Starting solid foods….there really are not a lot of rules!
Starting solid foods can be stressful…so it seems. So many of my conversations with parents who are starting foods, thinking about starting foods, or in the middle of food introduction are full of anxiety and questions. It really should not be. There are very few guidelines that parents really need to follow. Many of the “rules” of starting solid foods are not based on a lot of science, but are based on culture and “what grandma did”. So what is all the worry about?? What are the “rules”?
Let’s keep it simple.
1. Children should start solid pureed foods when they are developmentally ready for food, usually near the 6 month mark. Usually at this age healthy children who are developing normally should be showing some interest in foods, sitting up fairly well, and their tongue thrust should be minimal.
2. First foods are really “practice foods”. Your baby is trying out new tastes and textures, but their main nutrition should be coming from breast milk or formula. Solid foods are complimentary the first year.
3. Pureed foods do not have to be the traditional baby foods…give your baby new and interesting tastes! There really is no scientific base to withholding any foods, even foods that are traditionally high allergen foods like eggs and peanut butter. The only food your child should NOT have is honey in the first year. Introduce new foods every few days and enjoy.
That is really it! So there really is no need for a schedule, a flow chart or an excel sheet to introduce your child to foods. Honest…
Even with these simple “rules” there are lots of questions. Here are some of the most common questions/worries that I hear:
1. Should I start with rice cereal first?
Traditionally rice cereal has been the first food for babies in this country…for years! Why? Well, it is convenient, it is easy to mix and feed, and it is iron fortified. Iron stores from Mom may begin to deplete after the first 6 months, so foods with iron are often started first. There is a lot of debate about white rice cereal, especially with the recent reports regarding arsenic levels in rice cereals. Rice cereal does not HAVE to be first. There are certainly other choices for first foods such as whole grain cereals, like oatmeal with iron fortification. There is no reason why a baby can’t have pureed meats at 6 months too. I think we should look at other foods besides rice for a first food.
2. Should I start with green vegetables first, then yellow, and then fruit?
Don’t have to……there is no evidence that shows if you give your baby green vegetables first he will like vegetables any better or like sweet things less. No matter what order you introduce foods, all children (adults too) will like the taste of sweet better. Besides, if you breast feed, your baby has already tasted sweet…your breast milk. Don’t worry about what color vegetable or what fruit you should introduce when, just offer your baby a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. You can introduce carrots one day, applesauce a few days later, and then peas…the order doesn’t matter.
3. Is it healthier to make my baby’s food? Does it have to be organic?
Many parents worry about the fact that they don’t have time to add baby food making to their “to do” list, but it seems that everyone is telling them that “good parents” provide homemade organic baby food. Like parenting issues in general, there is always different options for different families. There certainly are many ways a parent can provide healthy food for their child. Some parents buy only organic, local food and have special recipes for homemade baby food, some parents shop aisle 2 and pick up whatever food is in stage 1, and other parents go half and half; making some food and buying some. The truth is, your child will not be on pureed foods very long. I think the sooner your child begins to eat what you are fixing the rest of the family, the better. Children like foods that have normal seasonings and a wide variety of tastes. Try to make at least some baby food…that means add a little water, breast milk or formula and take a fork and mash or use a blender to puree food for your baby, it is that simple. Soon your baby will be eating what you do with just a little mashing.
Organic foods have not been proven to provide better nutrition, but the foods do decrease exposure to pesticides. If your budget doesn’t allow the purchase of organic foods, it is more important to provide a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. If you want to spend a few dollars on organics….stick with the “dirty dozen”. Remember organic processed foods like crackers or macaroni and cheese really don’t have a health benefit at all….
4. You want my baby to eat what I do?
If you are having green beans for dinner…then mash or puree some for your baby. If you are eating fast food…then no! If you think your child can’t have what you normally eat, then think about what you normally eat. I find a lot of parents begin to eat much more healthy when they have a child beginning to eat solid foods. Remember, the best way to teach healthy eating is being a good role model.
5. Can’t I start food a little earlier….I need some sleep at night and wouldn’t that help my baby sleep better?
Food does not help a baby sleep at night better….nothing in research has ever shown us this. Starting solids too early may result in an increase risk of obesity or maybe even a tummy ache because your baby is not able to digest the food well yet. Starting solid foods is a developmental milestone not a way to “tank up” your baby for sleep. Early food introduction will not increase your sleep…
6. Babies can’t eat eggs or peanut butter can they?
The only thing a healthy baby who is not in a family with many food allergies or intolerances can’t have is honey. That is it! Babies under a year are at risk for botulism when eating honey, but nothing else that is healthy is off-limits. There is no waiting for yogurt, eggs, meats, cheeses, fish….nothing….if it is not a choking hazard, then let your baby try it.
Let go of the anxiety….starting foods should be fun and exciting for you and your baby. Offer new tastes, new textures, and healthy food. Soon you will see that your child just might LIKE brussel sprouts….even though you never did! Let your child try it all….and maybe your diet will improve too.
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
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