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An Overview of Baby Food in Japan

We all love food, so it’s an exciting time when your baby is ready for solids. But if you’re anything like me, there are probably dozens of questions going through your head. What should you feed them first? How should you make it? How will the baby react? What kind of food will they like or dislike? What about allergies?

The answers to these questions become even more fuzzy when you’re a foreign mom in Japan, so in this article I’ll give a brief overview about baby food in Japan as well as my experience with introducing solids to my daughter and her food journey up to 9 months (I will update this later on with additional information for the final solid stages). Keep in mind that I am not an authority in any way on this subject so I highly recommend doing your own research as well when it comes to how you want to introduce solids to your baby.

Baby Food Stages in Japan

Baby food in Japanese is called 離乳食(りにゅうしょく/rinyuushoku). In Japan, babies typically begin eating solids from 5 months, which is what we decided to do for our daughter. Of course, we looked for signs that she was ready, such as taking an interest in us eating, having good head control while sitting, and having lost her tongue-thrust reflex.

There are four main baby food stages in Japan:

ゴックン期 or 初期 (しょき/shoki)

Pureed strawberry

This is the initial stage from 5 to 6 months of age and consists of pureed food that’s usually one or two ingredients. It’s usually recommended that babies at this stage start out with about a teaspoon of 10倍がゆ (米がゆ) a day, which is rice porridge made using a 10 to 1 water to rice ratio and then blended or strained. After that pureed vegetables, tofu, and fish can be introduced. As babies are still getting most of their nutrition from breastmilk or formula, you don’t need to worry too much about how much they’re eating. Babies are fed about a teaspoon or tablespoon of puree, rice cereal or porridge only once a day in this stage, usually in the morning. In this stage, as with all of the others, babies should still be given formula or breastmilk after their meal(s).

At 5 months my daughter would only eat if one of us was holding her on our lap and although there were some tears, she generally liked a lot of the food we gave her at this stage, especially the instant 米がゆ (rice porridge) we started her out with and だし (she hated carrots, though, just like her father). At 6 months we started giving her rice crackers that were appropriate for her age, but she had some trouble eating until she was 7 months and began to devour her senbei during her afternoon snack time. We only gave her juice, specifically a vegetable and apple juice mix that we watered down, a few times before deciding to stop because although she really liked it, in North America juice is not really recommended for babies until the age of 1 due to the (natural) sugar content and empty calories.

モグモグ期 or 中期 (ちゅうき/chuki)

(Clockwise from the top-left) Carrot & chicken on rice (にんじんと鶏ささみのあんかけ丼), apple sauce, pumpkin & tofu oyaki

This is the middle stage from 7 to 8 months. The food has a bit more texture but is still soft enough for the baby to mash with their tongue, like tofu, and chew using their gums. Unlike in the West, babies in Japan are usually only fed twice a day at this stage. (Of course, it’s completely up to you and your baby if you want to feed them three times a day.)

The following are approximate recommended serving sizes for babies at this stage according to Japanese books on baby food:

Starch—one of:  
Rice porridge 50-80 g
Bread 15-20 g
Udon 35-55 g
Potato 45-75 g
Fruits 5-10 g
Vegetables 15-20 g
Protein—one of:  
Fish or Meat 10-15 g
Tofu 30-40 g
Egg yolk 1/3 of a yolk
Dairy 50-70 g

I followed recipes to make my daughter’s food so I didn’t worry too much about whether she was getting exactly what’s listed above but I found that the recipes usually incorporated the recommended amounts. I know some moms in Japan weigh the food and keep track of how many grams of what their baby ate but I didn’t do that at this stage and I still don’t. I did try to balance her daily meals in terms of providing a starch, fruits/veggies and some sort of protein; however, she didn’t have much of an appetite so I didn’t force her to finish her food. If she turned away or cried when I was feeding her, then she was done and that was fine.

By this stage she was happily sitting in her Ingenuity Baby Base chair and starting to feed herself (kind of, we put the food in the spoon, put it in the bowl and she grabbed it and fed herself). She started eating little finger foods on her own despite not having any teeth until right before she turned 9 months. We introduced 麦茶 (むぎちゃ/barley tea) to her at the behest of her daycare. This was also the time that her likes and dislikes became quite pronounced. She did not like vegetables, in particular tomatoes, but interestingly she began to tolerate carrots. She loved her morning oatmeal, though, especially with bananas, as well as her strawberry-banana “popsicle” for dessert that I made using a frozen NatureBond fruit feeder, and like her father she would readily eat meat and rice.

