For nearly the past century, many families in the Western world have automatically reached for jarred (or in more recent years, pouched) baby food when it comes time to introduce solid food to their infants. While there are certainly some brands that are more nutritious than others, in truth there is no reason not to simply share whatever food the rest of the family is enjoying for their meal.
Avocados, bananas, and cooked sweet potatoes are a great place to start, but many soft fruits or cooked vegetables can be mashed, mixed with a little breast milk or formula, and shared with your little one. Not only does this set the stage for healthy choices later in life, but your baby then takes part in the family mealtime experience, which is priceless.
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:00] Agatha: Hi, I'm Agatha Luso, mother of four.
[00:00:08] Dr. Greene: And I'm Alan Greene.
[00:00:09]Agatha: Podcast. Mom's driven.
[00:00:11] Dr. Greene: Dr. Aligned.
[00:00:12] Agatha: So welcome to our podcast. Today we're going to be talking about starting solid foods.
[00:00:18] Dr. Greene: At a big, new phase in a baby's life.
[00:00:20] Agatha: Yes. So, there's a lot of debate on what age to start solid foods on kids, four months, six months old.
[00:00:27] Dr. Greene: So, my take is a little different than most people. And my take is that for a breastfed baby, they're getting different flavors every time that they eat, because part of what mom eats, the flavors come through into the food as teaching kids already to like vegetables. If mom's eating vegetables, they're getting perfect nutrition for a baby and there's really no rush, so I would wait until the child is kind of demanding. I want food too, which is usually around six months.
[00:00:55] Agatha: Yeah. That's when I started solids with our kids. I was lucky enough to be able to produce enough breast milk for our children, and I kept them on breast milk until six months old. But if I thought about what I was eating, and that it's coming through the breast milk and the flavors, they probably would have ate a little less, you know, Chinese food and a little bit more of green smoothies.
[00:01:19] Dr. Greene: It wasn't that long ago, in a study, but they took women who did not like carrots and had not eaten carrots during pregnancy or during nursing. And then they had them drink carrot juice 12 times during nursing. And then the other half of the women didn't. And then they waited for the babies were eating solids and introduced pureed carrots.
[00:01:36] And the babies who had had carrot juice in their breast milk recognized and enjoyed carrots in the first bite, but the ones who didn't, none of them did.
[00:01:46] Agatha: Wow, that's amazing.
[00:01:47] Dr. Greene: It wasn't too late to learn like carrots, but they already noticed that flavor was a safe, good flavor because mom had been eating it.
[00:01:53] Agatha: So, when you're starting solid food with your kids, they can already like foods through having it either when their moms were pregnant or through the breast milk
[00:02:04] Dr. Greene: Or through breast milk, and even just seeing parents eat it.
[00:02:06] Agatha: So, what mom eats during nursing really make a difference. What about during pregnancy?
[00:02:12] Dr. Greene: Yeah. Babies have more taste buds before they're born than any other time in life. They have taste buds, not just on their tongue, but the roof of the mouth, on their gums, there's taste buds everywhere. So why would they go to the trouble to make all these complex structures then disappear before they're born? And the answer is that they are drinking amniotic fluid before birth, and it's basically like a soup. The flavors that mom's been eating get into the amniotic fluid and it's been studied, and babies can learn to like a flavor just from mom eating it during pregnancy.
[00:02:43] Agatha: Wow, that's amazing. I mean, I wish I knew that when I was pregnant. I ate super healthy and organic, you know, during all their pregnancies, but if I knew that, is that throughout each trimester or...
[00:02:55] Dr. Greene: It's especially the third trimester that's been studied, but the sense of smell comes really early on. And maybe smelling food, early conditioning to be familiar to that just hasn't been studied yet.
[00:03:06] Agatha: So at least if mom's started in the third trimester eating everything, then the babies will come out enjoying and loving all those food.
[00:03:14] Dr. Greene: And we should get back to timing of starting solids too. We got ahead of ourselves. So for breastfed kids when they're demanding it, but for kids who are getting formula, even though today's formulas are some of the best that have ever been in history, it's still a processed food and it's so one flavor every single time, and it doesn't have the complexity of breastmilk.
