Babies and Toddlers - Introducing Solid Food
Babies Discovering Food
Trying new foods is a voyage of discovery for baby and is best at their own pace. If you are breast-feeding there is no hurry in introducing solids. Most can wait ideally until at least 6 months old, and only when baby seems able and interested. As long as baby is regularly eating solids by 1 year there is no problem when breastfed. Introduce simple things first, initially soft or lightly cooked (to aid digestion) fruit/veg, introducing new ingredients on their own to check for intollerance. In first year avoid dairy (linked with anaemia), other animal products, and limit wheat, soya & nuts, as these are hard to digest.
As your child grows and develops its food interests will change too. There will be times and days when your child is very receptive to new tastes and textures - make the most of these. Informal times such as food preparation are good times for your child to try new things. Leave around attractive little bowls and pots with freshly prepared things in to graze on. When a toddler you can introduce new foods in a more disciplined way: "just try a bit of that (new thing) and I'll give you more of what you've just asked for" ; or a fun way "you put a bit in my mouth while I put a bit in yours". When your child is not feeling at all receptive or is just not hungry, back off for a while, waiting for a positive relaxed time.
Get any idea of a kid not liking something out of your head. They change, so just keep on reintroducing things and don't make a fuss at mealtimes. Their appetite varies, so there's no need to try to tempt them with treats if they are just not hungry enough to eat a real meal. If you really think a food has negative effects on your kid, such as tummy pain, weight loss or whatever, get them tested by a medical professional.
My baby is not conforming to growth charts!
To put everything in perspective: all babies vary enormously, as do their pregnancies and births. Each of yours will be unique. Health practitioners can forget this, and also often do not fully understand statistics. For example if your baby is on the 2nd or 98th centile line for weight (either the big or the small side) it means one in 50 babies will be like your baby - i.e. it's not unusual, even though it is often treated as such - so trust your instincts and common sense. Also growth charts are based on a small number of bottle-fed babies a few decades ago, so are not as relevant when you breast feed, when even the structure of your baby's fat is different. Ask for a breast-fed baby growth chart - they are available.
If your child is lively, responsive, has good skin tone and good natural immunity and is gaining weight after the first few weeks, these are all things to celebrate.
Introducing solid food to your breast fed baby
Your baby is getting the best food available - congratulations!
There is a lot of pressure to introduce solids from about 4 months onwards, and even sooner if you listen to the older generation. Medical research says avoid introducing solids to a breat fed baby until 6 months if you possibly can, unless your baby is one of the few really desparate for solids before this. UK government guidelines changed in about 2001 to 6+ months too. Even after 6 months there is no great urgency, though your child ideally will be consuming solid food regularly by 1 year old. Weaning doesn't mean stopping breast-feeding or bottle-feeding, it means slowly introducing other foods initially mainly for discovery and later for significant nutrition and calories.
Your baby knows best - offer pureed single gentle vegetables and fruits from about 6 months, but if you meet with resistance never pressurise, just try again every couple of weeks. Once they get into this start introducing other fruits and easy to digest vegetables, singly and then mixed, by a year old you'll be sharing your sugar-free and low salt meals with your little one.
You may hear concerns about iron levels. The iron in breast milk is in a very digestible form, unlike that in formula milk. Thus your baby needs a lot less of it to get the same amount of iron. You can try giving your baby pre-soaked dried apricots and pitted prunes (preferably organic) to suck and chew on if concerned. Also use pulses and wholegrains, such as brown rice, though whole wheat can be hard to digest, so don't ramp that up for a while. An emerging problem with a western diets appears to be too much iron, so it may be that our expectations for iron levels are too high. The main thing to watch out for for anaemia is loss of energy and lethargy. If your baby remains bright as a button there is unlikely to be anything of concern on that front.
So if your baby is not interested in solid foods until 9 months and is happy on the booby there's no need to get in a panic.
will my baby sleep better on solid food?