Strawberry and banana oatmeal

Strawberry and banana “popsicle” using the NatureBond fruit feeder

カミカミ期 or 後期 (こうき/kouki)

Chicken cream doria and spinach, apple and yogurt puree

This is from 9 to 11 months and is considered the final stage before babies turn one. Babies are fed three times a day at this stage and can eat food as hard as a piece of banana, which they chew with their gums or their new little teeth. They are also starting to feed themselves at this stage.

Recommended food servings per meal

Starch—one of:  
Rice porridge 90 g
Bread 25-35 g
Udon 60-90 g
Pasta 40-65 g
Soumen 50-75 g
Fruits  10 g
Vegetables 20-30 g
Protein—one of:  
Fish or Meat 15 g
Tofu 45 g
Egg yolk 1/2 of a yolk
Dairy 80 g

My daughter has recently started this stage. Making lunches on top of everything when I was working from home was a challenge at times, especially since she liked to take a nap right before lunch time and woke up HANGRY. However, she still doesn’t have much of an appetite and doesn’t finish her meal most of the time. I was worried about her not getting enough nutrition but according to her doctor, she’s doing fine.

White fish and Japanese mustard spinach(小松菜)udon for lunch

Making meals at this stage is a lot more fun, though, since she’s pretty much eating adult food in smaller portions and without the sugar or salt. (I was deeply saddened that she didn’t like my favorite food, spaghetti in tomato sauce. She definitely prefers Japanese meals to Western ones.) She continues to be a meat and rice porridge kinda gal but she will eat certain veggies like broccoli, spinach, onions and carrots.

パクパク期

This is from 1 to 1.5 years of age. Babies can eat food as hard as small meatballs and start to get a lot of their nutrition primarily from solid food. From this stage, babies no longer need to have formula or breastmilk with every meal and start to transition to whole cow’s milk.

Recommended food servings per meal

Starch—one of:  
Rice porridge ~90 g
Bread 40-50 g
Udon 105-130 g
Pasta 75-90 g
Steamed ramen (中華蒸しめん) 55-70 g
Fruits  10 g
Vegetables 20-30 g
Protein—one of:  
Fish or Meat 15-20 g
Tofu 50-55 g
Egg yolk 1/2 to 2/3 of a yolk
Dairy 100 g

When to Introduce What

There’s a lot of conflicting information about when to introduce certain foods to babies, such as between Japan and the West. For instance, avocado, bread, mango and blueberry are generally not recommended as introductory foods babies in Japan; however, I’ve found differences in okay-food versus not even among Japanese books and apps. It can be confusing but as your child’s mother, you know what’s best for them. Trust your instinct and if there’s a common theme in both countries when it comes to something you should not to give your child (like honey), don’t.

Allergies

Allergies are pretty scary so it’s important to introduce new food gradually starting with very small portions and look for signs that your baby may be allergic, which include redness around their mouth, rashes, swelling (face, tongue or lips), diarrhea, vomiting, or difficulty breathing.

In Japan, common allergens include:

  • eggs
  • soba
  • milk products
  • sesame seeds
  • yam
  • flour
  • nuts
  • fish/shellfish
  • certain fruits like peaches

I don’t want to say too much about allergens because my daughter has no far had no allergic reactions to food and I am also not an expert in any form so I don’t want to misguide parents. Please take the time to do your own research and consult with your child’s pediatrician if there’s anything you’re unsure about. If your child is having a mild allergic reaction after eating something, such as a rash, take them to their pediatrician. However, if it’s serious (excessive vomiting, difficulty breathing), call 119 immediately for emergency services.

Ready-Made Baby Food in Japan

Bread topped with fish and veggie cream sauce

Although the taste isn’t always quite there, instant baby foods are great for busy working parents, for trips, for emergencies, and when you’re just exhausted and want to prepare something quick and easy. I’m very close to finishing a short guide to ready-made baby food and snacks in Japan so that will be up very soon.

手作り Homemade Baby Food

Tofu and banana pancakes. It’s ugly but it’s the taste that counts!

I prefer making my own baby food when I can. The taste is completely different, I feel better about knowing exactly what I’m giving my baby, and it’s much cheaper. However, if ready-made baby food works best for you and your baby, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! I know I will have days when it’s just easier to use something instant or we will be out traveling and that’s the best option, and Baby A has no complaints.

I initially bought a small set by Combi to make baby food because as a first time mom, I had no idea what I was doing. This set has various graters to cut your baby’s food to a size appropriate for their age, which I really liked, and is small so it doesn’t take up that much room. It’s wonderful if you want to prepare a bit of fresh baby food on the spot (although at the 初期 stage, mashing the food with a fork would work just fine) but not that ideal if you want to make big batches of baby food to freeze. Instead, I found a hand blender that I already had was perfect for pureeing steamed vegetables. A baby food cutter or scissors are also good to have on hand to cut noodles, meat, or vegetables for your baby into smaller pieces right in the bowl or plate.

