baby. So don't give up on them! Our advice is to start by slowly mixing some relatively bland fruit and veggie purees into the baby cereal. Maybe some banana puree mixed into the baby cereal and breast milk (or formula), or some prune puree mixed in to keep things going in the diaper region when the cereal starts to stop things up!
Best Baby Foods (6 months +) for 2017: To find the best baby foods of 2017, we purchased 8 different brands of fruit and vegetable purees, with 4 varieties per brand, and put them to the test! We tasted some of them ourselves and were surprised at just how good some of them were (really!), and we had 4 different babies ranging in age from 7 to 11 months test them out for us as well. Judging by their facial expressions, fits of rage, and sometimes requests for more, we narrowed it down to just a small handful of varieties that we thought tasted the best and were most accepted by the babies. One of the most important criteria that we realized is when the fruit or vegetable puree tasted more like the real thing to the adults, the babies also tended to like it more. When it was too tart they tended to shy away, as they did also when it had some unidentifiable flavors (don't worry, those aren't on our list!).
Note that baby foods typically are labeled with stages. Stage 1 is where you'll start immediately after baby cereal (usually from 6 to 7 months), with only a single ingredient (like peas, sweet potatoes, prunes, or bananas). Stage 2 is where you start to introduce some new textures and two or more ingredients (like apples and cinnamon, or strawberry banana), usually from about 7 to 9 months old. Finally, stage 3 is when you get multiple combined ingredients and also some soft chunks of fruits or vegetables, usually around 9 to 11 months old.
1. Mama Bear Stage 2 Organic Baby Food. This certified organic line of baby foods is making a splash, with delicious flavor options, smooth textures, and responsible sourcing and manufacturing processes. We got our hands on two of their most popular flavors: Apple Pear Banana, and Apple Blueberry. Both were excellent, and the Apple Pear Banana variety was a bit smoother without that "only fruit" texture. They both tasted very fresh and high quality, and the babies absolutely loved them! The Mama Bear foods are certified organic, contain no added salt or sugar, and of course contain no harmful preservatives, additives, or artificial colors or flavors. Packaged in a glass jar, and with a BPA free plastic lid seal! One of the concerns moms have asked us in the past is: without any artificial preservatives, how does the food stay fresh!? You will notice that all of our organic baby food options contain vitamin C and/or citric acid, these ingredients add nutrition and taste while also serving as a mild preservative to prevent spoiling. Comes in 4 ounce jars, usually in a pack of 12, for just about $1 per jar. That's a better price than the Earth's Best, which comes in a 2.5 ounce jar. Our top food of the year, this is highly recommended!
2. Earths Best Stages 1-3 Organic Baby Food. Earth's Best has put together an awesome lineup of organic baby foods spanning stages 1, 2, and 3. They have a vast range of fruits and vegetables to suit even a very picky baby, with Stage 1 options like sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, apples, bananas, and prunes. Stage 2 options are even more diverse, including even some exotic fruits and vegetables, fruit and veggie blends, and fruit and grain blends. Finally, at Stage 3 they introduce several new chunky blends of fruits, vegetables, and even some soups. Everything we tasted was quite good, and we were impressed by the consistent quality across the varieties. The older baby really loved the chunky vegetable beef pilaf, and even the adults thought it was a reasonable take on something they all thought would taste disgusting! These Earth's Best products are all organic, so that means no additives, no preservatives, and even no added salt or sugar. These are some of the best on the market and we have been consistently impressed with the quality and taste. Highly recommended!
3. Happy Baby Starting Solids Organic Baby Food. This is just about tied with the Earth's Best for the best baby food of the year. The biggest difference we found between the Earth's Best and Happy Baby is that the Happy Baby comes in some more unique varieties that tend to appeal to some adults, like mangos as a Stage 1 fruit. They also tend to focus more on fruits than vegetables, and come in a nice flexible pouch that more readily slips into a diaper bag than a fragile jar. But as a negative we found that some of the Happy Baby varieties were a bit more watery than the Earth's Best, especially the mangos and pears. In some cases this made it more difficult to keep on the spoon and get into the baby's mouth. Our 3 year old has taken to drinking the remaining mango pouches with a straw, if that gives you some indication! Other than that, we believe the Happy Baby line of baby foods is a great addition to the market, and we highly recommend them for their quality ingredients, rigid manufacturing practices, and great flavors. Note that whiel some parents have expressed concern that the packaging might contain BPA, rest assured it does not: we contacted the company and they let us know that the packaging is 100% BPA free. It's one of the best on the market right now, so we suggest giving it a shot!
