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Understanding the Different Baby Food Stages

Is your baby eyeing your meal? Here's a compact and easy-to-understand guide on which baby food to start with and what each stage entails. You've got this!

Understanding the Different Baby Food Stages

One day you have a newborn who's learning to burp, and then suddenly, they're sitting on your lap, reaching for your breakfast. Welcome to the world of trying to keep your food to yourself as your little one learns to chew, gag (a natural reaction), and swallow. 

Starting solids is a fun, explorative phase as you see your baby's reaction to new flavors and textures. If you're a foodie, you'll love introducing your youngling to various spices, herbs, and meals. But first, you may wonder which baby food to start with and seek to learn various puree baby food stages, as well as what baby-led weaning entails.

Here's a compact and easy-to-understand guide on feeding your baby. You've got this! 

Stage 1 purees: 4-6+ months

From 4-6+ months, you can start your baby on stage 1 purees made from steamed, soft-cooked foods or easy-to-mash fruits like avocado. The purees can gradually become chunkier and less mashed as your baby develops their ability to swallow. Stage 1 food is as follows:

  • Super smooth, creamy, and runny
  • Easy to swallow
  • One ingredient (or add a pinch of spice or herbs)

How long do you feed stage 1 baby food? That's entirely up to you and your baby. Puree their meal a little less than before, slowly introduce stage 2 purees, and see if they love it.

Stage 2 purees: 6+ months

Once your babe has explored the stage 1 foods, you're ready to mix it up! Stage 2 foods can be more adventurous and include combination ingredients. For stage 2 meals, plan the following:

  • Slightly thicker but smooth
  • Combination food like veg and proteins, or grains and fruit, etc.
  • Be experimental with varieties and colors

Stage 3 purees: 9+ months

Your baby is getting chunky, and so is their food. Now that your little foodie has tried vast flavors, you can introduce stage 3 foods:

  • Soft chewable chunks of food with a combination of ingredients
  • Easy to make as you can feed baby your dinner, just roughly mashed (and with no added salt)
  • For the baby advancing to chewing
  • New textures

Stage 4 finger or table foods: 10+ months

Now comes the natural progression to finger foods. From stage 4, your baby can start to eat a similar meal to the family, with small, easy-to-hold pieces of food. Developmentally, hand-feeding themselves is great for fine motor skills as your baby learns to pinch and pick up food. By this stage, your baby is well versed in chewing and can gnaw on corn off the cob or a slice of protein. Tips for baby food stages 4 table foods:

  • Cut food into long pieces around 2-3 inches, or chopped pea-size pieces
  • Include a range of consistencies (mostly soft-medium cooked)
  • Avoid hard foods at first
  • It's going to get messy!

Baby-led weaning: 6+ months

This phase is the same as offering finger foods but skipping the purees.

Baby-led weaning is an approach that encourages following your baby's natural feeding desire. It centers on the philosophy that a child is "developmentally capable of reaching for food and putting it in their mouths at about 6 months of age." 

Baby-led weaning is a self-feeding method that has the following advantages:

  • Independence for the child to pick up or spoon-feed themselves (soft items like oats or yogurt, not purees)
  • Exploration of textures and food colors through touch, sight, and taste
  • Prevents over-eating and lowers the risk of obesity
  • Reduces fussiness and promotes better diet quality
  • Boosts the development of motor skills
  • Easier to eat together as a family as parents are not feeding baby

Baby-led weaning has disadvantages like an increased risk of choking, so careful supervision is vital. 

It's your choice as the parent to decide what you're comfortable with for your baby's mealtime and whether you want to go straight to baby-led weaning or journey through the 4 stages. A fed baby is a happy baby!

Signs that your baby is ready for solids

Your baby should be fed solids when they show signs of readiness. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) do not recommend introducing solids before 4 months of age. 

Some developmental milestones that signal your baby's readiness for the world of food include sitting, controlling their neck and head, and being interested and curious about food. This may include grasping your food and bringing it to their open mouth. Another sign is that your baby can successfully swallow their food by transferring it from the front to the back of their tongue. If you've introduced food to your baby and they're struggling to do this, pause and try again in another week or two. 

Main takeaways for feeding your little one

  • From 6+ months, you can give your baby clean water to drink. Before this time, they receive their fluid needs from breastmilk or formula. Continue to give formula or breastmilk until your baby is around 12 months, as they are an important nutritional source. 
  • Cow’s milk or fortified soy drinks are not recommended until 12 months old, but other dairy products, like yogurt, are suitable.
  • The AAP recommends including foods that might cause allergies as an early introduction can be protective against food allergies. 
  • Include a wide range of foods; there is no correct order of what to introduce.
  • Remember, gagging is normal - but different from choking. Learn the difference!
  • Time save: Cook in batches and freeze individual puree portions for your baby's mealtime. 

Giving your baby the very best on your budget

At Save, we bring you great parenting tips, as well as financial and saving advice, so that you can focus on what matters - special time with your wild one. Our enlightening articles range from 10 Ways to Save Money on Baby Food and the Best Expense Tracking Apps to Easy DIY Sensory Bin Fillers for Babies. Fun, food, and frugal living will spark joy in your life. 

We know your little one means the world to you, and sometimes raising them costs the world too. But it doesn't have to. Sign up for Save's Coupon Book Finder for deals and coupons on baby necessities in your area.