[00:03:36] And for them getting some real foods from the diet could be great. And so I would suggest when they start looking interested in what you're eating, usually around four months, so a little bit earlier and, but look at your kid, not, not the calendar in terms of deciding when to do it, because their body tends to know..
[00:03:52] Agatha: That's really interesting that I never thought about that; the breast milk versus formula. So, if your kids are on formula, it's good to start introducing the flavors earlier on.
[00:04:02] Dr. Greene: Yeah, I really like that because one of the biggest things you can do is introduce them to a lot of flavors before they learn to walk.
[00:04:08] If you haven't listened to our "Picky Eating" podcast, go back and listen to that one.
[00:04:11] Agatha: Yeah, that's fascinating.
[00:04:13] Dr. Greene: There was another really interesting study that was published last year where they went archeologically and looked at the isotopes in the fossils of people from the neolithic period, about 8,000 years ago, to find out how long they breastfed and when they started solids, and it turns out they started solids about six months.
[00:04:31] Agatha: So, four to six months old, if you're starting solid foods, the recommendation would be pureed food. Correct?
[00:04:38] Dr. Greene: Well, whose recommendation? That is the most common thing...
[00:04:43] Agatha: Well, what do you recommend between four and six months old?
[00:04:47] Dr. Greene: So I might...
[00:04:47] Agatha: Of how to introducing the foods to the kids.
[00:04:49] Dr. Greene: So my favorite way for the first meal, for generations, a couple of generations since World War II, the number one's first food was white rice cereal, which is super refined, turns to glucose in the mouth before its even and it causes blood sugar spikes. I think it's a really bad choice, but I love for that first bite of food to use something that is a real food, to pick something like an avocado or a banana or a cooked sweet potato and let the baby see the food. Let them see you peeling it or opening it.
[00:05:25] Take out a little bit of it soft and then mash it up with a little bit of breast milk or formula. You have a bite, so they see you eating it and then feed them a bite as well. So, the first meal is a family meal of food that comes from the produce aisle or from a farmer's market.
[00:05:38] Agatha: I love that! That's such a great idea and getting them involved right from the beginning of meal prep and seeing it.
[00:05:45] Dr. Greene: Exactly because they imprint on the source of food on a texture on its own. It doesn't need to be reliably thin or smooth...
[00:05:53] Agatha: And it doesn't have to be completely pureed. And I love mixing the formula or the breast milk with the food as well.
[00:05:59] Dr. Greene: Yup.
[00:05:59] Agatha: And there's a whole new movement of baby-led weaning. Can you explain to everyone what baby-led weaning is?
[00:06:06] Dr. Greene: So in a nutshell, the way that people talk about it, this started in 2010 and with a book, it was around a little bit before that, but it became popular in 2010 and the idea was to skip all of the pouches and purees and jars and instead put some foods out in front of the baby on a tray and let them explore and eat the amount they want to eat and eat the things that they want to eat. And you set what's there in front of them and they pick what stuff they want to put in their mouth.
[00:06:32] Agatha: And is it mashed up or is it sliced up or how do you prepare and put the foods in front of the baby?
[00:06:38] Dr. Greene: People do it different ways. They will sometimes put stuff that is mashed up and that they can do, but they often will wait until they're a little bit older so that they can handle it and then pick things that are soft enough or grainy enough like Cheerios people use because they have a little ring in them so kids can't choke on them if they inhale it too quickly.
[00:06:59] Agatha: Right. I feel like I did baby-led weaning naturally with our four children, but I also had the pureed foods involved and I, I love this whole new movement of not involving pureed food because one, I think that it eliminates texture problems later on for children and they get to taste and feel the textures and the natural flavors of food and how they are, which is great.
[00:07:26] Dr. Greene: So, yeah, so there are a lot of things about baby-led weaning I really like. I love that it relies on real food instead of packaged food. I think getting kids imprinted on that early on is powerful and good.
[00:07:38] Agatha: And also just skipping that whole step of pureeing it… is easier work.
[00:07:42] Dr. Greene: …is easier work. Yeah, for sure. That's a nice thing. And letting them set the amount is brilliant because babies are born with this really precise mechanism of knowing exactly how many calories to eat, unless you override that or trick that somehow by trying to get one extra spoonful in or give them junk food.
