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After months of breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, it can be surprising to realize that your still-tiny baby is actually ready for “real” food.
This exciting (albeit messy!) transition may be a little bittersweet, and can feel overwhelming, but we’ve rounded up some of the best baby foods out there to help you get started on the right foot — er, spoon.
Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. Formula-fed infants are ready to start solid foods when they start showing signs they’re ready.
In some cases you may start solids around 4 or 5 months, but it’s best to discuss this with your pediatrician. If your doctor doesn’t have a different recommendation, most babies are ready to start soft or puréed foods by the time they are about 6 months old.
If you’re picking commercially prepared baby food (versus making your own), it’s a wise to start with simple, one-ingredient baby food. Most commercial baby food is labeled stage 1, 2, or 3 based on the texture and number of ingredients.
For instance, stage 1 baby food is the smoothest texture and typically has one ingredient (such as puréed pears). So for your 4- to 6-month-old, you’ll want to start with stage 1 baby food.
Starting with one food at a time helps you monitor for any adverse reactions or food allergies. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) recommends monitoring each food for 3-5 days.
There isn’t really a perfect first food — the choice is yours! Some good places to start include infant cereal (preferably oat or whole grain), meat purées such as chicken or turkey, or single ingredient purées of fruits or veggies.
If you’re debating whether to start with fruits or veggies first, the AAP suggests that an infant’s preferences for sweets won’t budge even if veggies are introduced first. Mashed peas just don’t taste as good once you’ve had applesauce.
We chatted with pediatricians, read the research, polled real-life parents, read reviews, and used our own babies as taste testers (although we can’t say their opinion on nutritional value is very authoritative) to bring you some of the top baby food brands available.
Best overall jarred baby food
These simple, affordable baby food jars are an all-around fan favorite. They come in recyclable glass jars and are available in both natural and organic options. Beech-Nut’s blends come in every stage, from single-ingredient foods for brand-new eaters (like butternut squash and plum), up to multi-food blends with chunkier textures for older babies.
The ingredients in Beech-Nut baby foods are simple and straightforward, with no artificial additives. Plus, these little glass jars are also available at most grocery stores, making them easy to find. And while it’s great for recycling purposes, glass can be dangerous — always supervise your little one around glass.
Best organic baby food pouches
If sustainability, organic foods, and non-GMO ingredients are important to you, Plum Organics has a great line of baby food options to try!
Their BPA-free pouches are super convenient, and available in a variety of fruits, veggies, and grains for each stage of eating. There are no added salts or sugars, which keep these foods healthy and simple for baby’s maturing digestive system. They’re also widely available, and can be purchased in bulk for greater savings.
And, while using pouches exclusively is definitely discouraged by feeding experts, there’s no denying they are very convenient for occasional on-the-go feedings. To make sure your baby is still progressing in their journey through solid foods, try squeezing the pouch contents into a spoon. And be sure to watch out for the small plastic caps as they’re a choking hazard.
Best budget-friendly baby food
Gerber is the classic baby food brand, and they’ve made changes over the last few years to make their food more health conscious (e.g., starting an organic line). Yet they have maintained their status as one of the most affordable prepared baby food brands on the market.
You can find benefits like glass jars, organic ingredients, and a wide variety of food choices without the cost of some of the other brands on our list.
Best baby food for constipation
Sometimes babies get a little constipated when they are beginning their solid food journey (especially if they are eating a lot of dairy or iron-fortified cereal). In addition to continuing breast milk, some foods that may help relieve your little one’s digestive discomfort include all of the “P” fruits.
So prunes, pears, plums, and peaches are some options to help keep tiny bowels on the move. You can find great fruit purées in any brand on our list, but one of the more cost-effective is the Gerber brand. The good news is that most babies love fruit, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get your little one to down some prunes or pears.
Best organic jarred baby food
Another great organic baby food option, the Happy Family company offers their organic baby food jars at most stores (although not quite as widely as Beech-Nut and Plum Organics).
Happy Baby jars offer a wide variety of foods, from kale and mango to spinach and peaches and chia seeds. You can start with their single-ingredient jars (which is important for ruling out allergies, as well as to help baby learn to like spinach even when it’s not disguised by pears), and move on to their fruit/veggie blends as your little one grows.