Tofu before and after using the Combi strainer 

For the 中期 stage where food is harder with more texture, I used either the aforementioned Combi set, a mini food processor (I used a T-Fal one that I already had but you can get a compact manual one for 300 yen  from Daiso), or just a good, sharp knife to dice food. I actually liked using the Combi set the best when it came to harder vegetables and fruits like carrots and apples because everything was uniform but it also took ages to prepare a big batch.

One of the most important staples I made and then froze for Baby A was 米がゆ (rice porridge). This is prepared with a different water to rice ratio depending on your baby’s solid food stage and how you will prepare the porridge.

Stage Uncooked Rice Cooked Rice
初期 10 to 1 4 to 1
中期 7 to 1 3 to 1
後期 5 to 1 5 to 1
パクパク期 2 to 1 1 to 1

There are different ways to make this and it’s especially easy if you have a rice cooker that already has an おかゆ mode. Mine did not so I simply soaked the uncooked rice in water for 30 minutes before turning on the rice cooker. You can also cook the rice as you usually do for yourself and then cook it in a pot on the stove afterwards with the appropriate amount of water on low heat for about twenty minutes. Turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot and then let it sit for ten more minutes. 米がゆ for babies that are in the 初期 stage should be blended or strained. If you decide to freeze your 米がゆ and it seems chunky or dry after you warm it up, just add a bit of hot water and stir before giving it to your baby.

Freezing

To save time, I prepare batches of baby food and then freeze it. Afterwards, all I need to do is pop a cube in a microwave-safe bowl and heat it up. Easy-peasy. Frozen baby food will also last for about three months, which makes life a lot easier.

I tried freezing purees using a normal ice cube tray at first as well as one specifically made for freezing baby food from the 100 yen store but it was a struggle involving lots of banging to get the cubes out. This is why I decided to invest in two different baby food freezer trays, リッチェル Richell 調理用品 わけわけフリージング ブロックトレー and Edison mama 使う分だけ簡単に取り出せる, partially to see which one would be easier to use and also because they came in different sizes (25 ml and 15 ml, respectively). Both were pretty easy to use and the frozen baby food cube popped out with ease.

The 100 yen baby food freezer tray from Seria. Dirt cheap but not worth it!  

I found the Richell one to be the best, though, because you can just press down on the corner of a frozen cube and it’ll pop out right away. It also closes more securely, is light, and very cheap since you get two trays in one package. I tend to take out the cubes all at once and then keep them in the freezer in a freezer bag to save space and so that I can use the trays again when I need to prep other food.

Red bell pepper, onion and broccoli frozen in the 15 ml Edison mama tray

  Rice porridge that was frozen in the 25 ml Richell tray  

Keep in mind that some foods freeze better than others. One book I referred to called Organic Baby Food recommended freezing tofu. Big mistake. Tofu just does not freeze well and becomes quite chewy.

So what freezes well and what doesn’t? I found this list online to be the most accurate in terms of my experience.

One very easy way to get single-ingredient frozen baby food without having to make it is to use CO-OP. The cost is very reasonable, especially since you don’t have to go through the trouble of washing, steaming, pureeing and freezing. You’ll also get some freebies when you sign up, like milk and bread, as well as some baby food on your little one’s half- and first birthdays. I’ll have a short guide and review about CO-OP shortly!

Helpful Feeding Supplies

There’s a lot of gear available at baby stores for feeding your baby, some useful and some you could do without:

  • High chair or booster seat

    During a Babies R Us Black Friday sale, we snagged an Ingenuity Baby Base chair for half-off and couldn’t be happier with our decision. It’s very easy to use and clean as there is no fabric to wash, all you do is wipe it down after meals. It’s also versatile and you can continue using it as a booster seat when your baby becomes a toddler. Japanese homes also don’t have much room so having something that you can strap to a chair at the kitchen table is a space-saver in comparison to buying a high chair.
    I read that it’s helpful to practice having the baby sit in the chair for a bit before feeding them solid food, and my daughter seemed fine during those trial runs. However, when it came time to feed her solids, she hated sitting in the chair for whatever reason. After about a month, though, she was perfectly fine and never had problems since.
  • Bowl and cutlery set

    We got a set by リッチェル Richell, which has been so useful in terms of spoons that Baby A doesn’t hate and microwave-safe bowls. I use these everyday. I tried a few different spoons from brands like Pigeon or Sophie’s Giraffe (the cute factor got me) but silicone Richell ones with plastic handles are the easiest for her to eat from and to hold while she makes attempts to feed herself. This set also comes with a cooling pack that you can put the bowls into if the food is too hot. Now that Baby A is nine months and her portions have increased, I have started to use a bowl from Afternoon Tea as well as small bowls and plates that I already have around the house. Once we move, I will start using a wooden divided plate I got at a baby event I attended last year. I still use the Richell bowls, though, to heat up frozen baby food.
  • Sippy cup

