When you first begin perusing the baby food aisle at your local grocery store, you’ll notice that the tiny, cute jars are labeled with various “stages” — but what do they mean and what do you feed your baby and when?
While all babies develop differently and there’s no hard and fast rule as to when you must start feeding your child solid or semi-solid foods, every new parent should educate themselves on what exactly the standard infant food stages are. Here’s a quick look at what they mean and what you can expect.
Stage 1 Baby Food
Stage 1 baby food is what you give your child when they just start to try thicker foods for the first time. Can you really even call food at this stage “food”? The jury is out, but whatever you call it, this is what your baby will start consuming when they’re ready for something more than formula.
Stage 1 baby food is thin and runny, there aren’t any chunks or pieces in it and it’s usually pretty simple. It’s made out of just one item, typically, like a fruit puree or a rice cereal. You can make Stage 1 baby foods at home, if you like, but they’re also readily available on the store shelf.
Generally, babies are ready for Stage 1 baby food around 6 months of age.
Stage 2 Baby Food
Stage 2 baby food kicks things up a notch, with thicker textures and more ingredients, introducing your baby to more complex flavors. Usually, your baby is ready for Stage 2 baby food when they’re around 7 to 8 months old.
Some children won’t necessarily want to transition to Stage 2 baby food, as it’s not what they’re accustomed to, but take it slow and both you and your baby will get the hang of it. Just like with Stage 1 baby food, you can make Stage 2 baby food at home, too, with just a bit of cooking and a blender.
This is also a time when you’ll want to try to expand your child’s palate as much as possible. Introducing them to a wide range of flavors when they’re just starting out with this Stage 2 baby food will reduce the likelihood that you end up with a picky eater on your hands in toddlerhood or adolescence.
Stage 3 Baby Food
When your baby is approaching their first birthday, they’re ready for Stage 3 baby food. Stage 3 baby food is quite a jump, as it often includes chunks or bits and pieces that your baby will need to “chew” as much as they can, with or without teeth. Sometimes, Stage 3 baby food also includes finger foods that dissolve easily (like Cheerio’s!).
This is a fun time to introduce your baby to food from your own plate, so long as it’s safe and easy to gum. Think very soft, mash-able foods, like mashed potatoes or mashed avocado. Just be sure that whatever you feed them isn’t overly seasoned — some spices can be overpowering for young palates.
Tips for Feeding Your Baby During Each Stage
Of course, feeding your baby is a lot more complicated than just looking at the “stage” label on a jar and going for it. You also have to take into account how much you’re feeding your baby, what you’re feeding them and more.
At 4 to 6 months, your baby may only be able to eat a few tablespoons of food at a time — and that’s okay! However, you may want to hold off on feeding them lots of new things at once, even as exciting as it is. Some pediatricians recommend only feeding your child one new thing a week; this makes it easier to identify allergens, if an allergic reaction occurs.
After 6 months, your baby can probably eat a lot more and they’re likely eating on a similar schedule to the rest of the family. Still, introducing new foods at this stage can be tricky. Be patient and, if your baby doesn’t seem to like a new food, introduce it again a few days later. It may just be a matter of getting them used to the new flavor or texture.
Once your child nears the 1-year-old mark, they’ll be eating likely three meals per day, plus snacks and a lot of what the rest of the family is eating.
Take it Slow and Make it Fun
Whatever stage your baby is in, remember that this is a brand-new experience for them. Take things slow, be patient and if you have any particular concerns, talk to your pediatrician.