Do Baby Food Stages Matter? A Comprehensive Guide

baby baby food baby health baby-led weaning Jan 05, 2024
Four glass jars of baby food are bunched together. They are different stages, thicknesses, colors, and ingredients. The baby food is surrounded by different cut fruits and vegetables.

Can you relate to this feeling…standing wide-eyed in the baby food aisle at Target, trying to figure out what to feed your baby…There are hundreds of options in front of you. Do you choose a stage one baby food? Or perhaps a stage two food? Or the brand that doesn’t even have stages…

Figuring out what food to feed your baby can be stressful, and baby food companies don’t make it easier on us. Some tell you what to choose based on the stage (separated into stage 1, stage 2, or stage 3) and some by age, but it is not regulated between each brand and each stage.

I’m here to walk you through the baby food stages and help you decide if you want to follow the stages or not.

What is the history of baby food?

In the late 19th century, mothers relied on homemade purees and mashes for their infants.

Gerber revolutionized commercially available baby food in the late 1920s. Their strained baby foods in glass jars became a household staple. The post-war period saw the emergence of junior foods in the 1950s, catering to older babies with more textured options.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the industry shifted towards emphasizing nutrition and convenience, introducing a variety of ready-to-eat meals and enriched cereals. The 2000s witnessed a surge in demand for organic and natural baby food, coupled with a growing interest in homemade alternatives using locally sourced ingredients.

What are the baby food stages?

Baby food stages were developed by baby food companies to guide the introduction of solid foods to infants based on their age and developmental milestones. The stages are designed to align with a baby's growing nutritional needs, emerging motor skills, and ability to handle different textures and flavors. Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, the stages are not standardized across all brands. In general, there are certain characteristics in each stage that most companies follow.

I will do a deep dive into the baby food stages and the differences, but in general, the baby food stages are as follows:

  • Stage 1: thin, single-ingredient purees without other added ingredients

  • Stage 2: slightly thicker purees often with two to three ingredients

  • Stage 3: thick purees with multiple ingredients and small chunks of soft food

  • Beyond Baby food: finger foods with low sodium content used to mimic

Do Baby Food Stages Matter?

Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of the stages of baby food. Because of this, what is a stage two for one brand might be called a stage three in another brand. Many brands are choosing not to use stages at all. Some are labeling “baby” while others are using “tot”.

To me, this makes it extra confusing. I also wonder if brands use stages to keep your baby on their food for longer periods when you might naturally start offering more finger foods.

Go with your gut on this one.

Should you follow the baby food stages?

This is a loaded question that will vary from family to family. Some families like the simplicity of the stages. They know that stage one baby foods will always contain one ingredient and they can take the steps up as their baby gets older. It gives a sense of safety and security with small amounts of textural and flavor progression.

Other families do not need this type of step-wise approach and do not feel the need to wait 3-5 days to introduce a new food. They may value the nutrient density of pouches with multiple foods versus feeding babies with one single food.

Here is the truth: You do not need to follow the baby food stages if you don’t want to. There is no research stating that a stage one puree is safer than a stage three puree.

Many parents are forgoing traditional purees altogether and are taking a baby-led weaning approach at 6 months.

Do what feels right for your family and your comfort level.

>>>  For more information on purees vs BLW, click here to read an in-depth overview <<<

Stage One Baby Foods:

  • Stage one baby food marks the beginning of solid food introduction.

  • Ages: Generally 4-6 months

  • Texture: Single-ingredient, smooth purees.

  • Pros of Stage 1 baby food: Stage 1 baby food allows parents to introduce a single ingredient every 3-5 days, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics

  • Cons of stage 1 baby food: The downside is that there are limited options available and may not be as nutrient-dense due to limited ingredients.

Examples of stage one baby foods:

  • Single-ingredient fruit purees (apples, pears, bananas),

  • Single-ingredient vegetable purees (carrots, sweet potatoes, peas)

  • Single-grain cereals (oatmeal, rice)

5 Homemade Stage 1 Recipes

  • Sweet Potato Puree

    • Steam or bake sweet potatoes until soft.

    • Peel the skin and mash the sweet potato.

    • Add a little water, breast milk or formula to achieve a smooth consistency.

  • Avocado Mash:

    • Scoop out the flesh of a ripe avocado.

    • Mash it with a fork until smooth.

    • Optionally, thin the consistency with a bit of breast milk, water or formula.

  • Pear Puree:

    • Peel and core a ripe pear.

