Introducing Solids Safely: Dos and Don'ts

How to keep your baby safe when starting solids, and build foundations of healthy eating? We’ve got you covered with our list of dos and don’ts when starting solids.

Starting solids is an exciting milestone for your little one – they’re ready to embark on a journey of trying yummy foods! But how to keep your baby safe during this time, build foundations of healthy eating, and promote a future of food freedom? We’ve got you covered with our list of dos and don’ts when starting solids.

The Dos

  • Start solids when baby is developmentally ready.
  • Stick to softer foods.
  • Follow USDA Dietary Guidelines.
  • Introduce peanut and egg in baby-safe forms.
  • Water down smooth peanut butter (if you choose to give it).
  • Introduce common allergen foods early and often.
  • Feed baby lots of different safe textures.
  • Know the signs of gagging vs. choking.
  • Introduce safe finger foods.

DO: Start solids when baby is developmentally ready.

The exact timing that baby is ready for solids isn't based on how old they are or how much they weigh. Rather, your baby is ready for solids when they show certain developmental cues. 

Baby is ready for solids when they:

  • Can sit up with little to no support
  • Show control of their head (can hold their head up for an extended period of time)
  • Show interest in food (say, they might stare at your food intently or try to grab it off your plate)
  • Have lost the tongue-thrust reflex (their tongue no longer pushes food out of their mouth)

DO: Stick to softer foods.

Keep baby safe by sticking to softer foods. Hard foods are a choking hazard.

You'll need to cook many vegetables and fruits soft before feeding them to baby (this includes carrots and apples). 

DO: Follow USDA dietary guidelines.

Babies need lots of nutrients to support their rapid growth and brain development – and feeding nutritious solids helps them learn to choose and love these foods throughout their lives. But their tummies are small, so they can only eat so much. Make every bite count!

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for babies from birth to 2 years of age, this is what your baby's diet should look like when they start eating solids. 

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables – these should be prioritized
    • Ideally, every solids meal you feed baby should have at least one fruit or veggie.
  • Protein-rich foods, like meats, fish, beans, eggs, cow’s milk products, oatmeal, seed products, nut products, and/or soy products
    • Give baby at least one protein-rich food each day.
  • Baby-safe forms of common allergens
    • Start with peanut, egg, and milk, then add other allergens in.
    • Wait 2-3 days in between introducing each food for the first time, in case of an allergic reaction.
    • Feed baby each of these foods multiple times per week. Ready. Set. Food! makes this easy!
  • Whole grains
    • Feed these where possible.
  • Foods high in iron and zinc, like oatmeal
  • Foods without any added sugar
  • Foods that are low in sodium

We've rounded up a list of solids meals that meet USDA guidelines in our "What Baby Eats in a Day" article.

DO: Introduce peanut and egg in baby-safe forms.

Many sets of recent medical guidelines recommend feeding your baby common allergen foods early and often, in their first year of life, to promote healthier outcomes.

Based on the guidelines, peanut and egg are the two most important allergens to introduce. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) recommends, “peanut and egg should be introduced around 6 months of life, but not before 4 months," to give baby the best chance at a future of food freedom. So, be sure to introduce these foods, in baby-safe forms, starting between 4 and 6 months of age.

Baby-safe forms of peanut include peanut flour, peanut powder, and watered down smooth peanut butter.

Feeding baby-safe egg means cooking or baking it thoroughly and making sure all shells are removed. You can also mix baked egg powder with baby's food.

You’ll also need to feed baby peanut and egg consistently for the healthiest outcomes, as recent studies and medical guidelines have shown. This means feeding baby these foods multiple times per week for at least several months.

DO: Water down smooth peanut butter before feeding (if you choose to give it).

The only safe way to introduce peanut butter to baby is by watering down smooth peanut butter. Watering down the smooth peanut butter thins it out so it's safe for baby to handle. The same goes for smooth tree nut butters – always water them down before feeding them to baby.

As an alternative to watered down smooth peanut butter, you can use peanut flour or peanut powder instead.

DO: Introduce other common allergen foods early and often. 

Along with feeding baby peanut and egg, the AAAAI guidelines also recommend, “Other allergens should be introduced around [4-6 months of age].” These guidelines emphasize to parents and caregivers, “Do not deliberately delay the introduction of other potentially allergenic... foods." 

Milk is one of the most important allergens to feed baby, as it's one of the top three food allergens in young children (alongside peanut and egg.) But you'll need to give the milk to baby as a food, and not as a drink. This means feeding baby dairy foods, such as yogurt and soft cheeses. You can also mix milk, or milk powder, into foods. Whichever baby-safe way you choose, keep feeding baby cow's milk foods early and often.

And don't stop there. Be sure to introduce the other foods responsible for the most common food allergies in children: finely ground tree nuts (like almond, cashews, and walnuts), wheat, soy, and sesame. Ready. Set. Food! makes it easy to introduce 9 top allergens to babies regularly, and keep sustaining the needed exposure. 

DO: Feed baby lots of different safe textures.

Baby needs to be exposed to lots of different safe textures so they can build confidence in munching, chewing, and swallowing. Munching, chewing, and swallowing are learned skills – baby needs to practice them to eat safely. Plus, giving baby a variety of different textures now primes them to eat many nutritious foods in the future. 

This means giving baby many different thicker and chunkier textures, as well as safe finger foods, as baby masters different types of foods. But you'll still need to make sure all the foods you give are soft.

DO: Know the signs of gagging vs. choking.

Gagging is a natural reflex baby's body has to keep them safe. You should leave baby alone if they gag, and let their body work out the food on its own.

But choking means baby is in danger and you'll need to intervene.

How to tell the difference between gagging and choking? 

