When I had my son, I entered a steep learning curve on how to be a parent. Once I graduated from the newborn days, I thought the worst of it was behind me. Oh boy was I wrong. I was now entering the complex world of food and what was the best way to introduce it to my boy. The information was vast and contradicting and I was very confused and frustrated.
Being an acupuncturist, I turned to Traditional Chinese Medicine to guide me on my path, so I began to look at TCM food cures to guide me on baby’s first foods.
The concept is simple: offer foods that protect the integrity of the digestive tract and are easy to digest and assimilate.
From a TCM perspective, that would include foods that nourish and protect the Spleen and Stomach. (For older kids and adults check out the Qi Diet) Think sweet and starchy foods that are yellow or orange in colour.
SPLEEN NOURISHING FOODS – first baby foods (6-8 months)
- sweet potatoes & yams
- yellow beets
- all winter squash (pumpkin, acorn, kobocha, butternut, etc)
- zucchini (especially yellow zucchini)
- pattypan squash
- parsnip & turnip
- cooked apples
- cooked cherries
Make sure all of the above foods are baked or steamed and then pureed for baby. Only introduce one food at a time for at least 3 days before introducing the next food. Look for signs of intolerance such as: redness around mouth, anus or diaper area, mood changes, excessive gas, diarrhea, rash or hives, increased spitting up or vomiting, and increased mucous or nasal discharge.
SPLEEN NOURISHING FOODS – 7-9 months
- broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy
- wild salmon
- organic chicken
- homemade chicken stock – simmer whole bird for a few hours – when cooled the stock should be jelly like (bone broth) – very nourishing, adds more sustenance for baby, and great flavour.
- dried figs (soaked in water and cooked with other fruits)
- egg yolk – organic
- virgin coconut oil – organic
- butter – organic
- avocado oil – organic
- yellow split peas (cook as a dal)
Again, make sure all foods are baked or steamed. Baby may want to start eating more solid foods, so you can cut foods into soft chunks and allow them to enjoy.
Adding fats to their meals (butter, coconut/avocado oil) will keep them satisfied and also nourish their brain and keep their digestive track protected (oils are warm in nature).
SPLEEN NOURISHING FOODS – 9-12 months
- oats – certified gluten free (slow cook with twice the amount of water)
- rice – organic (soak overnight in water, dump water and cook as mentioned above)
- quinoa – organic (soak overnight in water, dump water and cook as mentioned above)
- red lentils
- berries (cooked)
- pumpkin, chia, flax, sunflower seeds (ground into a powder and mixed into foods)
- nutritional yeast
Be sure to soak the above grains overnight in water to break them down and increase their digestibility. Slow cook them in at least twice the amount of water to create a porridge or congee. You can add in some spleen nourishing vegetables and warming spices (fennel, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon).
FOODS TO AVOID FOR THE FIRST 12-24 months
- gluten (includes wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, wait until 2 yrs old)
- corn (even though it’s a spleen Qi nourishing food – it’s highly allergenic for most people. wait until 2 yrs old)
- tofu (very cold in nature, wait until 2 yrs old. However, tempeh can be consumed by 18 months)
- bananas (cold in nature, wait until 12 months OR cook the banana and serve with other cooked fruits and cinnamon after 8-9 months)
- tomatoes (cold in nature, wait until 12 months)
- spinach (cold in nature, wait until 12 months)
- oranges (cold in nature and causes phlegm, wait until 12-18 months)
- cow dairy (choose organic goat milk instead – it is closer to breast milk in properties and easier on digestion – you can introduce a small amount of goat milk between 9-12 months)
- ice cold drinks (let smoothies and water be room temperature before consuming)
- peanuts (common allergen, wait until 2 yrs old)
- shellfish (common allergen, wait until 2 yrs old)
What about mango or peaches as a first food?
Julia, raw fruits are generally too cooling in nature for the immature digestive system of a baby. I begin with cooked apples, pears from 6-8 months and then offer fresh peaches and mangos a bit at 8 months. If it is the summertime, then a late 6 month old could try some cooked mangos and peaches, but I would still begin with apples/pears first and introduce closer to 7 months.
If my baby has a rash after the first day should I continue or should I move onto the the next veg or fruit ?
Rash is considered a reaction, as mentioned above, move to the next food and wait a month before re-introducing.
I am so glad to have come across your site, I have really been struggle between common wisdom and what I have been doing. I Introduced foods around 7 months to my son, mostly Broccoli, Pears and Avocado, slowly I introduced Carrots, Sweet Potato, Chard, Bananas – usually cooked – though not so much lately, Apples, and my parents have been insisting on Orange, @ 10 months I also introduced Egg Yolk and Quinoa, I have held off on other grains. I am vegetarian and they are concerned about Iron content, I have also started giving a teaspoon of Cod Liver Oil….. What would you recommend to meet his Iron and Protein needs…. Thanks so much.