Many people rush to include solid food (and/or suppliment with formula milk) in the hope their baby may sleep longer at night. Harder to digest foods do sit longer in the stomach and so may delay feelings of hunger which can wake baby. However baby may get stomach pains for the very same reason. Often there is no great change. We have evolved to produce more milk in the evenings and at night, and babies often work on this. Feeding baby in bed maximizes your sleep time (just don't do this if anyone else in the bed has been smoking, taking drugs or drinking alcohol). For a bed sharing guide and other breast feeding help, see the Baby Friendly Initiative
foods to avoid in the first year
Some foods are hard to digest for a young baby, and others can be detrimental to health. The following are known to be best avoided in the first year at least:
- all dairy products - recent research has shown that introducing these before one year of age significantly increases chances of anaemia in childhood. Dairy products are also associated with common chronic conditions such as asthma, eczema, diabetes, and increased rates of serious illnesses in later life such as cancer and heart disease. There is no need to introduce dairy products to a ballanced dairy-free diet. Bone health is more effectively enhanced by breast milk, green leafy vegetables, figs, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, fruit and vegetables in general, and later almonds (almond butter is lovely). These foods provide more than just calcium - your child's bones' much needed magnesium, boron and vitamin K are well supplied too.
- other animal products - most are hard to digest and health issues are numerous
- nuts - hard to digest. If there is a family history of a particular nut allergy on either side of the family avoid those particular nuts yourself whilst breast feeding and pregnant. On the other hand nuts are full of calories and nutrients for growth, so if there is no family allergy history you can include them ground up and as butters from 1 year onwards, and in your own food while breast-feeeding and pregnant. Whole nuts can be a choking hazard, so be present and vigilent when they are eating them, just as you need to be for any food.
- soya products - harder to digest than other pulses. Some guidelines say you can introduce these at 9 months. Chunks of tofu and scrambled tofu are very popular with little kids.
- wheat products - hard to digest. Can cause bloating and reduce nutrient absorption. Use sparingly, and avoid as much as possible in the first year.
- sugar - a baby, or any human for that matter, has no need for refined sugar. Dried fruit is great for high calories and nutrtion, and is delightful finger food. The extra soft varieties or ones you pre-soak are nice to play with for 6 month olds upwards.
- salt - completely avoid giving babies salty foods such as crisps for the first year, and these are not good for anyone regularly. Do not add salt and salty ingredients to your baby's food. After 1 year old the occasional salty thing such as veggie burgers and olives is not a problem, as long as most meals are very low in salt.
when should I stop breast feeding?
There is no right time to stop. You can leave it to your child and yourself. Some will stop at around one year, many prefer to go on for several years. This won't need to still be all the time, as often it ends up being just morning and evening and when unwell.
If going on for years seems scary to you, just aim for a time ahead that feels comfortable to you, and when you get there, reassess and see whether going on feels okay. As a baby becomes a toddler, breast feeds become less frequent, and you may end up only feeding first thing in the morning and/or last thing at night in the final few months or years. For your child's health, the longer the better, especially if you can keep going till one year, and ideally at least 2 years as the World Health Organisation recommends.
Developing your child's food habits
This is an ongoing task, and you'll go through highs and lows. But just keep going, trying new things all the time. Don't give up if they don't like something one day, try it again at other times.
Read up on both nutrition and baby and child psychology. It's important to know what a child requires but at the same time be relaxed and don't allow mealtimes to become a war zone or where you always back down and give them unhealthy food. It is never too early to show your child what the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are. Keeping these simple, logical and consistent makes life a lot happier, and means you are more likely to be in tune with your child. One of the first areas you'll find for doing this is at mealtimes.
in your child's second year (1-2)
- This is what I wrote for a submission for a BBC Radio 4 programme, "Veg Talk", once, about increasing vegetable variety for children:
My 21 month old, Zuki, really enjoys her fruit and veg - but variety and presentation is key. If she doesn't like something one time I try it again another time, often in another format. At the moment she only has 4 molars, so is not too keen on chewing hard things, so carrots are better grated or cooked than in raw battons.
Often kiddies reject foods on mood, lack of hunger, or feeling like something different - would you eat carrots if you'd been dreaming of toast? And sometimes we like experimenting with foods, while other days we want comforting old favourites - little ones are the same. So if she doesn't feel like something I just let it go. If she's never tried something I do sometimes try to put a little on her lips so she can at least taste it and see.
Leaving chopped fruit (particularly mangoes, pineapple, kiwi) in a little bowl within her reach before a meal nearly always tempts her - and I'm happy to help myself if she doesn't. I also have the fruit bowl on a low surface, so she can pick something out and ask me to peal it for her anytime.
