Baby Food Stages Explained

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Most parents eagerly await the day they can start feeding their baby solid foods. However, the labels on most store-bought baby foods don’t clearly explain what each “stage” means, nor do they say when your child is ready for each stage. This can confuse parents and put them at risk for feeding their baby something they aren’t ready for yet.

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But that’s okay, because this guide will help you understand each of the three main baby food stages.


RELATED: How Food Impacts Early Brain Development

Stage 1 Foods

Stage 1 baby foods are the first step in your child’s solid foods journey. According to Verywell Family, you can start introducing these foods between the ages of 4 and 6 months, depending on your child’s readiness for solids.

Your child will not replace entire feedings with solids at this point, but you can begin to feed them small amounts of Stage 1 foods once or twice each day.

These foods are typically thin and smooth. They do not contain any chunks, and they are usually just a single ingredient. If needed, you can water them down even further by adding a bit of breast milk or formula to the food.

However, you should not mix different baby foods together. You also shouldn’t mix in things like juice or cow’s milk. You can either purchase store-bought Stage 1 foods or make your own at home.

Good options to start with include:

  • iron-fortified cereals
  • peas
  • sweet potatoes
  • pears
  • carrots
  • peaches
  • carrots
  • squash
  • applesauce

You can make your own baby food if you want. However, you will want to make sure to heat everything and use a kitchen appliance to purée the food. Otherwise, you can simply buy Stage 1 foods at nearly any grocery store.

Stage 2 Foods

Once your child is 7 or 8 months old and has been consistently eating Stage 1 foods for a while, you can move on to Stage 2 foods. While Stage 1 foods are mostly for exploration and sampling, many babies will begin consuming larger amounts of baby food once they move on to Stage 2.

Breast milk or formula should remain your child’s primary form of nutrition during this stage, but you may notice them decrease their milk intake slightly as they excitedly explore solid foods.

According to baby food manufacturer Nurture Life, Stage 2 baby foods are more complex than Stage 1 foods. For example, Stage 2 foods often contain two or more ingredients. They usually still include fruits or vegetables, but they also contain meats, grains, or legumes.

Also, Stage 2 foods are usually strained or blended, not pureed to the same degree as Stage 1 foods. In other words, they’re more flavorful and thick, which babies love.

Some additional flavors you may explore with your baby in Stage 2 foods may be:

  • Chicken or turkey
  • yogurt
  • berries
  • broccoli
  • mango
  • beets
  • black beans
  • chickpeas

Stage 2 foods are a little easier to make at home. However, most food manufacturers also make great Stage 2 baby foods.

Stage 3 Foods

Once your baby reaches 9 months of age, they’re usually ready for Stage 3 foods. Unlike the previous stages, babies are actually ready to enjoy most of the same items you are feeding the rest of the family by the time they start Stage 3.

They’re also able to self-feed a lot more, which makes things much easier on you!

According to BabyCenter, Stage 3 foods can be soups or stews, small chunks of food cut up enough to avoid a choking hazard. You should still cook all vegetables, though, and make sure anything you give them can easily be mashed in the mouth since babies are still getting in their teeth.

You can also do finger foods, especially ones that are made for infants. This helps them work on their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

At this point, babies can have almost everything. However, you’ll still want to avoid honey before 12 months of age. Also, make sure to cook vegetables and meats.

Moving On From Baby Food

Many parents wonder when they can move away from baby foods and start feeding their child what everyone else is eating. Although every baby is different, most are ready by the time of their first birthday.

To determine readiness for table food, look for your child’s ability to put food in their mouth, eat, and swallow without assistance. Just make sure you continue to monitor them carefully and consult your pediatrician if you notice any issues or signs of allergies.

Starting your baby’s journey with solid food can be exciting, but confusing at times. Just make sure you understand how to purchase baby foods and talk to your doctor about starting solids.

Sources: Verywell Family, Nurture Life, BabyCenter

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