You have being doing great with your son, your intuition is spot on. Oranges are much later for introduction, so there is no rush to start that. I love to use molasses for iron. I put 1/4 tsp in my son’s homemade formula each day. You can mix it in his food or milk, whichever you prefer. Even by the spoon if he takes to it. Seeds, legumes, and vegetables have protein. I’m guessing he’s still having breastmilk or formula, which has protein in it as well. Most children will protest eating meat anyhow, so no need to worry if he’s getting lots of the other sources.
I was wondering, from a TCM perspective, how gradually should you introduce solids? My twins are just starting solids now at 6 and a half months corrected (born @ 28 weeks). Which meal is best to introduce solids? Breakfast? Then after how many days should you increase to two and then three meals? I don’t want to overwhelm the spleen and stomach or cause any food stagnation. TIA 🙂
Hi Katie, I haven’t been able to find any literature on food introduction for babies from the TCM perspective, so what I did was follow my son’s lead. For the first month he didn’t even get solids everyday and mostly it was just once a day (I choose late morning/lunch time). I felt starting with milk as the first meal warmed up the spleen/stomach and then a few hours later he was ready to eat solids. The last solid meal I added was dinner time – which was a few weeks in. The hungrier he became the more meals I provided. To me less quantity per sitting was good to not cause/create food stagnation.
I note you’ve said to avoid icy drinks but I wonder if I can give by 6 month old I’ve cubes of her puréed pear etc to suck on (in a Muslin bag) to soothe her gums while teething. By the time any is swallowed it will have melted but I want to be sure this isn’t bad for her.
Judith, if you are following all other Traditional Chinese Medicine principles with food I feel that ice cubed food to suck on for teething pain is appropriate. It would only be temporary, so as long as it isn’t every day, it should keep her Spleen and Stomach Qi protected.
Thanks for your reply Tara. Do you think. 6 months is too young to add some slow cooked chicken (free range) and stock into her vegetable purées at one of her meals? I live in New Zealand and Plunket (our community health nurses) tell us we should be.
What about when a exclusively breastfeed baby is a really picky eater? My one year old likes to nurse, eat grapes, blueberries, occasionally quinoa cooked in chicken stock and occasionalli rice crackers. Refusing almost everything else. any suggestions????
Katie, picky eating is so common and also very frustrating. The foods your one year old eats are great so far! Very nutritious, so I think you’re doing really well.
For myself I kept offering the foods I want my son to eat over and over again. I found it easily took up to 10 introductions before he would even consider trying/eating it. Focus on the foods your babe likes and keep introducing the ones you want to be consumed. Around 18 months I started making one meal for the family and allowing him to pick and choose what he wanted to eat in that meal. As the food consumption increases and breast milk decreases you’ll get more variety. Keep introducing and don’t give up.
I too am a an LAc and also have a 9 month old. He gags on most foods and throws up if there is any type of consistency other than smooth. How would you proceed? He does have some Spleen Deficiency with the blue ish color near his eye. He also gets food stagnation with green foods. He enjoys orange foods pureed such as winter squash, yams, sweet potatoe. He also likes fruit but I want to stay away from so much sugar. How to incorporate more green stuff?
Hi Jennifer, I would follow your son’s lead. He knows what his body needs the most and having foods that are pureed are “partially” digested so it’s easier for him to digest. Also the fact he doesn’t like greens yet also indicates his SP Qi and digestive fire is needing some TLC. Greens are cold and bitter in nature, so stay away from them. I know you want to give him greens, but I would focus more on building his digestive health with cooked, orangey, SP Qi nourishing foods like squashes, root veggies, and cooked fruits. Also bring in bone broths and some fats like avocado, coconut oil, and organic butter (if tolerated). Nutritional yeast can help boost SP & KI yang Qi. Don’t worry about greens for another couple of months until his digestive fire is strong. Do you give him infant formulated probiotics like HMF Natogen? Good luck mama!
Thank you for this nourishing knowledge specially for first time mom like me 🙂 i would like to know your tcm nutrition suggestion for a 4 year old boy..Thank you and may the Qi be with you!
My pleasure Sinag, thank you for reading. As for your 4 yr old son, his dietary recommendations would be based on his current health and symptoms. You can take our QUIZ to see if he falls into any of the diet categories. QUIZ HERE Or you can visit your local acupuncturist to get a proper diagnosis.
Hi tara, thanks for the info. Are there further resources on nutrition to reference with more detail and guidance for children growing up? Thanks! !!
Hi, I’ve noticed you recommend to delay foods that could be cause allergies. I had planned to delay both grains and starches because I read that babies didn’t have the right enzymes to digest these well and I was worried that rotting food in the gut may cause leaky gut and other problems. I live in australia and I was just showed information based on recent research suggesting all foods should be introduced before one especially pennut butter, eggs etc to decrease the likelihood of developing allergies. I often feel confused as there is so much contradictory information. Can you please comment on this.
