From Around the World to the Highchair: Global Perspectives on Starting Solids


The transition from milk to solids is a significant step in a baby’s journey. It is not just about trying new flavors and textures; it is a fundamental part of their physical and cognitive development. Saying goodbye to liquid diets is like unlocking a new level, influencing their taste preferences, and establishing a connection with food that lasts a lifetime.

While the timing of introducing solid foods to infants is crucial to avoid potential health issues in the future, it’s equally important to consider the quality of the foods introduced. However, parents often grapple with the complexity of this task, caught between honoring deeply ingrained cultural beliefs and adhering to health recommendations, which may occasionally be at odds with each other.

Through a blend of traditional methods and nutrition perspectives, this article aims to provide a resource that respects diverse cultures, encourages diversity in child-rearing practices, and helps parents navigate the dynamic world of infant nutrition confidently. Thus, this article takes you on a journey into the heart of infant nutrition, exploring the delicate dance between traditional and contemporary health insights. 

Traditional methods across cultures

Across global culinary traditions, the introduction of solid foods to infants reveals a spectrum of diverse and time-honored methods. From age-old practices handed down through generations to food safety considerations in the house, the journey into solid foods is steeped in cultural significance.

Read more: Peter Wright: The Importance of Food Safety | On the House #1 – Insights 


In the Asia Pacific region, rice or rice-based products typically take the lead as the first solid foods introduced to infants, as cultural beliefs suggest that rice aids in digestion. Beyond mere nutritional considerations, this choice reflects a harmonious blend of tradition and practicality. 

Take Japan, for instance, where a time-honored ceremony at the 100-day milestone after birth marks the beginning of incorporating additional liquid foods like fruit juice and vegetable soup. While contemporary guidelines suggest exclusive breastfeeding until six months, this ceremony persists as a cherished tradition, showcasing how cultural factors shape the introduction of solids.

In India, there are ceremonies known as Sanskar, consisting of Phalaprashan and Annaprashan. These rituals involve the introduction of fruit juices at six months, followed by gradually introducing small amounts of semisolid food. This approach consists of providing food to the infant based on demand, ensuring a quantity suitable for their optimal growth and development.

Children in Palu City, Indonesia, are advised to steer clear of duck, rice, lamb, moringa leaves, purple sweet potatoes, corn, kale, and cassava leaves. Protein is frequently present in dishes sourced from animals, while certain vegetable side dishes are considered taboos or are restricted, aiming to limit protein intake in the body.


According to cultural beliefs in Uganda, East Africa, cultural traditions suggest that babies should receive different herbs before they hit six months. When a baby is two weeks old, it’s a custom to bathe them in a herb called “Ekyogero.” While bathing, the baby is given some herbs to drink because it’s believed to help them with yellow fever.

Additionally, babies are given another herb known as “Ensugo” to drink. This mix is thought to satisfy the baby and prevent some illnesses the mother might have had during pregnancy. There’s also a belief that every newborn goes through tummy cramps, so they give a bitter herb called “Omululuza” to babies starting at two weeks old.

In Mid-West Nigeria, children are discouraged from eating meat and eggs, as they’re considered expensive. Parents worry it might lead to costly eating habits, potentially pushing children towards stealing to satisfy those cravings. Similar reservations extend to milk, with parents fearing its consumption could foster undesirable habits in their children.

Turning to West Africa, many traditional weaning foods fall on the less nutrient-dense side. Think cereal gruels, starchy roots, and tubers—the usual suspects. However, instead of going through the typical weaning process, some children jump straight into the family food scene while still relatively young. It’s a unique approach to introducing solids, reflecting the diverse culinary practices woven into the fabric of West African family life.


In Europe, the introduction of solid foods to little ones integrates seamlessly into the family dining experience and the diverse culinary landscape of the region. Traditional approaches highlight the importance of shared meals, where families enjoy food together and pass down cultural and regional culinary practices.

Italian families often opt for fruits and cereal as the initial solid foods. This choice reflects a commitment to introducing infants to various flavors from the outset, nurturing a love for communal meals and an appreciation for European cuisine’s distinctive tastes.

South America

South America’s time-honored approach to weaning infants mirrors a rich tapestry of cultural heritage and a strong bond with indigenous ingredients. Families in South American communities typically ease their little ones into solid foods with locally sourced and culturally essential ingredients. 

As infants grow, many parents adopt baby-led weaning as an additional method for introducing complementary foods. However, a distinctive practice emerged in Chile, where it’s commonplace for families to infuse their children’s food with flavors like salt, sugar, honey, or sweeteners within the first two years of life. This culinary tradition reflects a commitment to nutrition and a cultural inclination towards diverse and sometimes sweet or savory tastes. 