    Sippy cups are essential when it comes to weaning your baby off the breast or bottle. There are a lot out there and I imagine different babies have different preferences. We only tried one, which was a Richell sippy cup, and we liked it so much that we ended up buying another Richell one. This Richell sippy cup comes with three different valve/straw attachments for each stage (5, 7 and 8 months). Although she protested at first, by 7 months Baby A was able to drink from it very easily and hold it herself. It’s also very easy to clean and leak-proof, not to mention comes in adorable designs.
  • Baby food freezer trays

    As mentioned earlier, dollar store ice cube strays aren’t bad but if you’re planning on freezing baby food, make your life easier by buying one specifically for baby food (like リッチェル Richell or Edison mama ).
  • Bibs

    I tried both soft and hard plastic/silicone bibs and found the latter to be the easiest to clean. I got one hard plastic bib for Baby A from Babies R Us for ¥100 during their Black Friday sale but I also couldn’t help but to also splurge on a BabyBjorn one because it was so cute (little pearls always get me)! Soft plastic bibs (apron bibs) do have their merits, though, as they are compact and easy to tuck away or take with you when you go out with your baby. These bibs are also good if your baby is likes to knock their hard plastic bib around as a friend of mine experienced with her child. When your baby is a bit older and they’re ready to try to start feeding themselves (and you’re ready for the inevitable mess), you may want to invest in a bib with long sleeves so that their clothes don’t get completely ruined.
  • Fruit feeder

    These are great for feeding babies fruits, whether fresh or frozen. I got one from a brand called NatureBond and have been quite happy with it so far. The box comes with two feeders that have three different sizes of silicone teats each, which you can fill with whatever fruit you think your baby will like. Baby A likes strawberry and banana, so I stick those inside and then freeze it so it’s like a popsicle (I put the feeder inside of a freezer bag to prevent freezer burn). As she’s teething, I think she likes the cool sensation on her gums. It’s also very easy for her to hold and feed herself.
  • Newspapers/flyers
    Solids are messy, especially when babies are exploring their food and how to feed themselves. This is why it’s essential to have newspapers or flyers on hand to put on the floor and then throw away so that you have less to clean after a meal. You can also get something reusable like a picnic mat and just wipe it down but I just don’t have time for that and since I was getting a bunch of flyers from CO-OP anyway, I decided to put them to use. It was an excellent decision.
  • A shield
    Okay this is partially a joke but I think it’s useful to have something on hand to block bits of food from hitting you in the face if your baby likes to blow raspberries with a mouthful of food or just use the spoon to fling their meal at you 🙂 I use a small plastic cutting board or a magazine I don’t care about anymore but if you have any suggestions, let me know by commenting below!

Books/Apps

There are a lot of books on baby food and I ended up getting one Japanese book and one English book.

I bought the Japanese book,フリージング離乳食, after looking through it briefly at a bookstore because I felt like it was the easiest to follow with lots of illustrations (I’m a visual learner). I wasn’t a fan of the freezing methods listed in the book; however, I liked that it had recipes for each stage that used similar ingredients. This way I could freeze a few things in advance and then make various recipes for my daughter throughout the week. The book also has a lot of helpful information about each stage, allergens, and addresses some common questions and concerns parents may have when it comes to feeding their baby solid food. One thing to note, though, is that the book only provides recipes for one meal a day, which I’m not a fan of now that my daughter is in the 後期 stage and needs to be fed three times a day.

The English book, The Big Book of Organic Baby Food, was a recommendation from moms in my July 2019 Bumper group. As the book is written by a registered dietician, it has a lot of useful information about nutrition and great to refer to when my daughter was starting out with simple purees. However, I didn’t find myself making anything for the 6-8 month combination puree stage. However, I have tried out a few recipes for 9 months and up and there’s also some that I’m eying for when Baby A is older, particularly the family meals. I like how healthy the food is but the main problem with this book is that it’s hard to get some of the ingredients easily at a typical grocery store in Japan, like artichokes, kale, or fruits if they’re out of season.

My favorite resource thus far has been the ninaru ステップ離乳食 app because I can easily look up recipes based on an ingredient I want to use. I go into more detail about this app in my post on helpful Japanese baby apps for parents so if you’re interested, please check it out!

Overall, I prefer using Japanese recipes over Western ones as the ingredients are easily available and I was able to get my daughter accustomed to food she will eat in daycare.


I hope this guide has been useful and please let me know your thoughts or if there’s anything else you would like to see in this article or upcoming ones.

Happy feeding!

 

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