Baby food stages: Baby eating tips from 4 - 12 months old

No more stress eating with your baby with this baby food guide

By Ashley N. Johnson
Baby food stages: Baby eating tips from 4 - 12 months old

Weaning: it's a sweet reprieve for many parents and babies who are ready for fuller tummies and longer stretches of sleep at night. If you're reading this then you’ve likely done a great deal of work with your baby already.  Nursing your baby around the clock, preparing bottle after bottle, or a combination of both is quite frankly tiring.  

Most parents look forward to introducing solid foods to their baby because it means finally getting to try a new way of feeding.  Also, it is a lot of fun! Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a picture or video of a baby responding to a new flavor and texture for the first time?  And if you can get a verbal reaction, such as an affirmative "Mmmmmm!!!!" from your baby, all the better!

 

The food options for weaning your baby are plentiful.  Thanks to the parents who went before us, pioneering the first frontier of trial and error when it comes to feeding a baby, virtually all of the guesswork about what to give and when to give it has been taken out of the equation. Whether you plan to go strictly organic, budget and sale food, or make your own, there are endless products out there to help you achieve the feeding goals you have in your mind.  

What age can baby start eating solids?

There are two leading recommendations about when your baby will be ready for solids.  The first is strictly not until 6 months old or after. This philosophy stems from the idea that babies should exclusively breastfeed or bottle feed until 6 months of age because of vitamin D deficiencies that are remedied by breast milk and formula. In theory, filling up on solid foods means filling up less on the milk or formula that has essential levels of vitamin D. 

 

The second school of thought on first food readiness is to watch your baby for signs of readiness.  Your baby might be showing signs of readiness of he or she:
 

  1. Can hold head up
  2. Can sit with (or without) assistance
  3. Acts interested in food
  4. Has doubled birth weight


Always follow the advice of your baby’s pediatrician first and foremost, but ultimately you will know best when your baby is ready for weaning.  

Baby food stages 1 - 4

There are four different stages of baby food available that coincide with your baby's developmental and physical abilities.  A baby always begins with stage 1 and progress through the other stages with physical growth and maturity over time, eventually reaching stage 4, the final stage. Let's take a look at the different stages individually.  

Stage 1

Source: Gerber

The consistency of Stage 1 food is very smooth, sometimes with added water or juice to make it more of a liquid, and free of all lumps. It is meant for babies who are just beginning the weaning process. Since babies typically start eating solids sometime between 4 and 6 months of age, it is important that the food they eat be as smooth as possible because babies this age may have few or no teeth. They also have been fed milk or formula exclusively, and may or may not even understand how to swallow something they did not suck out of a bottle or breast. The smooth texture of this beginner food makes it a safer choice for novice eaters of solids.

Stage 1 foods often come in smaller containers because babies who are new to eating solid food only need a small amount at a time.  A few spoonfuls of food will be plenty for a new eater. If you feed your baby Stage 1 food your baby may spit it out.  Some parents assume this means that he or she does not like the food, but its actually a baby tongue thrusting.  This is something that babies grow out of, especially with practice eating from a spoon. 

Your baby will likely be eating Stage 1 foods from about 4 months of age through 8 months of age, although babies differ slightly from month to month.

From 6 to 8 months of age, your baby should still be getting most of his or her nutrition from breastmilk or formula. Typically your baby would take about 2 tbsp of baby food at this age, although this number can vary in either direction without issue.

Stage 2

Source: Google cc

Stage 2 food is slightly thicker than stage 1.  It may contain small lumps to add new and interesting textures to foods, and to help your baby practice chewing, or gumming food if he or she does not yet have many or any teeth. Babies aged 8-10 months are typical candidiates for Stage 2.

 

You will know your baby is ready to move on to this stage when he or she is no longer spitting out food when eating in his or her high chair. If your baby is eating Stage 1 with ease, it might be time to change things up a bit and offer the new tastes and textures that Stage 2 foods have to offer.

 

Stage 2 food intentionally comes in slightly larger packaging because babies ready for this stage will eat a bit more than babies who are just starting out.  It is important to watch for signs of fullness in your baby, so as not to overfeed.  When your baby is finished eating, he or she will turn their head away, push an approaching spoonful of food away from their face, or maybe even sign or say "all done".  

Stage 3

Source: Gerber

Stage 3 baby food requires more skill, and appropriate physical development than the first two stages. Often Stage 3 foods contain chunks of cooked fruits, vegetables, meats, pasta, and rice.  Intended for babies between 10 and 12 months of age, Stage 3 requires some teeth, but not necessarily molars.  

 

Between 8 and 12 months of age, your baby will reduce milk and/or formula feedings to 3-4 times per day, increase the amount of pureed baby foods and also try safe finger foods such as puffs, toast strips, or teething crackers. Typically babies this age have refined their pincer grasp skills and are able to pick up small pieces of food between their thumb and index finger and bring it to their mouth. This is also the stage best for introducing meat, either pureed in other food or finely chopped into bite sized pieces.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is also called the "Toddler Stage",  it is the last stage of food for a growing child, beginning sometime around 18 months of age and progressing into the pre-school years, when presumably a child is self-feeding smaller portions of what older children and adults in the household are eating.  Spaghetti that has been cut into smaller pieces, vegetables that have been cooked or steamed, rice, beans, and meat cut into smaller pieces are examples of the kind of foods that a Stage 4 child can eat with utensils. 

Baby food chart

Below is a great visual representation for the progression of textures of food from Stage 1 all the way through Stage 4.  As your baby grows, he or she will presumably get better at eating and textures and types of food can change as needed.

First year feeding guide

Source: Gerber

There are numerous feeding guides on the internet for introducing solid foods in the first year.  Gerber brand baby food has their own adaptation of the classic Stages 1-4 available on their website.  These unique stages are clearly written and illustrated on Gerber food packaging,

The image below follows the tradition four stages and has a lot of great suggestions about what foods to introduce at each of the stages. The tips are worth the read as well.

Source: https://www.forbaby.co.nz/

Conclusion

With a little know-how, it is easy to find foods that are appropriate for your baby and his or her developmental age.  As modern parents, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the trailblazers that came before us and tamed the parental Wild West that was once figuring out what to feed your baby and when. To know if your baby is ready to begin weaning, either wait until the 6-month mark or watch for signs of readiness.  Use product labels, charts, and food manufacturer websites as your guide for the foods that are best at any given stage in your baby's development. Enjoy the process.  Your baby will only ever try their first foods once.  Also, you are cultivating their relationship with food for the rest of their life.  Give them a variety, make it fun, and make healthy eating a life-long habit that begins with those first, smooth and delicious bites. 

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