[00:07:58] Agatha: And that's, I think, I think a lot of parents do that. We always want to like one more bite, one more bite, right?
[00:08:03] Dr. Greene: And it eliminates that which is great.
[00:08:05] Agatha: But children know how much they need to eat. So, we should trust our own children's instincts about when to stop eating. If they start throwing food around, that's probably a sign that they're not even hungry.
[00:08:16] Dr. Greene: Yeah. Whichever method you use, let kids set how much to eat. That's really, really key.
[00:08:21] Agatha: I love that.
[00:08:21] Dr. Greene: Because we do not want to shorts... I wish I still knew exactly when to stop eating my body and, and I'm better at that now than I used to be. But I lost that from early on as a kid. And we don't want our kids to lose that. We want them to feel full and be done.
[00:08:36] Agatha: Right. Yeah.
[00:08:37] Dr. Greene: But having said all those positive things about baby-led weaning, it's only been around since you know, the last 10 or 20 years, and we don't know how those kids are going to relate to food when they grow up yet. I mean, I have a good idea. It's better than the way most kids are being raised because of all those positive things of real food and sending the right amount, but it's not the way that most humans have been fed.
[00:08:59] And I kind of think that feeding is something humans got right during a lot of history. You know, I mentioned before about the meal at the period we know that they started eating solids around six months. The other thing we found back then, some of the oldest human artifacts in existence that they found baby spoons.
[00:09:18] Agatha: Wow!
[00:09:19] Dr. Greene: Some of the oldest human artifacts that we were spoon feeding babies, and these were carefully made spoons. They estimated it took 25 hours to make one by a master craft person, and they were made from cow bone and had a little shallow thing in there and they were really a lot of expertise and care went into making them, and they're still had little marks on them. They could tell that they were used for babies and they could tell that they were used with a porridge.
[00:09:43] They were using an animal milk cow or goat milk and a grain, probably barley. And so they were spoon-feeding basically a puree as far back in human history as we know.
[00:09:52] Agatha: And perhaps it was soups and stews, like a lentil soup.
[00:09:57] Dr. Greene: Well, if you go to, in the Amazon basin, there are tribes there where that's the first food is they'll take this one stewpot and they put in it a bunch of different vegetables and some fish and the babies eat the liquid with a spoon and the other part, mom choose to make it basically a puree and then kisses it into the baby's mouth, which to me sounds kind of gross, but it's the way most humans were fed.
[00:10:24] Agatha: Wow.
[00:10:24] Dr. Greene: It's been found on every continent. That's the way it was done in ancient Egypt. That's the way the Romans did it.
[00:10:29] Agatha: I love having conversations with you because I always learned something new. That's really interesting.
[00:10:33] Dr. Greene: That's the way native Americans did it here in North America until around World War II, when American doctors said, stop doing that, it's dangerous. There were also saying don't breastfeed because it's dirty, but mom's saliva is loaded with antibodies and a good microbiome, and it may be a good way to do it. So has a long human history. In Europe, it was three things that kids got for the last thousand years. They got a grain that was softened with a liquid of porridge of some kind.
[00:11:01] They got food that mom chewed that was usually a protein, something like meat, and then they had mashed foods. And I don't think that, to me, because I didn't grow up with it, I don't love the idea of the pre-chewing, but I wouldn't object if somebody did it as long as they are healthy. But the idea of mashing food yourself is great.
[00:11:19] And the idea of putting out things that they can do with your hands is great. And I do like the idea of a whole grain porridge.
[00:11:26] Agatha: Right. A whole grain porridge. Cause we, you mentioned, you know the white cereal...
[00:11:30] Dr. Greene: Right.
[00:11:30] Agatha: That most of us parents feed our children.
[00:11:33] Dr. Greene: Yeah. And I think that was a really bad idea. And actually this is a long story, but I believe that was the root of the childhood obesity epidemic
[00:11:41] Agatha: The white rice cereal?
[00:11:42] Dr. Greene: The white rice cereal.
[00:11:44]Agatha: So what cereal do you recommend instead of the white rice cereal?
[00:11:46] Dr. Greene: I'd rather they have real oatmeal.
[00:11:48] Agatha: Oh, real oatmeal. Yeah. That is a better choice for children.
