India is a land of diverse customs and traditions celebrating important milestones in an individual’s life from birth to demise. At around 6 months of age, Annaprashan which in Sanskrit means ‘grain initiation’ is performed. This ceremony of baby’s first feeding is called choroonu in Kerala, bhaatkhulai in Garhwal and mukhe bhaat in West Bengal. It is a popular custom in several Indian communities when solid foods typically rice is fed to the 6-month baby for the first time.
Imagine the 6-month baby’s palate which so far was accustomed to only milk is now ready to experience a world of assorted foods. The baby’s sensory motor development stage is at its peak when it explores the world through its five senses (taste, smell, touch, sound, sight) and tries to grasp, hold and maneuver different objects including food. Let us begin the journey where you introduce first foods to your 6-month baby.
First foods for a 6-month baby
Traditionally, the preferred first foods are staples like cereals (rice, brown rice, oats), millets (ragi, bajra) or mashed roots and tubers (potato, sweet potato). Pureed vegetables (boiled and mashed pumpkin, dudhi, carrot) and pureed fruits (banana, chikoo/sapota, mango) are other favourites.
At week one, start introducing ‘single- ingredient’ foods to your 6-month baby. Keep a watch for any allergy symptoms as your baby learns to accept each food. Make porridge with any of the cereals like rice, brown rice, ragi, bajra, oats, barley, amaranth. Introduce one food, a spoonful at a time. If no allergy symptoms are observed, gradually increase the amounts and frequency to two tablespoonfuls, twice a day. If a baby rejects the food, wait for a couple of days and try again. Allow a gap of 2-4 days between the introduction of next single ingredient food. Also start introducing purees made from singe-fruit or vegetable. Some of the 6-month baby favorites are – banana puree, sweet potato puree, apple puree, pear puree, carrot puree, sapota (chikoo) puree. Always remember that feed the baby with the grain porridge during the day as baby would have time to digest it well by evening when the metabolism of body slows down. Feed the fruit/vegetable purees during late afternoons for easier digestibility.
By week two, you can combine one or two foods and give the baby two tablespoons twice a day. Make porridge with the grains introduced in week 1 and sweeten them with fruit/vegetable purees introduced in week 1. Continue to introduce newer grains, fruits and vegetables that were yet to be introduced from week 1 list.
At week three, introduce another meal as lunch for the growing baby. Based on the baby’s needs, increase the quantity gradually from two to three tablespoons. Multi ingredient recipes can now be given to the baby. A delicious khichdi made from rice, dal and veggies is a wholesome protein meal for the baby. Vegetable like some boiled and mashed palak/spinach, carrot or bottle guard go very well with the khichdi. Upgrade the breakfast porridge to include a grain, fruit and a veggie. Subsequently, add a dollop of ghee to khichdi, or a spoonful of milk powder to porridge or a spoonful of cream to the dish to increase its nutrient density. Combine various fruits and veggies to make delicious purees for the evening meal. Grains can be combined with veggies to make a yummy soup for your 6-month baby.
At week four, continue the meal plan from week 3, but try your hand at different combinations using different grains, lentils, fruits and veggies. Additionally, you can now introduce your baby to the world of spices and herbs. By spices, we do not mean chilli powder. A lot of spices like, cardamom, cinnamon, carom seeds (ajwain), cumin(jeera), asafoetida (hing), ginger, garlic etc. not only enhance the taste, flavor and aroma of the meal but also enrich the meal with their excellent medicinal and nutritional profile. For example, add cardamom or cinnamon to the morning porridge or evening purees. Add half a pinch carom seeds powder or cuming powder to the afternoon khichdi which is beneficial to the baby’s digestive system too.
Breast milk to be continued
Complementary foods are not a substitute for breast milk. It is important to note that at 6 months when complementary foods are introduced to the baby, breast feeding needs to continue on demand. The complementary foods are only a supplement not a substitute for breast milk.
Balanced Diet for 6-month Baby
A combination of different foods like cereals, pulses (non- vegetarians can be given boiled egg yolk, boiled and ground meat, fish), milk and curds, as well as, a variety of fruits and vegetables with fats and sugars will help provide a balanced diet for your baby. In addition, sips of water may also be given to the child from a spoon only if required. Otherwise, breast milk should suffice.
Table 1 – Balanced Diet for Infants 6-8 months
|Cereal and Grains||15g|
|Roots & Tubers||50g|
|Green Leafy Vegetables||25g|
Source: Adapted from Dietary Guidelines for Indians, 2011 by National Institute of Nutrition.
Foods not recommended at 6-months
Certain foods may cause allergic reactions to your baby hence are best avoided at 6-months of age. Foods like peanuts, dryfruits, cow’s milk, whole eggs or white, shellfish (prawns, crabs), should be introduced only after 8 months of age. Avoid wheat in case of any family history of gluten allergies. If your baby develops excessive intestinal gas after consuming certain foods, then avoid those for now and introduce them later. e.g. pulses or certain cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower or cabbage. Also, fried foods, excessively sweet foods, artificial sweeteners, ajinomoto or MSG or Chinese salt, spices, salt and sugar should be avoided till 1 yr of age.
However, medicinal spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cumin powder etc. can be included in the foods to enhance the flavors. Use naturally sweet ingredients like mashed banana, chikoo/sapota instead of sugar to increase the calorie density of porridges. Consider using jaggery if needed instead of sugar.
Dipping biscuits in tea or coffee and feeding them to the baby is never advisable. These beverages contain tannin which interferes with iron being absorbed by the baby’s body. They also contain caffeine which is a stimulant and hence not recommended for babies. Sugary drinks, fizzy drinks provide only empty calories but no nutrients. They do only harm and no good. Limit the amount of fruit juices as they displace other energy and nutrient dense foods. They should not be introduced at 6 months of age however. Look out for our future posts on baby’s diet plans to know more on when to introduce the fresh homemade juices.
Hard and whole foods e.g. corn, peanuts, peas, chana, berries, dry fruits have a choking hazard for your 6-month baby so are a strict no-no for your baby. Mash or grind properly any food that is to be given to the baby to eliminate any possibility of choking.
Make mealtimes enjoyable and fun
There will be occasions when your baby may refuse food and at other times ask for more. Just like adults, hunger and appetite are regulated by a multitude of factors like sleep patterns, physical activity, growth periods and so on. Rather than get overwhelmed or force feed the baby learn to respect your baby’s appetite.
You are now all set to introduce your 6-month baby to a world of sensory food delights that will not only nourish him/her but also stimulate his/her senses to varied tastes, textures, colors, flavors and aromas. Use the feeding pyramid above for your guidance on the various grains, fruits and vegetables that can be combined to make a delicious wholesome meal for your little one. Plan and make your own 6-month baby food chart and enjoy your mealtimes with the baby. You can also checkout various combinations here.