On Solid Ground

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Easy does it on the sweet stuff as you build a healthy enjoyment of solid foods in your child.

So your little love is ready to start eating solid foods? Amazing how fast he’s grown! It’s true that most babies are ready to start solids at 4 – 6 months, but until his first birthday, remember that your goal is introducing solids as you continue feeding him breast milk or formula for the first 12 months. Take it slowly, and remember, while you may be tempted to sneak in cereal in order to get him to sleep through the night, wait.  Pediatricians Laurel Pramuk and Angela Rath say babies younger than 4 – 6 months don’t have the necessary enzymes to digest solid foods.  They also point to evidence that starting solid foods at earlier ages increases Baby’s risk for food allergies.

Getting Started

Once your baby is able to sit up on his own, it’s time to begin. The goal is to expose him to a wide array of foods from all food groups (in fact, you’ll want to do this all through your child’s growing up years). The more flavors and textures he tries early on, the less likely he’ll grow up to be a picky eater.  Pramuk and Rath say that Baby’s first food is usually single grain cereal (like rice cereal), which can be mixed easily with formula or breast milk and spoon-fed.  As a good source of the iron growing babies need, it’s best to feed the cereal twice a day.  At about 9 months, babies will need about half a cup of cereal.

Watching for Allergies

After a successful launch with cereal, it’s time for vegetables – pediatricians suggest veggies over fruit since the sweetness of fruit might make your baby partial to say, bananas, and cause him to turn up his nose to say, peas.  Since yellow and orange vegetables are sweeter than green ones, babies usually love carrots, yams and butternut squash.  But take it slowly.  Pramuk and Rath point out that if more than one food is started at the same time, and your baby has an allergic reaction, there’s no way of knowing which food was the culprit. 

The doctors advise waiting three to five days between starting new foods in order to monitor for allergy symptoms, which may include a rash, hives, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, excessive gas, diarrhea or blood in stools. Call your pediatrician if you notice any of these symptoms (they can take minutes or even days to appear), and go to the ER if the reaction seems serious. The good news is that a food reaction in the first year of life doesn’t usually mean a lifelong allergy, say the doctors.

First attempts at feeding may end up with veggies sliding down your baby’s little chin as he learns how to coordinate his ability to swallow with his mouth full of food.  And some babies may reject certain flavors, but keep trying.  Repeated exposure, up to a dozen times, can convert even the most stubborn baby. Pramuk and Rath also suggest trying to mix in a new food with one of your baby’s favorites. Start with strained or puré ed vegetables and then move on to mashed. Servings should gradually increase from a few teaspoons to about two tablespoons, twice a day. 

After your child has sampled a variety of vegetables, bring on the fruit. (Start small and work up to a couple of tablespoons, twice daily.) Avoid sweetened treats like cobblers and puddings – the extra fat and sugar add empty calories and can sour your baby on plain fruit. 

With all this eating going on, don’t forget to continue feeding Baby milk, although it is safe to reduce the amount he gets.  Remember, says Susan B. Roberts, Ph. D., author of Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health (Bantam), breast milk or formula is still a very important part of your baby’s diet, particularly because milk fat is essential for brain development and because calcium builds strong teeth and bones.

The Menu

Introduce new foods one at a time, and wait at least three days in between. That way, you won’t overwhelm your baby, and if there’s an allergic reaction, you’ll be able to identify the culprit. If a food provokes a reaction, such as a rash, vomiting or diarrhea, shelve it for one to three months before bringing it out again. If your baby still doesn’t tolerate it, keep it off the menu entirely until he’s a year old. By then, he’ll probably have outgrown the intolerance.

7 or 8 months:
Add pureed meat and poultry.

Between 9 and 12 months:Phase in soft foods, such as macaroni and cheese, pasta with tomato sauce and casseroles. You can also begin serving finger foods such as rice cake pieces, O-shaped cereals, baby crackers and bite-sized cooked frozen vegetables.

By His First Birthday
A typical baby may eat (in one day):

  • 4 to 8 tablespoons of fruit and veggies
  • 4 servings of breads and cereals (a serving is one quarter of a slice of bread or 2 tablespoons of rice, potatoes, or pasta)
  • 2 servings of meat or poultry (1 tablespoon each)

KEEP IN MIND: Don’t worry if your child doesn’t complete a perfect food pyramid each day. Instead, look for signs that he’s healthy and thriving.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for six months, with a gradual introduction of solids after that time.  It is also recommended NOT to introduce children to eggs until they are 2 and nuts and shellfish until age 3.

Now Serving

Rice Cereal
It’s easy to digest and rarely triggers an allergic reaction. Make sure it’s iron fortified.

  • Prepare it very thin at first – one teaspoon of cereal to four or five teaspoons of breast milk, formula or water.
  • Scoop a little bit onto a baby spoon, and put it between your baby’s lips.
  • If the cereal comes sliding back out, don’t worry. Your baby needs to figure out how to swallow something that isn’t liquid. It may take several tries before he gets the hang of it.
  • If he refuses to open his mouth or begins to cry, try again the next day. If he still balks, wait a week before trying again.

KEEP IN MIND:  Some experts believe that vegetables (either mashed, strained or pureed) should be a baby’s first food instead of cereal or fruit because exposing kids to healthy foods from the start can lay the foundation for healthy eating habits throughout life.

Susan Day is editor-in-chief of this publication and the mom of four amazing kids, ages 17, 15, 12 and 8.  At least three of them enjoy vegetables.

Avoid choking hazards until your child is 4:

Nuts and seeds, popcorn, raw vegetables, hard candy, chewing gum, whole grapes or cherries, chunky peanut butter (use smooth instead)

Susan Day is editor of Cincinnati Family Magazine and a mother of four.

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