  • Gagging is a loud reflex, but choking is silent.
  • If baby is gagging, they will cough or sputter. But if baby is choking, they will struggle to cough (or won't cough) and will have trouble breathing.

DO: Introduce safe finger foods.

Whether you're doing baby-led weaning or starting with purees, you should introduce finger foods before 9 months of age. This way, baby won't reject finger foods because they're afraid of gagging. 

Babies need to get used to gagging every once in a while, because gagging is a perfectly normal way that their bodies protect them from choking. But near their first birthday, babies start acquiring fears. Babies could start to fear gagging and finger foods if these foods aren't introduced early enough.

Baby-led weaning means starting finger foods right away when baby is ready for solids. If you aren't using this approach, you can either:

  • Start thicker purees and finger foods at the same time (after baby masters thin purees.) 
  • Introduce finger foods when baby has mastered chunky purees, or just before 9 months of age –whatever comes first.
  • How to introduce finger foods safely? Just like with all solids you feed baby, you’ll need to stick to softer foods, and cook hard fruits and veggies to soften them up.

    Cut up fruits, veggies, meats, and cheeses into thin long strips. This makes these foods easier for baby to pick up and manage, and helps prevent choking. You could also chop foods into small (but not chunky) pieces. 

    Here’s more on how to safely introduce finger foods, along with the best finger foods to introduce.

    The DON'TS

    • DON’T wean baby off of breastmilk or formula completely.
    • DON’T give hard foods.
    • DON’T feed round foods. 
    • DON’T give cow’s milk as a drink. 
    • DON’T feed whole nuts.
    • DON’T feed nut butter in lumps or directly from a spoon.
    • DON’T feed baby hot dogs.
    • DON’T give baby foods with added sugar. 
    • DON’T give honey under age 1.

    DON'T wean baby off breastmilk or formula completely.

    Breastmilk and formula are truly made for your baby, and should continue to be your baby's primary food source. At this age, solid foods just can’t replace the optimum levels of vitamins and proteins that breastmilk or formula provides. So, keep breastfeeding or formula feeding throughout your baby's first year of life, in addition to starting solids when they’re ready.

    DON'T give hard foods.

    Hard foods are major choking hazards that baby isn't ready for. Avoid feeding baby these hard foods: 

    • Raw carrots
    • Raw apples 
    • Raw celery
    • Raw broccoli 
    • Other hard, raw fruits and vegetables 
    • Pretzels
    • Chips
    • Popcorn (it could have hard, unpopped kernels inside)
    • Candies and sweets (baby doesn't need added sugar anyway!)

    You can make many hard fruits and veggies safe for baby by cooking them soft.

    DON'T feed round foods.

    Avoid feeding baby round foods, as they are also choking hazards. Round foods can easily get lodged in baby’s throat.

    Don't feed baby any of these round foods when they are uncut:

    • Blueberries
    • Grapes
    • Cherry tomatoes
    • Cherries
    • Raspberries
    • Blackberries
    • Strawberries
    • Meatballs

    If you cut these foods, though, you can safely feed them to baby.  Cutting these foods removes the choking hazard.

    • Cut fruits and veggies into quarters.
    •  Crumble up meatballs. 
    • Remove the pits and stems from cherries before cutting them into quarters.

    DON'T give cow's milk as a drink.

    Giving babies cow's milk to drink isn't a good idea. Cow's milk doesn't have the same vitamin and mineral balance as breastmilk or formula, and can't properly replace them in a baby's diet. Drinking cow's milk would fill baby's stomach up quickly, meaning baby won't have nearly as much room in their diet for breastmilk, formula, and solids. Don't give cow's milk as a drink until your baby turns one year old.

    As we've covered above, it's still vital to introduce cow's milk in foods before age 1.

    DON'T feed whole nuts.

    It’s vital to introduce peanuts and tree nuts to your baby, but you must never give them whole nuts. Whole nuts are choking hazards, and are unsafe for kids under 4 years of age.

    Chunky nut butters are also unsafe for children under 4 years old, because they contain hard nut pieces.

    DON'T feed nut butter in lumps or directly from a spoon.

    Lumps of nut butter also pose a choking hazard. And nut butter fed directly from the spoon is yet another choking risk. Both of these are unsafe to give children under 4 years old. So, don’t feed baby peanut butter or tree nut butter straight from the jar.

    If you want to feed these nut butters to baby, only give watered down, smooth nut butter. And as we’ve discussed earlier, nut flour and nut powder are other safe ways to introduce your baby to peanut and tree nuts.

    DON'T feed baby hot dogs.

    Hot dogs are very dangerous for babies – in fact, you shouldn't give them to any child under 4 years of age. Hot dog pieces are large and rounded when someone bites them off. A piece of a hot dog could easily get stuck in your child's throat, and block their airway. And you can't remove the choking hazard if you cut a hot dog into small pieces – the skin always poses a choking risk.

    DON'T give baby foods with added sugar.

    Babies have no room in their diet for added sugars, because they need lots of nutrients for their rapidly-growing bodies. Their appetites and tummies are too small! Feeding sugary foods takes up space that could be filled with nutritious foods – foods with the needed proteins, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats. So, read labels carefully and avoid foods with added sugar. 

    DON'T give honey under age 1.

    You also can't safely sweeten baby's foods with honey. Honey is dangerous for infants under age 1. Honey contains bacteria that can cause a rare but serious illness in babies – botulism. Toddlers, older children and adults have mature enough digestive systems to eat honey without the botulism risk. But babies younger than a year old are vulnerable to botulism because their digestive systems aren't mature enough to handle the bacteria. 

    Never feed honey to infants under 1 year of age.


    All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

    These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  

    See the FDA Peanut Allergy Qualified Health Claim at the bottom of our homepage.

    All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

    These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.