Once your baby moves beyond those first weeks of round-the-clock feedings, making sure your baby has the proper nutrition can get a bit more complicated. Breast milk or formula was all baby needed for the first six months of life. Over the next year to 18 months, though, expect a bit more adventure on the feeding front. Introducing solids, trying out table foods and weaning can leave many parents unsure about their little one’s nutrition. Starting good habits early helps set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Healthy eating from the start Try some of these tips when starting solids:
- Offer one new food at a time. Use single ingredient foods and wait a few days to watch for signs of allergy (rash, diarrhea, increased gas or fussiness) before
- Start with rice cereal first and go through the grains available in your area. Veggies should be next, followed by fruits and then meats.
- Limit juice, offer water if any other beverages are needed, such as during hot weather.
- Use a rubber-tipped sppon to start. Don’t put cereal or food in your baby’s bottle. This can cause babies to eat too fast, leading to overeating, and doesn’t teach them to eat solids.
- Pay attention to cues that baby is full. Your baby may turn away from the spoon,
lean backward or refuse to open his or her mouth. Resist trying to force
- Keep trying new tastes and textures. At about 8 months, your baby’s probably ready for chunkier and coarser foods that require more chewing, such as mashed potatoes, yogurt, some dry cereals, light crackers, cottage cheese, shredded cheese, small pieces of chicken, ripe banana, well-cooked pasta and well-cooked or canned fruits and vegetables. You may also choose to fork-mash, cut up or grind whatever food the rest of the family is eating.
- Always monitor for changes in behavior, skin and bowel patterns with dietary changes.
Making mealtimes work
During your child’s second year, his or her eating habits will evolve to be more like your own. Draw the high chair up to the table so he or she can join the rest of the family and try some of these strategies:
- Establish a routine. Offer three meals and two to three snacks a day on a regular
schedule so that your child learns to expect food at certain times.
- Accept a missed meal. Toddlers may skip meals from time to time simply because they’re not hungry. Resist the temptation to keep offering something else. Don’t push food on a child who isn’t hungry.
- Allow some control. Don’t make mealtimes a power struggle. You decide what healthy foods to offer, and your child decides which to eat, how much to eat and whether to eat at all.
- Start the sippy cup. Offer whole milk (after age 1), breast milk, formula, water or
juice in a trainer cup with a lid and spout. It may take several weeks before
the cup becomes more than a new toy, but using a cup helps improve hand-to-mouth coordination and can pave the way for weaning.
- Use whole milk. Continue to breastfeed if you wish, but if you use cow’s milk after
age 1, opt for whole milk instead of lower-fat versions until age 2.
- Be persistent with new foods. Children often need at least 10 exposures to a new
food before they’ll accept it. So keep offering broccoli, peas or any other foods about which they may seem hesitant.
- Limit sweets and empty calories. Little tummies can only hold so much, so serve foods packed with the nutrients they need.
Remember to set a good example. Your baby will develop and model many food preferences and habits after your own.
What’s off limits?
Remember to keep solid food items pea-sized or smaller and that not every food is suitable for young children. Avoid feeding:
- Cow’s milk, eggs, citrus or honey before age 1
- Peanuts, peanut butter, fish or shellfish before age 3
- Choking hazards like whole grapes, hot dogs, hard candy, raisins, popcorn, raw carrots, nuts or large pieces of meat before age 3
If you have questions about what to feed your toddler, bring it up to your provider at your next Well Child visit. Proper nutrition is CRITICAL in these early years and can set your child up for a lifetime of good choices.