We can likely recall early experiences with food, but not how we learned to eat. These early lessons and food connections, however, shape how we eat as adults, and in turn influence the way we communicate messages about food to others, including our own children.
When we care for a growing infant, our personal experiences and feelings about food are under a spotlight. For most new parents and caregivers, it starts out easy. We aim for the correct number of ounces, disperse the feedings, and measure the total ounces of the day (along with other signs that a baby is healthy and hydrated). Success, we are feeding our baby! But, what about when that baby inches closer to their first birthday and the toddlerhood that follows? Suddenly their clearly defined intake becomes more of a watercolor of small bites and tastes, along with breast milk or formula, and eventually milk.
The approach taken when transitioning a baby from breast milk or formula to food will shape that child’s relationship with food. Naturally, babies will not be able to remember the moments, but they will be influenced by the feeling of the feeding. If that sounds like unsound science, then I encourage you to embrace the extraordinary work of Ellyn Satter, and her “division of responsibility” approach to feeding, which reminds us that feeding babies is a dance that we aren’t leading, but serving as a partner in.
- Turkey breast or small pieces of shredded chicken
- Small pieces of low-mercury fish (salmon or tilapia)
- Sweet potato
- Puréed beans
- Puffs or small cereal (like O’s)
- Very small cooked pasta
- Cooked carrot slices
- Small pieces of sliced cheese
Strategies for Offering New Foods
If a baby can sit up straight, they are ready to move from pureed foods to more textures and toward solids. Acknowledge baby’s cues. If a baby is tracking your spoon (following with their eyes or turning neck), share your food (if appropriate). Furthermore, if a baby is reaching for your spoon, let them feed themselves. Use these tips to encourage self-feeding:
- Leave white space: think “painter’s palette.” Offer small, clearly-defined servings with plenty of white space in between
- Aim for variety in texture, color and taste.
- For older toddlers: offer an ice cube tray or something similar to separate out foods and encourage snacking on some new tastes.
- Avoid foods that the American Academy of Pediatrics highlights notes can increase potential for choking, such as hot dogs, popcorn, and raw vegetables. (Follow link above for complete list.)
- Limit salty foods/adding salt to limit baby’s exposure to sodium and subsequent desire for salty foods.
According to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, there is no specific order that new foods need to be introduced and no need to wait longer than four to six months before introducing potentially allergy-causing foods such as eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts and fish. Current thinking is that introducing peanut-containing foods as early as four to six months can help prevent peanut allergy.
That said, wait 3-5 days in between introducing new foods and note any symptoms (stomach or skin issues for example) and share with your pediatrician. Please note that the guideline for introducing honey has not changed and shouldn’t be offered until at least 12 months.
Keep in Mind…
Our job is to offer food, a baby’s job is to eat it. We aren’t charged with the job of forcing baby to choose food, but rather to honor the innate sense of hunger and fullness that babies are born with. Babies don’t know that they need to eat now because they will be too busy later or other factors that influence our eating pattern as adults.
If you watch toddlers, you’ll notice that they play (and play) and then eat a bit before returning to more play. They are tuned in to true hunger and seeking food when their belly calls for it (not their mind). As I previously mentioned, it’s dance and we are a partner, not leading. Whenever possible, let your baby decide how much and when to eat. Help them honor their true and innate cues (something most adults are trying to relearn how to do).