This writer mom just didn’t quite understand what a big part of the job it would be to take on this particular endeavor: the whole feeding thing.
I’m not sure that I even thought very far past the breastfeeding days, really, when I was pregnant with my first baby a handful of years ago, now. But so it goes: First, there’s figuring out breastfeeding (or bottle feeding, for some moms and dads). And then, within about 4 - 6 months, it’s time to tackle offering baby’s first “solid” foods, which may not exactly resemble what adults would think of as far as “real food,” but they are a step toward those types of foods for little ones who have so far survived on milk and milk only (or perhaps formula).
To say it takes patience would be quite the understatement. And one’s tolerance for crazy messes, spending lots of time at the table, and throwing away a good amount of that carefully prepared food must be high.
Sometimes it might feel fun and easy, other times it’s frustrating and difficult. Perhaps some days a mom will feel energetic and inspired when it comes to a baby’s mealtime, and others she’ll sort of wish that she could just give up.
But like all those brave moms that came before, and with the guidance of the baby’s own doctor, go bravely forth. And check out a pediatrician’s guide to baby feeding, in 20 points.
I’ve been at this whole mom thing for more than 4 years now, somehow, and I have learned a few things. One is this: If the vibe you create (or somehow foster unwittingly) is that meals are about making or getting your little ones to sit there and do something, they can tend to fight you on it. It can be as simple as just giving in to their desire to argue and create drama over it.
On the other hand, if you do everything within your power to make meals a casual, fun time, it can make a world of difference. When tots are enjoying themselves with family conversation, fun and different foods, and more, they tend to eat until they’re full without a fuss.
It all starts with those very first and early meals in the high chair, where you’ll serve three meals and probably also many snacks each and every day.
I’ve seen many phases and various tendencies, and I’ve talked it all over with our family pediatrician many a time, and one thing is clear: Even if they seem quite picky (I like to use the word “selective”…), try not to stress about it, and just keep a casual attitude. Basically, don’t sweat it too much, and just keep trying. All you can do is offer a variety of healthy foods, and that is often just what’s needed.
I’ve become an artist of sorts, reading my little ones’ various moods and tendencies ever since they were small babies. And there is no joy quite like the success of offering something new and different or even just presented in a different way, and having your baby or toddler nom it up like it’s the best thing they’ve ever had.
If you offer a variety, it gives them all they need: the chance to try, sample, and eat up as they wish.
“It's important to feed your baby a variety of healthy foods at the proper time. Starting good eating habits at this early stage will help set healthy eating patterns,” says StanfordChildrens.org..
What could I do to make sure I was giving my little ones every opportunity to have good nutrition? What if I wanted to make sure they were eating enough of the right things to grow healthy and strong? I turned to their pediatrician for any inspiration that he had to offer, and one of the first tidbits he offered up was to be sure to offer protein at every meal.
Talk to your own pediatrician for age-appropriate ideas, or check sites like MayoClinic.org or government nutrition sites for tips and info.
Beans, fish, meat, eggs, and nut butters may all be great options to have in rotation.
One of the things I’ll always remember my own children’s pediatrician saying is something to the effect of, “Well, and there’s always peanut butter!”
It was at this moment that I had, well, one of those “aha!” moments. I wanted to be sure that my first baby was getting enough protein on a regular basis. I realized that I tended to not eat very much meat myself, and he was happy to bring up that there wasn’t really any need to serve more meat in the household than I would normally, as long as protein was coming from elsewhere.
Though my baby wasn’t quite ready to nom a bowl of beans like I did many days, wheat bread with peanut butter was perfect. But always make sure that you check with your pediatrician before introducing nuts.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t tend to eat all that much meat myself at around the time that I was navigating feeding my first baby “real people” food for the first time, and as we transitioned into the toddler years. I tended to eat a lot of beans and vegetables, along with dairy and fresh fruits, nuts, and more.
I liked being reminded by the doctor that it was okay to not serve more meat in the household than I normally would tend to — that just as I tended to get my protein from non-animal sources lately, my little one could, too.
A few weeks ago at our two little ones’ annual checkup, I mentioned how inspiring that line about “there’s always peanut butter!” had been in navigating feeding my babies and toddlers enough protein as they grew, grew, and grew some more.
I asked if their doctor could throw anything else out there that might inspire me, and the first thing he mentioned was fish.
I also like to remember for this age that there are options besides frying whole fishes yourself or trying to offer your baby a fillet: canned tuna, fish sticks, and meals containing seafood might be considered.
Basically, just don’t ever give up. Did you offer a new food only to find that your baby or tiny tot refused to even touch it — or perhaps sampled a small bit and promptly spit it back out again?
This is not a good reason to never offer it again. In fact, it might just take a bit (or maybe even a bunch) of persistence.
Although you certainly can’t (and would never want to) make your little one eat anything, simply being offered something again and again can make it more likely that a child will go ahead and eat it.
“You'll find that you have to offer some foods 15 to 20 times before your baby will begin to like it,” says Parents.com.
Believe me, I know: Kids go through phases, starting with when they are just babies. Some week they may be incredibly “good” eaters, eating up a decent amount and variety of food when it is simply offered regularly. Other times, though, parents may find themselves worried that their kiddos are refusing or just not interested in having much of what they serve.
Our pediatrician pointed out that although it’s understandable that parents might tend to worry if a child is a bit picky, it’s important to keep in mind that a good indication of appropriate nutrition and growth is at that regular checkup: If they are growing steadily and a healthy height and mass on those charts, it’s a good sign.
