How to Tell if Your Baby is Ready to Enjoy Nutritious, Wholesome Pasta
Your baby's first taste of solid food—meaning any food other than breast milk or formula—is the beginning of an adventure into a new world of tastes, textures and aromas, as well as the very first step in establishing what will ideally become lifelong healthy eating habits. Most babies start eating solids around 6 months, and within just a few months will have tried all kinds of different foods as parents work toward the goal of establishing a varied, balanced and nutritious diet. A baby's meals should eventually consist of cereals (such as pasta), vegetables, fruits, meats, fish and dairy products, along with breast milk or formula. Pasta can certainly be part of a baby's diet at every stage of the experience, from first foods to finger foods to full solid meals, as long as it's prepared appropriately to suit his eating skills.
Pasta as a First Food
Most babies are ready to try their first solid foods at around 4 to 6 months. Indicators that a baby is ready for this milestone include loss of the "extrusion reflex" that causes a younger baby to push anything non-liquid out of her mouth, being able to sit upright unassisted and showing interest in food. Most parents start with a smooth, wet food such as rice cereal or pureed fruits and vegetables and gradually offer baby foods that are more chunky and lumpy.
When your baby has moved from very smooth purees to more lumpy baby foods (usually around 7 to 10 months), you can offer pasta that's well-cooked and chopped small or even blended. You can also choose tiny pasta shapes such as orzo and pastina. The pasta can be plain or mixed with a vegetable-based or cheesy sauce. Soft-cooked vegetables that are mashed or chopped are an ideal accompaniment to pasta at this stage.
Pasta as Finger Food
Your baby is generally ready to enjoy finger foods when she's able to bring objects to her mouth with her hands. Some parents put foods in front of their baby and encourage self-feeding from the earliest stages of eating solids (known as baby-led weaning), while others wait until closer to 8 or 9 months. Either way, offering finger foods is important for several reasons. It helps a baby develop hand-eye coordination; teaches her to explore the tastes, textures and colors of various foods; and helps train her to stop eating when full. Small pasta shapes that are easy to grab and that catch a baby's attention, such as spirals, bow-ties and small shells, make great finger foods.
Tips for Introducing Your Baby to Pasta
- As with all new foods, you might need to offer pasta to your baby several times before she accepts it.
- If you have a family history of wheat allergy or gluten intolerance, watch for signs of an allergic reaction after introducing your baby to pasta for the first time. Symptoms include a rash, vomiting and diarrhea. If you have concerns about allergies or any symptoms, talk to your baby's pediatrician.
- When you cook pasta for your baby, don't salt the water, and be sure to cook it past the al dente stage until it's soft enough to mash easily with a fork.
- Avoid giving your baby store-bought pasta sauces or highly-processed pasta dishes. These tend to have high levels of salt, sugar and preservatives that are not good for a baby.
Pasta Ideas for Your Baby
- Make a nutritious and flavorful sauce for a baby's pasta dish by blending cooked vegetables, such as peas, carrots, squash or broccoli, with a bit of low-sodium chicken broth and some grated cheese.
- Prepare a baby version of pasta salad with small pasta shapes, cooked beans, diced avocado and cooked, diced vegetables. Try a dressing of olive oil and seasonings.
- Homemade pasta dishes are a good vehicle for feeding your baby protein- and iron-rich meat or fish. Diced chicken or ham, ground beef and tuna flakes all blend nicely into a sauce, resulting in a pasta dish with a texture most babies can handle.