    • Steam or cook until tender.

    • Puree the pear until smooth.

    • Add a touch of water or formula if needed.

  • Banana Mash

    • Peel a ripe banana and mash it thoroughly.

    • For a smoother texture, use a blender or food processor.

    • You can add a small amount of water, breast milk, or formula until thin.

  • Carrot Puree

    • Peel and chop carrots into small pieces.

    • Steam or boil until soft.

    • Puree the carrots until you achieve a smooth consistency.

    • Add a bit of water or breast milk for the desired thickness.

When can your baby start stage 1 baby foods?

Babies can start stage one baby foods when they are developmentally ready and have gotten the go-ahead from their pediatric provider.

>>> Free quiz: is your baby ready to start solid foods? Click here to find out! <<<

Stage 2 Baby Foods

  • Introduction: As babies become more familiar with eating, stage 2 introduces more flavors and textures.

  • General age: 6-9 months:

  • Texture: Thicker purees and more food combinations.

  • Theoretically, it combines foods your baby has already been exposed to in stage one, and may have another added food or two.

Examples of stage two baby food

  • Mixed fruit and vegetable purees (apples and blueberries, peas and carrots).

  • Yogurt and fruit blends.

  • Meat purees (chicken, turkey)

5 Stage 2 Baby Food Recipes

  • Apple and Blueberry Blend

    • Steam and puree apples until smooth.

    • Add fresh or thawed blueberries and blend until well combined.

    • Thin with breastmilk, formula, or water.

  • Spinach and Pear Puree

    • Steam fresh spinach and ripe pears until soft.

    • Puree the ingredients together, creating a nutrient-packed blend.

    • Add vanilla for some more excitement

  • Chicken and Sweet Potato Mash

    • Cook chicken until fully cooked and tender.

    • Steam sweet potatoes until soft.

    • Puree both ingredients together with added water

  • Yogurt and Banana

    • Mix plain full-fat yogurt with mashed ripe bananas.

    • Ensure the consistency is suitable for your baby's comfort.

  • Quinoa and Apple Porridge

    • Cook quinoa according to package instructions.

    • Puree cooked quinoa with steamed apples until smooth 

Stage 3 Baby Food

  • Introduction: Geared towards babies with well-established eating skills who have been exposed to a large number of foods.They often mix fruits, veggies, grains, fats, and/or meat.

  • Age: 9-12 months

  • Texture: Thick purees with some very small pieces of food

Examples of stage 3 baby foods:

  • Beef, carrots, peas and barley

  • Banana, kale, yogurt, and oats

  • Squash, pear, and avocado oil

5 Stage 3 baby food recipes

  • Chicken and Vegetable Chunky Puree

    • Cook boneless, skinless chicken until fully cooked and tender.

    • Steam a mix of soft vegetables like carrots, peas, and broccoli.

    • Blend the cooked chicken with the steamed vegetables, leaving small chunks for texture.

    • Ensure the consistency is suitable for your baby's stage.

  • Pasta with Tomato and Ground Turkey

    • Cook small pasta shapes until al dente.

    • In a separate pan, cook ground turkey with diced tomatoes.

    • Mix the cooked pasta with the turkey and tomato mixture. Thin with water and puree.

  • Salmon and Sweet Potato Mash 

    • Steam or bake salmon until fully cooked.

    • Mash cooked sweet potatoes.

    • Combine the mashed sweet potatoes with flaked salmon plus water, leaving small, soft chunks.

  • Vegetable and Lentil Stew:

    • Cook lentils until tender.

    • Steam a variety of soft vegetables like zucchini, squash, and carrots.

    • Mix the cooked lentils and vegetables with water to thin, leaving small chunks.

  • Fruit and Oatmeal Medley:

    • Cook rolled oats according to package instructions.

    • Dice soft fruits like strawberries, peaches, and bananas.

    • Mix the cooked oats with the diced fruits, creating a thick and textured fruit and oatmeal medley.

It turns out that there is a lot to know about the different stages of baby food. No wonder we feel so overwhelmed when we are standing in the baby food aisle.

Do what feels best for your family.

For one of my babies, I went by the stages. For my other, he ate a bite of my pizza as his first food (by accident).

Looking for help on how to progress from purees to finger foods? I can take that stress away.  Schedule a consult so you can feel good about your plan. 

>>> Tired of worrying about feeding your baby? Get personalized support so you can enjoy feeding your baby. <<<

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