So much of feeding a baby is about allowing them to learn to feed themselves. Even in the early months of offering “solid” foods (often purees and cereals), you’ll need to follow your baby’s cues, letting him or her decide when that tummy is happy and it’s time to call it quits.
“At meals and snacks, let her decide how much and even whether she eats from foods you have put on the table,” says EllynSattersInstitute.org of feeding older babies and toddlers.
It really is about establishing healthy habits, rather than worrying too much about exactly what or how much is swallowed at each meal.
As is covered at BabyCenter.com, doctors and lactation consultants (ours, included) often recommend waiting to introduce a bottle until breastfeeding is “firmly established.”
And really, it is important. Once they are accustomed to breastfeeding, a bottle can be offered if you plan to give them one regularly as part of your feeding schedule.
I didn’t think we would, and that we would instead exclusively breastfeed, and it turned out that at around 4 months, it looked like we might need to use a bottle, which was vehemently refused.
The trick is to do it once breastfeeding is the norm and before the baby is too old to want to try the new method.
Our pediatrician instructed clearly and simply that at around 4 months if the baby was interested and seemed ready, it was time to begin to offer “solid” foods.
What you may find funny is that the first food that many parents are instructed to offer is mushy, goopy cereal. At first, in fact, it’s very watery, or milky, rather. Our fam’s doctor gave us the quite common advice of mixing the baby cereal with a good amount of breastmilk at first, then making it a bit thicker as time went on and our little ones grew accustomed to the whole “eating” thing.
As I mentioned, our pediatrician explained that at around 4 months, it was time, if a baby was kind of showing interest in eating “real people” food and could sit up supported and everything, to offer early solid foods.
What made this slow transition to eating “real” food easier was that at first, you just mix mama’s milk (or the formula that you have been using) right on in. The familiar flavor…. Awesome. The nutrition… great. And you need to mix some liquid with the rice and other grain baby cereals that are often offered as first foods, making breastmilk a great tool for the job. Then you can mix purees of veggies, fruits, and other foods into there as you go, too.
Babies will still need breastmilk or formula even as they are being introduced to solid foods. As they get into the toddler years, they’ll consume solid foods more and more as their source of energy.
Our family’s pediatrician cautions folks regularly not to give an excessive amount of cow’s milk once this time comes and on into the preschool years. The logic is that if a little one is consuming a bunch of milk each day, they will be less likely to eat a variety of healthy foods because they’re all full of la leche. Some? Yes. Just so much that it’s replacing real meals.
Especially as a first-time parent, it was easy for me to have a sense that I needed to be really cautious. Moving onto “real” foods that weren’t just mushy cereals and purees, as I recall, was something that I wanted to be very careful about, and yet I also wanted to encourage my little one to move on and eating more and more “real” foods — that were of course still manageable and safe for her at her current age.
When the pediatrician said, in one of our discussions, “Well she has teeth, right??” I realized that I could be bolder about offering “real” foods, probably, than I had been so far.
Let them try self-feeding even quite early on; that’s how they learn! As is noted at Parents.com in an article about feeding your baby, an age-by-age, guide by Sara Dumond, MD, once you’re in the 6 – 9 month range, finger foods can start to come into play. Those bits of bananas and cheese (and more) on the high chair tray allow a little one to work on that pincer grasp and getting food from in front of them to in their mouths for chewing or gumming in any case. At about 9 months forward, Dr. Dumond noted that it can be a good time to try “table” foods, as in actually sharing the same family meal.
For digestive health and nutrition, both, think whole grain. That’s the other main point our fam’s pediatrician wanted to be sure to bring up when I asked for any inspiration he could offer in having two healthy little eaters.
It’s usually a simple choice: Wheat bread can be used for toast and sandwiches instead of white (more often than not). The same goes for pasta, crackers, and other meals and snacks.
HealthyChildren.org notes that a way to introduce such grains to your baby is through various cereals (which are often mixed with breastmilk or formula). And for babies, kids, and beyond, the fiber is great for, well, keepin’ things moving.
Sure, we’ve gone on and on about making mealtime a happy time, about food being fun, and about creating healthy habits for the road ahead. But you can’t talk baby feeding without talking about safety, which should always come first. Talk to your child’s own doctor, but there are some common (and common-sense) guidelines, as included at StanfordChildrens.org:
Offer one new food at a time to test for allergies and just to let kids get used to them. Avoid cow’s milk for the first year. No honey either, because of the risk for botulism. No bottle propping, especially in bed. “Hot dogs, nuts, seeds, round candies, popcorn, hard, raw fruits and vegetables, grapes…”? Many docs say to avoid until a child is older, says StanfordChildrens.org. And insist they sit down.
Although it may be easy to focus on what your baby eats — and how much — and to feel like it’s an important part of your parental job to make sure that they’re getting “enough,” really, making mealtime a nice time can be what’s more important to focus on. Carol Danaher, writing for EllynSatterInstitute.org, covers that family meal times have so many emotional and nutritional benefits, both for very young children and on up through the teenage years.
If the goal is establishing healthy and happy eating habits, sitting down as a family regularly can be key. It’s recommended to turn off the TV, sit together, face each other, and share conversation.
I was talking recently with our family’s pediatrician about tips for healthy toddler eating (I have two of them, one who is 4 years old and another who is 2 years old). We were there for the yearly check-ups, and I always like to bring this topic up, just to see if he’ll say anything that will inspire or somehow fortify me as I go boldly forth in my quest to have to happy and healthy eating little ones.
As he ran through various points, one thing really stood out: He said that he always mentions that the parents have to eat well, too: If they aren’t eating healthy, regular, well-balanced meals, how do they expect the kids to?