[00:11:51] Dr. Greene: But it doesn't have to be a separate baby food, per se. Baby foods, they're convenient and nice for a lot of reasons, but they didn't exist before about 1920. What kids ate was the porridge that the adults ate, the oatmeal or whatever it was, and they ate the foods that the parents ate, chewed up or mashed. And I'm a big fan of taking a little baby food mill and they're pretty inexpensive and taking mostly whatever you're eating, putting it in, mashing it up a little bit to a texture they can do and this feeding whatever's for dinner.
[00:12:20] Agatha: Yeah. That's what I used to do with our children. With the whole white rice cereal, and it's just fascinating to me. I know that there's a lot of parents that feel like their babies have to go to bed with a full tummy.
[00:12:34] Dr. Greene: Right.
[00:12:34] Agatha: And they love doing it as a meal-time before bed, or even putting cereal in milk. And that's like a no, no. Right?
[00:12:42] Dr. Greene: Yeah, that's definitely a no no. For a couple of reasons. One, that short circuits that their ability to tell how many calories are getting and right away if kids get cereal in the bottle, they're much more likely to end up overeating later on in life. So that's a really good reason not to do it.
[00:12:56] I think it's worth taking us one step back at least and talking about we feed kids baby food or feed babies food, not to see what they like, but to teach them what to like. As babies are born and will imprint on the foods that they see and are exposed to enough times. Those who become the flavors that they love.
[00:13:18] Agatha: And what we've learned from the picky eating podcast is that we have to introduce those foods before they start walking.
[00:13:25] Dr. Greene: That's right. And you can start prep...
[00:13:26] Agatha: Salads are so important...
[00:13:28] Dr. Greene: They're super important. So that's one of the big goals is variety early on. And there was this great study done where they took kids and asked the mom, what's this child's least favorite food. Peas was the number one answer. Oh, not popular with kids. And then they said, what we want you to do is to just do one bite a day for the next week. And if they make a face, don't try to feed them anymore. But just one bite and a week later, 85% of them loved peas with just one week and one bite a day. And imagine if you did that with a dozen vegetables, you could do that. And then you have kids that love a dozen vegetables.
[00:14:04] Agatha: That's amazing.
[00:14:04] Dr. Greene: Right?
[00:14:05] Agatha: Yeah.
[00:14:06] Dr. Greene: And 70% of those still loved it when they were tested a year later in the neophobia phase, the picky eater phase, and they still loved it even though they hadn't been served in between because the parents didn't eat peas.
[00:14:18] Agatha: I wish I had this conversation before we had our first children. I mean, our kids are such amazing eaters.
[00:14:23] Dr. Greene: They are.
[00:14:23] Agatha: Yeah. And what about introducing allergens early on along with the first solids? What I found interesting, what you said earlier is like mixing sweet potatoes with milk. And I remember when I was in Singapore, early on, I saw a mom mixing almond butter with breast milk, and this is 10 years ago, and she said that her doctor said that the breast milk will protect the baby from having any allergic reactions to the almonds or...
[00:14:54] Dr. Greene: Definitely decreases the odds greatly. Yeah. So just like the body is learning what foods to like, the body's also learning what things to react against, and so it's trying to figure everything that you get exposed to early on in that first year, you're much less likely to develop an allergy to.
[00:15:11] So it's a really good thing to experience the various allergens out there. So almond butter is great. So, when you do start the allergenic foods, you want to make sure, ideally you're still breastfeeding, because if you're still nursing, even if it's not the same time, you're less likely to develop an allergy to it.
[00:15:27] You don't want it to be the dominant calorie. They are the source of food that you're getting. So I wouldn't feed the baby just almond butter for several days, and you want to do it when you're not sick or on antibiotics when you've got some...
[00:15:40] Agatha: And why not when you're sick and on antibiotics?
[00:15:41] Dr. Greene: Because then the whole protein might get into your bloodstream. You might make antibodies to it and develop an allergy, much easier to develop an allergy or you're sick.
[00:15:49] Agatha: So if you're on antibiotics or if you're sick, you could develop an allergy if you're eating an allergen food.
[00:15:54] Dr. Greene: That is true.
[00:15:55] Agatha: Wow.