Looking at the different traditional methods in the mentioned countries, it’s clear that parents have unique ways of starting their babies on solid foods. This variety highlights the cultural diversity and personal choices within each community, showing how parents handle this important transition phase to solids.

Cultural beliefs and superstitions

Around the world, the transition to solid foods is steeped in a fascinating array of cultural beliefs and superstitions, adding layers of meaning to the early feeding journey.

Symbolic significance

The transition from milk to solid food carries a cultural meaning, with beliefs and superstitions that vary across diverse societies. Different societies hold various beliefs about certain foods, thinking they bring good luck (e.g., noodles), protect the child against evil (e.g., garlic), or contribute to their health (e.g., honey). These beliefs are woven into cultural superstitions related to feeding practices, showcasing a tapestry of traditions and symbolic meanings tied to different foods.

As parents introduce solids, they engage in cultural practices beyond nourishment, revealing intricate connections between food, tradition, and well-being. Understanding these nuances offers a deeper appreciation for the cultural dimensions shaping their infant’s culinary journey.

Nutritional perspectives

In diverse cultures, traditional wisdom guides parents as they navigate the task of providing a nutritionally balanced diet for their infants. For instance, Asian parents introduce rice and grains, offering energy and fostering early palate development. On the other hand, African parents opt for indigenous vegetables and grains like amaranth leaves and millet, contributing to their infants’ overall health and development. 

These cultural choices, deeply rooted in tradition, play a pivotal role in shaping the nutritional foundations of infants. Consequently, parents can successfully integrate cultural beliefs with optimal feeding practices by choosing foods that pay homage to traditions and cater to the nutritional needs essential for their infants’ well-being.

Timing and progression of solid food introduction

The timing and progression of breastfeeding practices to solid foods for infants is a dynamic process of early nutrition. While WHO guidelines recommend starting solids around six months, parents worldwide also navigate this transition based on individual cues from their babies (e.g., the baby’s interest in watching family members eat solids or an increased appetite during breastfeeding) and cultural beliefs or values from their communities.

Read more: Breastfeeding Challenges and Best Practices 

Cultural variances

Various cultures have distinct practices and beliefs about the timing of solid food introductions, often beyond developmental guidelines. In five European countries — Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Poland — a notable number of infants are introduced to solid foods earlier than the recommended age.

Similarly, in South Africa, it’s widely believed that babies should start consuming solid foods before they hit six months. They believe sticking only to milk for the first half-year might not fill the babies, possibly causing them to lose weight. What’s intriguing is that mothers are often nudged to follow this practice by maternal figures, including grandmas and great-grandmas, pushing them to introduce solids before the baby’s six-month milestone.

This shines a light on the strong influence of family figures, playing a significant role in when babies shift to solids. Even though most mothers know the recommended age to start solid, they often find themselves caught between traditional wisdom and professional advice, emphasizing the family’s powerful role in these crucial early feeding choices.

In the end, when the advice from family matriarchs clashed with what they heard at health facilities, mothers often leaned more towards following the wisdom of their babies’ grandmothers and great-grandmothers instead of the health pros. It usually boiled down to trusting the experience of their mothers and grandmothers or feeling pressured to stick to the advice they got at home, where they lived and got support from these wise family figures.

Regional influences

In regions with abundant harvests, households often incorporate locally grown agricultural products into their diets. For instance, in countries across the Asian Pacific, the most popular food to be introduced to infants is rice or rice-based products, such as rice cereal (Australia and Hangzhou, China), rice porridge (Vietnam), rice paste (Xinjiang, China), and rice gruel (Japan). 

Cultural traditions and the predominant local agricultural produce influence this dietary preference. Additionally, despite recommendations from the WHO, several Asian mothers have initiated the introduction of solid foods to their infants before the suggested six-month mark, typically starting around three months. Some express concerns about ensuring their children receive appropriate foods at the right time.

By understanding the prevalent dietary practices in regions with abundant harvests, parents can appreciate the influence of local agricultural products on infant feeding choices. Moreover, insights into the common practice of starting solids before six months in some Asian regions can help parents gauge cultural expectations and make choices that best suit their infants’ well-being.

In conclusion 

Each culture brings unique flavors, traditions, and superstitions to the high chair. It shapes how infants take their first bites and lays the foundation for a lifelong relationship with food. The global perspectives on starting solids underscore this developmental milestone’s universality and celebrate the diversity that makes each culinary journey unique.

Embracing the diversity of practices in starting solids encourages a celebration of cultural differences. Parents can draw inspiration from various traditions, incorporating elements that resonate with their family’s values while promoting the nutritional well-being of their children. So, here’s to the varied tastes, cultural nuances, and shared experiences that make the transition to solid foods a genuinely global and captivating exploration.

If you would like to see more resources on solid foods, check out the Parenting Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Parenting Science Labs today.

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