If you are a parent, by now you have realized that children do not come with user manuals. Each new life stage, really each new day (or minute!), brings excitement, challenges and things we want to achieve as parents. We always want to do what is best for our families. My youngest son is 8 months old. This stage is full of changes. We have been in the transition from solely breastfed to the exciting world of foods. This transition is fun, but it can also feel a little overwhelming on what foods to try, how fast to advance them in food stages, how to plan meals, etc.
There are two things that sparked my motivation recently to write this post. First was the release of the new guidelines regarding juice for infants from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They advised no fruit juice during the first full year of a child’s life. One of our Lemond dietitians shared it on our Facebook page and I shared it on my personal page. On both platforms, there was quite a bit of discussion that occurred. Some were surprised but some thought it was a long time coming. The second motivator is the plethora of friends I have in this same life stage of navigating the introduction of foods for their growing infant. As I said earlier, there is a sense of excitement but also slightly overwhelming. If I can offer help or ideas from a dietitian’s perspective, I am more than happy to do so!
**Please note that these suggestions are based on full-term infants with appropriate development and low nutritional risk. **
1. Show Me A Sign…
It is strongly recommended that infants are solely breast or formula fed for the first 4-6 months of their lives. Waiting until closer to 6 months to offer solid foods is ideal. Watch for signs from your infant that they may be ready to start complimentary foods. Is your baby holding their head up strongly by themselves? Able to sit up with some/minimal support? Noticing others around them that are eating? Swallowing safely?
Personal note: My first son took to foods and textures right away. He seemed to enjoy everything right from the start. With my youngest, we started foods right at 6 months. He had no interest. I would sit him in his chair and work to spoon feed him rice cereal, oatmeal, bananas, carrots, etc. and he would spit it all right back out, turning his head away. This of course was slightly discouraging for me, but we persisted *slowly*. Every other day I would try 1-2 spoonfuls of food. It took us a little over a month before he began warming up and accepting a variety of foods and textures. All babies will develop and show signs of readiness at different times. Don’t compare your child’s readiness with your friend’s baby. They will catch on in their own time.
2. Be Adventurous…
Parents usually catch on that their child is ready to try solids. The hard part seems to come when deciding WHAT to feed their growing babe and at what point to advance them in their food repertoire. Most start with a rice cereal or oatmeal mixed with formula or breastmilk. A close second is single veggies and fruits. Avoiding mixing foods early on allows you to make sure your child is tolerating a variety of foods. If no adverse reactions are noted, it is most likely fine to become more adventurous with foods. It is important to remember to offer a variety of healthful foods. It can take infants 10-15 times to accept a new food or texture. Don’t give up.
For convenience, there are so many baby food cup and pouch options available with quite the variety and nutrients packed inside. One that we occasionally take on the go with us has strawberry, kale, banana, oat, amaranth and yogurt. Although convenient, I encourage you to bring your baby into your daily eating routine. What are you serving that your baby can eat? Sweet potatoes, finely chopped beef in tomato sauce, soft bread/toast, beans, cheese, noodles, avocado, yogurt, eggs, bananas, soft/cooked green beans or carrots are all examples of foods that you can try.
Giving your child foods that you have cooked or prepared at home can offer new flavors and textures that they may miss out on in store bought foods. And it can be more budget friendly! Bringing your child into your families eating routine also exposes them to the social aspect of eating, security of family meals, and regulated eating schedules.
*While on this topic, please note that I am not saying store-bought baby foods are bad options. They can be lifesavers when determining foods your baby will accept, ideas for foods to try, convenient for eating on the go or in a time-crunch, etc. I am simply encouraging you to be adventurous in the foods, textures and flavors you provide!*
3. Accept the Mess!
If you have been around kids during meal time, you know that it is not always the cleanest setting. When you think about an 8-month-old at meal time, it can be messier than you ever thought possible! There will be many times throughout the day that parents or caregivers need to assist feeding the child due to setting, time, etc. At least one time a day (more if possible), let your child work to feed themselves using their fingers or kid-friendly utensils. These are crucial skills that will be with them for a lifetime. Allow them to have the independence of selecting from the foods you have provided, regulate eating speed and determining when they are satisfied.
4. Things to Know…
Worried about food allergies? Nervous about introducing foods that tend to be highly allergenic foods? Listen up! There used to be recommendations to avoid some of these foods for the first 1-2 years of a child’s life. The latest research from The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommends introducing peanut-containing foods as early as 4-6 months to help prevent peanut allergy. (Of course, monitor size and texture to prevent any choking risks.) The same is true for foods like eggs and fish. Extended delay in introducing these foods does not appear to help with preventing allergies according to the most recent research. See more here.
**If you suspect any type of adverse reaction or allergen to foods, immediately discontinue offering that food and contact your pediatrician immediately.**
- As mentioned earlier- the latest recs state that fruit juice should not be offered to infants in the first year of life. Breastmilk and/or formula remain the primary source of fluids for babies, however, water can be offered in a cup or sippy cup in small, sip-like quantities at snack or meal time.
- Cow’s milk should not be offered during the first year of life. After the age of 1, whole cow’s milk is a nutritious option for your growing babe.
- After the age of 1, bottles should be eliminated from use. It is a good idea to begin offering cups, cups with straws, or sippy cups to babies (less than 1 year old) as they begin to progress in their food journey rather than taking bottles away all at once.
- Structure. Working to schedule even babies with certain feeding times rather than letting meals and snacking be a free for all will not only make your life easier, but will set them up for success and balanced eating as they age. Constant snacking may limit needed calories and nutrients in smaller children, as well as minimizing their hunger and satiety cues. Around 9-11 months, babies may mimic a 3 meal and 2-3 snack per day schedule.
The feeding behaviors and ideas a baby develops towards food at 6-7 months old helps build the foundation for what their relationship with food and eating will be like as they age. By working to expose them to a variety of flavors and textures daily, as well as a wide range of fruits and vegetables helps make that foundation strong and nourishing! Be adventurous, don’t be too hard on yourself and enjoy the journey!!