Her favourite veg is asparagus. I put it in the sink to wash, and a chopping board on the side next to it, and she puts the spears on the board for me to chop, and then she puts the short lengths in the steamer. When they are cooked - after a few mins, we dip them in olive oil, and munch. Even though it's her favourite, she doesn't want the same thing more than once a week. So we also do similar with calebrese, peas, green beans and sugar-snap peas. She also loves chopped cooked spinach or kale on her pasta with pesto, and chopped and mashed avocado. The more she is involved in the choice and preparation of her food, and the more we share it, the more she likes it. So she helps me pick stuff out of the fridge and cupboard.
When we go shopping, seeing all the food gets her taste-buds going. My friendly local supermarket unofficially lets little ones nibble in the trolley as long as you keep the packaging and pay for it. So we get a punnet of blueberries and she eats them as we go round. She'd like to eat the grapes too, but we have to wait till they are weighed. Since nuts and seeds are full of good things and we have no history of nut allergies, Zuki gets to try organic ones. She loves freshly roasted pumpkin seeds, pine kernals and pistachio nuts particularly. Sometimes we nibble on sprouted beans or olives.
She reckons potatoes are best as chips or waffles, and why not? Yum yum. I cook up rice with grated coconut, red lentils, pinch of seaweed, veg stock and cardomom pods (pods get picked out before serving). This goes down a treat as a tasty chewy pulp.
She always gets to try new things on their own, and I put them in a dish once she's used to them. Pureed soup is a good way of including veg not so popular in chunks, and for diluting strong tasting things like garlic and ginger. I also put nuts, seeds, dried and fresh fruit in bread in the breadmaker. It is very low effort to experiment, since you don't have to do the kneeding.
There are still lots of things she doesn't think she likes, but we'll try them again another day. After all, many of the things she eats happily most of the time she has rejected early on, or when she's not in the mood. And there is so much choice, so we try everything.
Lots of kids don't get to try lots of different fruit and veg, particularly in a low-pressure way, so I'm not surprised they get wary. Good quality fruit and veg are so yummy that they don't need to be treated as something enforced, but enjoyed and snacked on.
toddler food and widening their food range
Shopping is a great time to build positive attitudes towards food. They can help pick the food out, with a choice between equally nutirtious options: 'Which looks the nicest pepper?' 'Shall we have broccoli or kale today?' 'what do you think that fruit is? What name would you give it? Shall we try it?' 'Pick any fruit or vegetable we haven't had before and we'll all try it together' 'shall we have chick peas or tofu?' 'shall we make a shepherd's pie or lasagna? Let's work out what ingredients we need for these.'
Growing fruit and veg in the garden or window boxes with your toddler is great fun and gets them really into trying raw veg often. We grow things which are easy to plant and care for such as tree fruits, strawberries, peas in the pod, purple sprouting broccoli and coriander all of which they'll pick and munch raw, and also leeks, onions, garlic and herbs. The main thing is to involve them in the planting and harvesting, and make it fun rather than serious - so what if too many seeds get planted, or at the wrong depth or in the wrong place? Somehow they'll find a way to grow, and you can always thin them out.
Bring in gentle but firm discipline. Encourage them to try new things before getting more of their more familiar bit of the meal. Remember food tastes better when you are hungry. Offer healthy snacks (fruit and veg, rice cakes with nut butter or yeast extract). Rather than bulking meals with low-calorie carbs, increase the percentage of high-calorie and high-nutrient ingredients such as the protein sources (pulses, nuts, tofu, meat analogues) and good fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts). Keep up variety. Keep going with essentials containing rarer nutrients, such as ground flax seeds or de-hulled hemp seeds on cereal for omega 3 fatty acids.
Toddlers are fine with occasional chips, ice cream (Swedish Glace is very popular), biscuits, desserts and cakes from time to time. The key is to make sure they get most of their calories from nutritious and savoury food. There's no need to be fanatical. However, you'll find a lot of otherwise well-educated parents give in to kids wining for treats and may completely undermine meal times with poor quality and repetitive food. Why they see this as being kind to their child beats me! Kids don't wine if you don't let something become a manipulative issue. If you are finding this hard to put into practice, and it is, then mug up on super nanny style technicques. It'll make for happier healthier kids and calmer families.
Author: Sophie Fenwick-Paul
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Story posted by on 2009-07-03 09:57:20.
Story last updated by on 2012-02-21 17:14:04.
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