As a new mom and dietitian, introducing my baby, Wesley, to solids has been exciting, yet daunting and stressful with the pressure to “get it right.” Now I truly understand the angst many new parents experience. I want to make sure Wesley is presented with the right nutritious foods at the right time and has a pleasurable experience as he enters the wonderful world of eating. Research suggests that what we use to train a baby’s palate and how we do it can impact their food preferences and eating habits later in life. Because parenting guidelines change frequently, understanding the latest recommendations and having some key tips can help you calm and guide your clients as they learn how to feed their babies.
Is the Baby Ready?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend that foods be introduced around 6 months of age; however, some physicians suggest introductions should begin as early as 4 months. Every baby is an individual and develops at his or her own pace. A baby that shows the following signs typically is ready for solids:
- holds his or her head steady;
- shows interest in food;
- makes chewing motions;
- brings objects to his or her mouth.
When the baby seems ready for solids, recommend clients consider the following strategies for introducing them:
- To create a positive experience, introduce food when the child is happy.
- To prevent the baby from becoming frustrated when hungry, offer food after he or she has consumed some breast milk or formula.
- If the baby cries or turns away while feeding, don’t force it. Encourage the parent to try again at another time.
Traditionally, single-grain cereals have been introduced first, but many pediatricians recommend starting with vegetables, and then fruits. However, there’s insufficient evidence that introducing solid foods in any particular order has an advantage, or that a baby will dislike vegetables if fruit is given first.
Single-grain cereals such as rice cereal and oatmeal can be good options. When trying fruits and vegetables, consider puréed low-acid fruits such as apples, bananas, and pears. Vegetables such as sweet potatoes and peas also are good choices.
The form in which the food is introduced can be just as important as what the food is. Foods should be finely puréed and void of any additives such as salt or sugar. They sometimes are better tolerated if they’re thinned out with breast milk, formula, or water. To determine the baby’s tolerance to new foods, use only single ingredients and wait a few days before introducing another new food. Start with small amounts of food, gradually increasing portions.
Additional feeding tips include the following:
- As they continue down the feeding path, encourage parents to offer a wide variety of foods.
- Suggest clients make their own baby food, if it’s possible for them. Making large batches and freezing in ice cube trays is a great way to have food on hand that can easily be prepared.
- Remind parents to be patient and not get discouraged. Multiple exposures to a new taste may be required before the baby begins to enjoy it.
- Encourage clients to be good role models. Babies learn through mimicking and are more likely to accept nutritious foods their parents also are enjoying,
- Promote family mealtime with the baby. It will encourage communication with others and provide them with a sense of social interaction.
— Kaley Todd, MS, RDN, is the dietitian for Sun Basket, a healthy meal kit delivery service. In addition, she’s a freelance writer, clinician, culinary and communications specialist, and a new mom. She’s also the founder of Kaley Todd Nutrition at http://kaleytoddnutrition.com.