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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, especially considering the numerous baby food options available in 2022.
We’ve rounded up some of this year’s best baby foods to help you get started on the right foot — er, spoon.
Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies for the first 6 months of life. Formula-fed infants are ready to start solid foods when they start showing signs that 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 pureed foods by the time they’re about 6 months old.
If you’re picking commercially prepared baby food (versus making your own), it’s 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 has the smoothest texture and typically has one ingredient, such as pureed 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 recommends monitoring each food for 3 to 5 days.
There isn’t really a perfect first food — the choice is yours! Some good foods to start: infant cereal (preferably oat or whole grain), meat purees such as chicken or turkey, or single-ingredient purees 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 opinions on nutritional value are very authoritative) to bring you some of the top baby food brands available. In addition:
- We looked for foods that are certified USDA organic and have non-GMO verified ingredients.
- We focused on baby food that’s free of added sugar (but have called out one or two products that contain it).
- The baby foods on our list are free of harmful preservatives.
- We called out the brands that market their products as gluten-free and allergen-free.
All products are also vetted by our medical standards team, which evaluates brand integrity and product safety.
Reducing Exposure to Toxic Elements in Baby Foods
Three brands in this article — Gerber, Beech-Nut, and Happy Baby — were mentioned in a February 2021 Congressional Report for products containing significantly high levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. The FDA has since launched the
- Best overall baby food: Beech-Nut Naturals Stage 1
- Best organic baby food pouches: Plum Organics Stage 1
- Best budget-friendly baby food: Gerber Organic 1st Foods
- Best baby food for constipation: Gerber Natural 1st Foods (Pear)
- Best organic jarred baby food: Happy Baby Organics Clearly Crafted Stage 1
- Best personalized subscription service: Cerebelly
- Best fresh baby food: Once Upon a Farm Cold-Pressed Organic Baby Food
- Best first baby cereal: Gerber Organic 1st Foods Single Grain Cereal
- Best, most interesting baby food blends: Little Spoon Complex Solids
- Best all-around clean baby food: Baby Gourmet
Best overall baby food
Beech-Nut Naturals Stage 1
This affordable baby food is an all-around fan favorite. Beech-Nut baby foods come in recyclable glass jars and are available in both natural and organic varieties. Blends are available in every stage, from single-ingredient foods for brand-new eaters (like butternut squash and plum) to multi-food blends with chunkier textures for older babies.
The ingredients in Beech-Nut baby foods are simple, with no artificial additives. Plus, these little glass jars are available at most grocery stores, so they’re easy to find. However, while it’s great for recycling purposes, glass can be dangerous — always supervise your little one around glass.
Beech-Nut Naturals are free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but not certified organic (unless you shop their organics line). They contain no added sugar.
Best organic baby food pouches
Plum Organics Stage 1
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. These foods have no added salts or sugars, so they’re nutritious and simple for baby’s maturing digestive system. They’re also widely available and can be purchased in bulk for greater savings.
And while feeding experts definitely discourage using pouches exclusively, there’s no denying that pouches 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.
Plum Organics is certified organic and non-GMO, and their baby food doesn’t contain added sugar.
Best budget-friendly baby food
Gerber Organic 1st Foods
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.
They offer benefits like glass jars, organic ingredients, and a wide variety of food choices at a lower cost than some other brands on our list.
Gerber Organic is USDA organic, non-GMO, and free of added sugar.
Best baby food for constipation
Gerber Natural 1st Foods (Pear)
Sometimes babies get a little constipated when they’re beginning their solid food journey, especially if they’re eating a lot of dairy or iron-fortified cereal. In addition to continuing breast milk, some foods may help relieve your little one’s digestive discomfort, including all 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 purees in any brand on our list, but one of the more cost-effective is the Gerber brand. The good news is that many babies love fruit, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get your little one to down some prunes or pears.
This product is made with non-GMO ingredients and pears grown with Clean Field Farming practices. It doesn’t contain added sugars.
Best organic jarred baby food
Happy Baby Organics Clearly Crafted Stage 1
Another great organic baby food option, the Happy Baby 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 (this is important for ruling out allergies, as well as to help baby learn to like spinach even when it’s not disguised by pears). Then, you can move on to their fruit and veggie blends as your little one grows.
High quality ingredients, creative flavors, and no artificial ingredients all make Happy Baby a solid (no pun intended) choice.
Happy Baby is USDA organic and doesn’t contain added sugars.
Best personalized subscription service
Cerebelly allows you to personalize your subscription of baby food pouches based on your child’s age, leaning on science to determine what foods will benefit them at their stage of development.
