We know that babies are born with an ingrained preference for sweet and salty. However, the start of complementary feeding is a very sensitive and malleable period in an infant’s development. With the right exposure and experiences to a wide variety of healthy foods, he can and will develop lifelong healthy food preferences. Unfortunately, this also means that if an infant’s first exposures are limited to sugary processed foods, these can also enhance a lifelong preference to these foods. It is therefore important for caregivers to capitalize on this window of opportunity to introduce a wide variety of healthy nutritious foods and build healthy preferences. [4, 11, 14, 42, 50, 86] A spoonful is all that is required as this is about exposure to different tastes, not nutrition or to satisfy hunger (that is the role of milk in this early phase). [5, 13] The focus is very much on taste experiences and building the foundations for healthy preferences.
It is also a huge advantage that by the time that solids do play an important role for nutritional requirements  (somewhere between 6 and 7 months), he has a good grasp and preference for these foods. If all he has been exposed to up until this point is sweet fruit and infant cereal you are more likely going to struggle to transition to healthier, more nutrient-dense alternatives.
Be prepared. Starting solids is messy, it rarely goes as straightforward as parents would hope, and you can guarantee there will be bumps along the way! That said, it can also be a rewarding experience and a journey you can enjoy together as a family.
Step 1: Choose a time of day free of stress, when he is not overly hungry or tired. 
Step 2: Ensure he is sitting correctly: Upright, not slumped forward, off to one side or too far back. You may need to place some extra support around him, e.g. rolled-up towels or cushions. A footrest can also provide extra stability. If his legs don’t quite reach the footrest you can tape an old shoebox to the footrest in the interim. Also check the tray height. It should be sitting below his breastbone so his elbows can sit on the tray without being hunched. Again, you might need to sit him on a folded towel to lift him up a bit.
Step 3: Stimulate the senses. Eating is a sensory experience. In fact, without being aware, our digestion process starts long before the food touches our stomachs. Watching food being prepared, its smell and feel, and the anticipation of eating, all stimulate a response that signals the release of digestive juices (saliva), thus preparing the body for receiving food. So involve him in this process. Even if the food comes in a packet, talk about it—the smell, the color, its yummy goodness, where it comes from—and when possible have some in its physical form. Show him what a whole carrot looks like. And don’t forget to eat some yourself, smile, and describe it encouragingly.
Step 4: Choose a spoon. Ensure the spoon is small enough to fit in his mouth and flat enough that his lips can be used to suck off the puree. There are plenty of baby spoons on the market, so you might have to try a couple to find one that works for him.
Step 5: If he is getting agitated trying to sit up or use the spoon, stop there for the day. Remember, this is a learning experience for him and keeping it a positive and enjoyable one will pay dividends later! So if at any stage in the process the wheels come off, it is important not to show frustration but to praise him, and yourself, for getting this far and try again tomorrow. His emotional wellbeing  is equally important in his sensory journey as the food itself.
Step 6: Start small. Offer half a teaspoon of puree on the end of the spoon. Putting too much on the spoon in the initial stages can be frightening for him and difficult for him to swallow. Keep in mind that this is a sensory journey of tastes and experiences, not about nutrition. Don’t be tempted to scrape the top of the spoon on his upper lip. This encourages the tongue-thrust reflex (pushing food out) rather than sucking food to the back of the mouth. This is an important skill to learn to progress onto accepting different textures. If he struggles with this concept of sucking off a spoon right away you can try placing a little on a clean finger and offering him that first.
Trying something new is a challenge, even something as simple as eating. Like anything else new in their world, they will be looking to you for guidance and emotional support. They need to feel comfortable, familiar, and safe, in order to accept the new challenge and make it a happy experience. Therefore:
By 6 to 7 months, his nutritional needs can no longer be filled by milk alone and the inclusion of nutrient-dense foods  are a must. It becomes hugely apparent that capitalizing on the window between 5 and 6 months  to prime his palate with a wide variety of healthy savoury flavors pays dividends. To be able to hit the ground running at 6 to 7 months with him already accepting these nutritious foods will ensure his nutrient needs to optimize growth and development are met. Adequate nutrition to optimize growth and development will not come from apple puree and infant cereal ! Although milk remains an important component of his diet, so do nutrient-rich foods, high in iron  and zinc, and balanced in good sources of fats , proteins , and carbohydrates .
You only need to look around the world to see the wide variety of foods infants learn to eat as a normal part of the family diet. The difference between children who eat hot spicy foods and those who are happy to eat sour or bitter foods is repetitive exposure throughout the first 1000 days. Therefore, if you have traditional cultural foods that your family commonly eats, early repetitive exposure is the key. However, it’s important all that family foods fall within the nutrient guidelines  of low in sugar, salt, and saturated fats, and that you have no concerns with allergies  before introducing them.
We encourage a vegetables-first approach , then fruit and sweeter vegetables can also be introduced. Variation is the key to extend your baby’s palate to a wider range of taste experiences. Even though fruits are deemed as healthy and should be included in our diet, most still contain high amounts of sugar, in the form of fructose. It may be considered ‘healthier’ than highly refined sources, but at the end of the day, sweet is sweet, regardless of its source! Evolution has primed us with an innate preference for sweet, however, research has shown we can train healthy eating preferences toward a range of flavor profiles, including bitter and sour . We just need to provide our children with plenty of opportunities to do so [20, 21].
So, vegetables first, vegetables in repetition, and vegetables in a wide variety, with small amounts of fruit dispersed throughout. While it’s easy to offer the familiar banana and apple, try to also include sour fruits such as tart plums and tart apples.
Learning to eat a wide variety of textures is another crucial step in the transition to solid foods. Surprisingly, this introduction can occur much sooner than caregivers think. However, driven largely by the fear of infant choking, and caregivers not knowing what is normal gagging, the progress toward solids can be impeded. Add to this the sometimes false and confusing messages from puree products aimed at the older infant (8 to 9+ months) packaged in a convenient pouch, it’s no wonder parents reach for the easy option.
In actual fact, most babies are able to tolerate gradually thicker purees and then onto soft lumps within 1 to 2 weeks of starting solids. Again, every baby is different so follow their lead on this. Once he is tolerating the runny puree well, gradually make it less runny and more viscous. Watch for signs that he is able to move the food around in his mouth and/or starting to make chewing motions, especially if you give him a piece of finger food. You can offer well-cooked, very smooshy (easily squashed between your thumb and forefinger) finger foods such as pumpkin and sweet potato early on, providing you always watch for choking hazards and signs . Not only will this engage the senses and increase eye and hand coordination, but babies also get the benefits of different textures, which will expand his tolerance for increasingly lumpier textures.
It is important not to delay the introduction of appropriate textures as this can interfere with the development of essential chewing and oral motor skills. What’s more, studies have also shown that if the introduction of textures and soft lumpy foods are delayed beyond 9 months, it can increase food fussiness [43, 82]. The studies indicated that these children tended to have greater feeding difficulties, increased chances of food phobias, and overall lower consumption of fruit and vegetables through the toddler years and even as 7-year-olds . Prolonging the introduction of textures can also attribute to overeating as it is more difficult to pay attention to responsive feeding when food is rapidly swallowed (especially if eaten directly from a pouch and not off a spoon).
All FAQ [numbers] relate to our references and sources, click here to view.
Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only. Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.