Gabe, you’re correct, there is a lot of information out there and the more you read the more contradictory it becomes. Because of my work in Chinese Medicine, I decided to follow that along with slow and delayed introductions to grains and dairy. Based on what I see in my practice and what I experienced with my son, this schedule worked very well for us.
If you are ever noticing a reaction after eating a food, go by the feedback you are getting from your little one.
Hi Tara! First of all, this website is amazing!! Thank you so much for all your knowledge on all of this!
I have a nine month old who I’ve introduced almost ALL the foods to that are recommended on this site. She seems to be fine with most of them but her absolute favorite is soft boiled egg yolk. Given that she’s pretty good with eating all these veggies, what is the max amount of egg yolks I can give her in one sitting? 2? They’re small eggs because they’re the only Grassfed, Free Range organic eggs we can get our hands on without driving 30 minutes out of our way with an already insane schedule. When I give her 2 she usually scarfs them down and cries for more, I’d like to give her 3 but I’m having a hard time finding info on these amounts for a 9 month old.
I should also add we only do eggs once a day. Veggies for the other 2 meals. A couple times a week I add grated Grassfed beef liver. I bought a book on TCM, but I’m also not finding the answer to this question in there either.
Thanks in advance for your help!!
Rachael, there really isn’t a hard and fast rule for how much to give. Perhaps your little one really needs the nutrition in eggs now and she’s craving them a lot. I would let her have the amount she craves (within reason) and see if there are any reactions.
I think 3 is very reasonable, maybe even more, depending on the day. I don’t think she’ll always want that many. My son craved sweet potatoes and he ate them for almost every meal for months. Now he doesn’t even like them that much anymore. He craves more apples and avocados and salmon. You’re doing great.
Dear Tara, thank you for your website. I am a keen student of tcm and am glad u look into tcm as an alternative to commonly approved western medicine. I have a 8 months old and I follow the tcm pediatric book written by Bob Flaws. I would recommend that as a great source of ‘how to bring up a healthy kid according to tcm’. I have applied a lot of what was suggested to my boy and it works like wonder.
Another thing I would recommend all readers here is regularly massage your kid. Google Xiao er Tui Na. The spinal pinch massage technique works really well on kid. My boy poops everytime after a day or 2 of massage. Good luck all mummies.
I am so glad to have come across your site, I am a Japanese pediatrician, and seeing children with traditional herbal medicine in clinical practice in Japan. I have really been struggling to find the best way of baby food in modern Japan (in particular, when should it be started?). Japanese official guideline recommends that it should be started at 6 months. On the other hand, in my usual practice I tell moms that it is not too late when it is started even after one year. It is based on several reasons (leaky gut in infants, maternal attachments, prevention against oral breathing, allergy, etc.), but no evidence. I would appreciate if you tell me some reference books or something about baby food.
Many thanks, in advance.
Hi Kazuhiro, I recommend you check out Tom Malterre & Ali Segersten from https://wholelifenutrition.net/ I’ve learned a lot from them about digestive health and nutrition from pregnancy to adulthood. They are amazing – Tom is an absolute wealth of knowledge.
Am also an acupuncturist and have been using this info a lot when weaning my son. He is now 14 months and doing well, but he seems to get trapped gas all the time. I really can’t put it down to any particular foods, and I don’t feed him too close to bed time. I’ve looked in lots of paediatric TCM books but can’t find any info. He’s not constipated, stools pretty normal. Occasionally I prick Sifeng when he gets backed up. Do you have any thoughts? Many thanks
Hey fellow TCM’er, has your son always had trapped gas or is this new? And how can you tell it’s trapped gas. I’m guessing there’s a food in there that’s causing some stagnation. Maybe he’s not quiet ready for all grains or dairy is causing an issue. Is he eating raw or “cold” foods. Some common foods that cause issues are tomatoes, soy, bell peppers, oranges – it it perhaps be any of these? Lots of areas to look at. Hope this helps and let me know how he’s doing now. Also, Yin Yang Baby will be coming out in 2020. 🙂
My little girl was born early at 33 weeks and is now nearly 5.5months corrected (6.75 months actual). My paediatrician explained that because she came early her iron reserves will be depleted/lower than with babies that come full term so I need to start with some sort of rice fortified with iron asap. This has me a little confused and wondering whether I need to introduce rice earlier… does the benefit of the fortified iron outweigh the earlier rice intro? My thought is to work with the 6-7month foods for one month (started last week) and then introduce the rice/iron next month once her tummy is a little more experienced with digesting…. am I on the right track? Would love your take on this. FYI – I exclusively express and she has 70% breastmilk 30% formula. Thank you in advance x
I like your instinctual thoughts around letting her tummy be a bit more experienced/mature. You can always look into iron rich foods like apricots, raisins, cherries, slow cooked beef. Let me know how your little girl is doing with the food introduction.