You’ll take a quiz that asks about the current development and language cues your baby is showing (responding to their name, grasping toys, using noises to show emotion, etc.). It also asks about motor, social, and visual skills.
The results will clue you in on key nutrients that may benefit your little one and customize your baby food pouches based on this.
To boot, the brand has earned the Clean Label Project Purity Award (which evaluates products for toxins and contaminants), is certified USDA organic, and contains no added sugars.
Best fresh baby food
Once Upon a Farm Cold-Pressed Organic Baby Food
These organic, cold-pressed baby food pouches and cups are found in the refrigerated section at your grocery store (and yes, they 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 purees and move on up to their finger and toddler foods as your baby grows.
Once Upon a Farm is certified organic and non-GMO. Their products contain no added sugars and are Clean Label Project certified.
Best first baby cereal
Gerber Organic 1st Foods Single Grain Cereal
This simple cereal is a great first food for baby. You can mix this one-ingredient 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 a lower risk of 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.
Gerber Organic is certified USDA organic and non-GMO, but this product does contain some added sugars.
Best, most interesting baby food blends
Little Spoon Complex Solids
Once your baby is ready for more advanced blends, Little Spoon has a unique line of complex blends that contain multiple purees as well as other seeds and grains for texture.
For example, one blend contains quinoa, butternut squash, and apple. Another contains kale, white bean, pear, basil, quinoa, and avocado oil.
Little Spoon purees use certified organic and non-GMO ingredients. They’re free of added sugar.
Best all-around clean baby food
Baby Gourmet is another Clean Label Project Purity Award winner, which means they go above and beyond to ensure their baby food is free of harmful toxins that naturally occur in the environment.
This Canadian company is also set to donate 1 million meals to vulnerable populations by 2025. It’s founded and run by moms, which can be reassuring.
Baby Gourmet is certified organic and non-GMO by both U.S. and Canadian standards. All packaging is BPA-free. Products contain no added sugar.
As a general guideline, it’s a good idea to start with iron-fortified baby cereals or pureed 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, or corn syrup) helps ensure a healthy start for your little one.
According to the AAP, you shouldn’t give babies under age 1 cow’s milk, honey, unpasteurized dairy, or undercooked meat, as these can be an infection risk for a baby’s developing immune system.
You’ll also want to avoid foods that are hard or sharp or present a choking risk (for instance, chips, nuts, popcorn, raisins, raw apples, raw carrots, whole grapes, hot dogs). 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 experts used to advise waiting to 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 of food allergies. So, with the guidance of your pediatrician, go ahead and introduce those foods within the first year.
Seek immediate emergency medical attention if you notice swelling of the tongue and mouth, wheezing, or trouble breathing after your child eats certain foods
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, as there are bound to be some hilarious faces and some impressive food spillage along the way.
Here are some pro tips to help make the process as smooth as possible:
- 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 with your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns. They’re a great resource and want to help you grow a happy, healthy baby.
What’s the best baby food for growth and weight gain?
If your baby is under 6 months and breastfeeding, it’s recommended that you stick to that exclusively for 6 months. When you’re ready to introduce solids after 6 months, it should be in addition to breastfeeding and formula, not as a replacement.
If your baby is formula-fed, they may begin eating solids sooner than 6 months. While no one specific food is recommended, a variety of foods and colors is best, including meats, vegetables, and fruits. One of the key foods that can help with growth and weight gain is
Always discuss your baby’s dietary changes with your pediatrician and attend regular checkups to monitor growth.
What’s the easiest food for babies to digest?
Just like adults, babies do best with regular bowel movements. If they’re having a hard time with this, oatmeal is one food known to be easy to digest and promote regularity, as it contains higher amounts of dietary fiber.
It may also help to focus on quantity. Try feeding your baby smaller meals more often, rather than fewer larger meals. This may be easier on their system and allow them to digest foods more easily.
What’s the best baby food to start with?
Mashed banana and avocado are some of the most popular solids to start with. Soft, ground oatmeal is also great. When it comes to fruit and vegetable purees, focus on variety, but don’t overdo it with those that are naturally high in sugar (such as berry purees).
Most importantly, at 6 months old, all foods should still be pureed and cooked. Once your baby is 9 months old and older, you can start to introduce vegetables cut into pieces. The only other no-no is honey, which they shouldn’t have until they’re over a year old.
It can feel like a lot of pressure to choose the best nutrition for your child, especially when 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 in 2022.
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.