4. Once Upon a Farm Refrigerated Baby Food Pouches. This is a new addition for this year, and were lucky enough to get our hands on several varieties of flavors and textures. This is different from the others on this list, as it requires refrigeration to stay fresh. This is for a few reasons. First, Once Upon a Farm doesn't use any preservatives in their formulation, not even citric acid or any other natural additive. Second, while the others on this list use high heat to pasteurize their purees, Once Upon a Farm uses the Cold Pressure process. Cold Pressure has similar effectiveness for ensuring food safety, but also allows foods to sustain more nutrients and flavor. This is all excellent, but the downside is that the pouches are perishable and require refrigeration. The upside is that these very well might be the best-tasting, and freshest tasting baby food pouches on the market. And there are a ton of varieties to choose from, increasing in the complexity of ingredients and textures. They start simple and smooth for 5+ month babies, for example the Fairest of Pears and Magic Velvet Mango are delicious and simple. They then get a bit more complex in ingredients as you increase in age, for instance going up to 9 months to the Strawberry Patch option which has amazing taste, but also a more compex texture with the inclusion of small bits of shredded coconut and chia seed. Going even older, they make some truly delicious options for toddlers 18+ months, such as the amazing Chocolate Ever After, which is basically a dessert puree of banana, raspberries, and cacao. There is a lot to love about this company as well. Fruits and veggies are sourced from California and Washington state, ingredients are organic, kosher, gluten-free, vegan, and non-GMO. The packaging is also recyclable and BPA free. So a lot of great things here, and the flavor and quality to back it all up. Highly recommended, and we suspect this option will be climbing our list over the years! The only drawback, and for some this will be a major convenience issue, is that the pouches need to be refrigerated. We did transport pouches for a few hours in our testing (in 60 deg weather and without an ice pack) and then feed them, which seemed fine. Any longer than that, and you'll need to keep them in the fridge or bring along an ice pack in your bag.
5. Amara Non-GMO, Organic Baby Food Pouches. This is a completely new addition to our list for 2017, and we're really excited about this new option. These baby foods come as a dry powder, which is a great option for parents who want flexibility in selecting whether to add breast milk, formula, water, or any other liquid ingredient of their choice. It's a fantastic way of increasing acceptance of the food by adding a familiar ingredient, and also a great way to ensure baby is getting the nutrients you want at mealtime. To be honest, we were a little put off by the dry powder at first, but were surprised at how truly amazing it was! We tried 3 different varieties, including Oats & Berries, Tropical Mango, and Apple-Maqui Berry. Just like with baby cereal, you take a measured amount of the powder and mix in the liquid of you choice. The resulting texture is surprisingly similar to the traditional jarred baby foods, and the taste is truly excellent. We were really impressed by the fact that each variety only includes raw ingredients, without any fillers (like water) or additives (like lemon juice as a preservative). For instance, the Oats & Berries version only includes organic oats, apple, banana, and blueberries. Because it's a dry powder, no preservatives are required to maintain freshness; however we are a bit concerned about the loss of nutritional attributes from the dehydration process. A great way to introduce first fruits and veggies, the varieties are available in stages starting at 6+ months, and going up to 8+ months, slowly introducing more complex flavors. Each pouch makes a good sized bowl of baby food, though it does end up quite a bit more expensive than jarred baby food. The Amara pouches average about $2.50 per large serving, and the jars are usually around $1.00 per serving. But for a great-tasting, organic, non-GMO, baby food without additives or preservatives, and allowing you to mix with your preferred liquid... maybe worth the cost! (FTC Disclosure)
6. Peter Rabbit Organics Baby Foods. The Peter Rabbit line of baby foods is a newcomer to the baby food market and is making a huge splash! They feature some delicious varieties, like strawberry banana, and carrot, squash, and apple puree. The adults raved about how delicious they were, and the babies really enjoyed them as well. One of the babies couldn't get enough of the strawberry and banana puree! My personal favorite was the raspberry, banana, and blueberry puree, which I ended up putting in the freezer for 10 minutes to make it taste like a smoothie! Made in Oregon, these are certified organic by Oregon Tilth, and are never diluted and never contain any added salt or sugar. The packaging is also BPA free, which is comforting given the stories about some other squeeze packages. The only negative is that they do not have staged varieties, so these are best positioned as a Stage 2 option, after your baby has tried a few simpler single-ingredient purees. We didn't have any issues with watery purees, and thought the flavors were true to life. And you can't deny that the packaging is pretty darn cute, which counts for at least a few points! Overall, we believe this is a fantastic option for babies that are ready to move along to Stage 2 eating.
Our #7 option is Plum Organics Stage 1 Baby Food, which is a truly excellent product but with a somewhat limited selection of fruit and vegetable purees. We encourage you to check them out, as we suspect they might be moving up the list in future years!