High-quality ingredients, creative flavors, and no artificial ingredients all make Happy Baby Organics a solid (no pun intended) choice.
Best baby food subscription service
For a variety of reasons, you may have concerns about jarred baby food, but not have time to make your own at home. Enter fresh baby food delivered to your door. Yes, this sounds magical, but it actually exists.
Yumi offers a variety of foods (from sweet potatoes to chia seed pudding to mixed green veggies) in every stage for your baby’s expanding palate and eating skills. You can sign up for a variety of plans depending on how many days per week and how many meals per day you prefer.
This is a super fresh, organic option that gives you all the benefits of homemade baby food without the time investment. Although it may be more cost effective to combine it with some DIY homemade food or jarred baby food.
Best baby finger food
Happy Family Organics also offers a variety of soft finger foods for your baby as they get into the 9- to 12-month age range and are eating actual solids (versus purées).
From yogurt drops to rice puffs, there are a lot of options here that will give you organic, natural ingredients and save you the time of preparing separate finger food for your baby. Their Happy Tots line also offers toddler meals as you get beyond the first year of eating.
Best fresh baby food
These organic, cold-pressed baby food pouches and cups are found in the refrigerated section at your grocery store (and yes, have to be refrigerated at home). The company also has a subscription delivery option, to make baby food even more convenient for your busy schedule.
Creative names like “Wild Rumpus Avocado” and “Magic Velvet Mango” will have you smiling, and the variety of flavors will (hopefully!) appeal to your little one. Once Upon a Farm offers a variety of food stages, so you can start with their purées and move on up to their finger and toddler foods as your baby grows.
Best first baby cereal
This simple cereal is a great first food for baby. With only one ingredient, you can mix this whole grain cereal with breast milk, formula, or water to provide your little one with some crucial nutrients (such as iron) and experience with spoons and textures.
The AAP recommends oatmeal or multigrain cereals over rice cereals, as they have lower risk for exposure to chemicals such as arsenic (which is sometimes a concern with rice products).
As your baby gets used to other foods, you can also mix this cereal with fruit or yogurt to provide a heartier meal.
As a general guideline, it’s a good idea to start with iron-fortified baby cereals or puréed meats if your infant is breastfed (breastfed babies are more likely to need extra iron than formula fed babies).
It’s also advisable to start with simple, single-ingredient purees of meat, vegetables, and fruits.
Choosing brands that are certified organic, use BPA-free materials, and are conscious of using whole food ingredients (e.g., they don’t add “extras” like salt, sugar, corn syrup) helps ensure a healthy start for your little one.
According to the AAP, you shouldn’t give babies under 1 year cow’s milk, honey, unpasteurized dairy, or undercooked meat, as these can be an infection risk for a baby’s developing immune system.
You will also want to avoid foods that are hard, sharp, or a choking risk (for instance, chips, nuts, popcorn, raisins, raw apples, raw carrots, whole grapes, etc). For a more comprehensive guide to which foods to give and what to avoid, check out our article on infant nutrition and starting solids.
While there used to be advice to wait and introduce highly allergenic foods (such as dairy, wheat, nuts, and eggs) until after the first year, the experts now say that delayed introduction of these foods may increase a child’s risk for food allergies. So, with the guidance of your pediatrician, do go ahead and introduce those foods within the first year.
Some babies are raring to go when it comes to trying food, while others may take a little more convincing. Either way, definitely get your camera on video mode, because there are bound to be some hilarious faces and impressive food-spittage along the way.
Some pro tips to help make the process as smooth as possible include:
- Wait until your baby shows signs of readiness for solid food.
- Keep trying. It can take 5 to 10 exposures for a baby to accept a new food.
- Make it fun and silly.
- Cook and eat as a family as much as possible.
- Let your baby play with the spoon and even the food! While incredibly messy, this helps them get comfortable with the textures, smells, and tastes of new foods.
- Talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns. They are a great resource, and want to help you grow a happy, healthy baby.
It can feel like a lot of pressure to choose the best nutrition for your child (especially trying to capitalize on the years before they start demanding chicken nuggets and ice cream), but there are a lot of great, healthy options available for you.
Whether you choose to make your own baby food, buy jars or pouches, or use a baby food subscription service, there are a number of resources to help you feed your baby.