[00:15:56] Dr. Greene: But it's especially true in that first year.
[00:15:58] Agatha: That's amazing. I had no idea.
[00:16:00] Dr. Greene: And to be fair, that hasn't been studied in a prospective trial in humans yet, but it has been studied in animals and a prospective randomized trial, and it fits with everything we know about how allergies develop.
[00:16:12] Agatha: So, if we want to introduce the allergen foods, make sure the kids are healthy and do a little bit at a time.
[00:16:17] Dr. Greene: Right.
[00:16:18] Agatha: During breast milk is best…
[00:16:220] Dr. Greene: and before the first year. And kids who get fish several times in the first year are less likely to develop any allergies in the first 11 years, they've been followed so far.
[00:16:29] Agatha: Wow!
[00:16:29] Dr. Greene: And one of our future podcasts, we're going to have Dr. Kari Nadeau, on the Sean N Parker Allergy Center at Stanford who is...
[00:16:35] Agatha: I Love Kari! She's helped me so much through our kids' allergies. We so excited to…
[00:16:39] Dr. Greene: …have her. And she's absolutely brilliant the cutting edge on food allergies.
[00:16:42] Agatha: Yeah.
[00:16:42] Dr. Greene: But she's a strong advocate of starting this. When I wrote the book, Feeding Baby Green, about how to get kids to start solids and start off the publisher held it back because I was recommending that you introduce allergens early and they didn't like the idea.
[00:16:55] Agatha: That's crazy! And how many years ago was that?
[00:16:57] Dr. Greene: The book came out 2008 so that was 12 years ago now. But that was when they finally said, okay, there's enough evidence. But it was before that that I was teaching that.
[00:17:05] Agatha: I've learned so much from this podcast. What are the three main takeaways?
[00:17:11] Dr. Greene: Okay. This one, I'm going to cheat a little bit. First starting solids. I have three do’s and three don’ts.
[00:17:16] Agatha: Okay.
[00:17:17] Dr. Greene: Okay. Do number one: make your baby's first meal a family meal. Do number two: make your baby's first food a real food. And do number three: give your baby as broad a variety of foods experiences as you can. Taste, textures, sites.
[00:17:33] Agatha: I love all those three do's, especially making the first meal, a family meal. I'm a big believer in starting healthy rituals with children.
[00:17:41] Dr. Greene: In the variety bit, the only thing that you want to avoid are foods that might make them sick, like raw, unpasteurized dairy or raw fish or things they might choke on. So, pay attention to the textures.
[00:17:53] Agatha: And I love when you mentioned the Cheerio with a hole in it.
[00:17:55] Dr. Greene: Yeah.
[00:17:56] Agatha: Because they can't choke on that.
[00:17:57] Dr. Greene: The lifesaver candy was invented because sour ball candies were a leading cause of death in babies and young children, and they would choke on it, and so they'd put the hole in there to literally save lives. I don't recommend giving lifesavers.
[00:18:09] Agatha: But yeah, it's amazing.
[00:18:10] Dr. Greene: Yeah. And three don’ts. We've got the three do's, three don’ts.
[00:18:13] One: don't wait three to five days between new foods! There's no evidence that decreases allergies. There's no evidence that it does anything except teach pickier eating later on down the road. Mix it up with variety. Number two: don't delay foods to avoid allergies. Better to introduce them early. And number three: don't give up even their least favorite food you try, they could come to love in just a week.
[00:18:38] Agatha: Perfect. One thing I do want to emphasize and just mention quickly as you just said, you know, don't wait between three to five days to introduce new foods. When you are introducing new foods, should you just introduced, let's say a banana for that one meal, or is it okay to mix ingredients right away from the start?
[00:18:54] Dr. Greene: It's fine to mix ingredients right away from the start. You want to give them the pure food some, so they get to know that flavor and texture. But mixtures are great too. The only downside is that they did develop a rash or allergic symptoms, it takes a little detective work to figure out what it was, but it's not that hard. And teaching variety, it's worth way more than that little bit of a pain.
[00:19:11] Agatha: All right. Perfect. Thank you so much Dr. Greene for today.
[00:19:15] Dr. Greene: Thank you, Agatha.
[00:19:16] Agatha: Stay tuned for the next podcast.