Common tips and myths about first foods
I have teamed up with Emily Parks from Nutrition Notebook, a fellow mama and Associate Registered Nutritionist to answer some of the common questions we get about starting solids and toddler nutrition. We have created two articles covering as much as we could, starting here with infant nutrition basics, and moving on to toddler nutrition in part two.
Please remember that every baby and child is different, however these are great guidelines to start with to check in and see if your child and their development with food is on track. If you have any concerns please check in with your LMC, your GP, or a qualified and experienced child nutritionist. If you’re not taken seriously or feel under-advised by the first two, seek out the latter as they have more time and nutrition specific skills to help assist you.
When and why do I start solids?
Your baby has up until now been able to thrive on either breast milk, formula or both but around 6 months of age, their growth requirements are simply far too large and require more than just milk to safely meet their protein, zinc and iron goals. You should always watch your baby’s cues and only start when they show signs of being ready. No earlier than 4 months and no later than 7 months are the standard guidelines. They should be able to hold their head up, show signs of being interested in or wanting food, and not poke their tongue out to stop food entering their mouth.
If you don’t introduce the right solids, and leave holes in required nutrition, you can prevent optimal brain development, immune function, muscle, tissue and bone formation, and create behavioural issues. It’s important to understand that food is meant to be fuel for the huge growth requirements that baby needs at this crucial stage in their lives.
What is the best texture for my baby?
Mixing first foods with milk is great for texture and consistency. If you’re expressing this will help sweeten and introduce new tastes to your baby with a familiar one. In the first few weeks, be sure that foods resemble a milk-like texture, not at all chunky or they may choke. They need some time to develop their gag reflex.
Should I follow a strict time or a flexible pattern?
Start with a pattern, not a scheduled time. It is best to create an eating pattern in your child’s day so that if you’re out, or running late or early, that you don’t have to stress about time and your child will pick up the pattern rather than pick up specific times.
Always introduce new foods in the morning on a weekday, so if reactions occur you notice them, and you can do something about it if required while health care is easily accessible.
I grew up on apple as my first food and many of the products on the shelves are fruit or baby rice, so why shouldn’t I use this as a main source of nutrition?
When you look at why you need to start solids you see that iron, zinc and protein are the most important nutrients. So, the idea of organic blended apple, while tasty, isn’t hugely beneficial to your baby, offering none of the required nutrients above. You start to see why pureed red meats (containing protein, zinc and iron) top the list of practitioners and mothers alike. Avoiding rice, pasta, and baby rice is a good start where possible, unless you have a vegetarian baby/family, where baby rice can be mixed into other whole food ingredients such as avocado, pureed vegetables or banana.
How much should they be eating and how often should I introduce new foods?
Start very small in size and listen/watch your child’s cues. Your baby only has a small stomach and still require small amounts more often rather than large meals. They have stronger satiety (fullness) cues than we do so they will tell you when they’ve had enough. Just because you cooked a cup of food does not mean they need a cup of food. Don’t force feed them just to finish the plate.
Introduce only one food at a time, for 3-4 days and make sure no reactions occur. When this food is deemed a “safe food” then introduce another new food in the same pattern. You will pick up foods that may cause issues much faster this way. Once a pattern has been established you can start “safe foods” in the afternoons/night and only new foods in mornings. Feel free to add a list of safe foods to your fridge in case anyone else is over or taking care of your child.
Don’t be scared of ‘allergen foods’. Just be sure that if you have family history of intolerance or allergic reactions you’re mindful to test your baby’s tolerance with a health practitioner. More recent studies suggest that waiting until a baby is past one year old increases your chances of reactions, and getting their exposure earlier is safer. This is up to you and your leading health care provider to decide.
Baby led or spoon feeding? I’ve heard I need to be strictly one or the other.
You do not have to fit into a category of self-feeding or spoon feeding. Some days might be one or the other – that is fine. Spooning food with your finger for them to suck off is also quite helpful sometimes, especially if you’re out or if baby is not used to the spoon but is still hungry. The most successful way to allow baby to explore food without pressure is a combination of both based on our clinical and personal experience.
It is a myth that combining self-feeding (BLW) with spoon feeding will confuse your child and cause them to have issues with chewing and swallowing.
Should I be giving my baby dessert each night?
No, avoiding the “dessert” pouches at the supermarkets are a great idea at all times. Parents often complain their kids don’t eat bitter vegetables, and then hand them vanilla custard every morning and night. Your child will innately want sweet food so giving them that encourages more desire for sweet. If you can, leave the custard desserts for your own mouths. Your children never actually need it and it will save you dinner hassles later if dessert is not offered.
An extra note on suckie pouches is that they prevent proper oral development skills, and they also don’t teach the child about what they’re eating or if they have had too much food. Use in emergencies only, but don’t ever rely on these as a go-to on feeding your child mess free. They shouldn’t even exist in our opinion.
My child doesn’t like it, should I ever offer it again?
It can take on average 7-10 times exposing your child to a new food before it becomes familiar or liked enough for it to be eaten, in some cases the food will take 20 exposures to be considered good for the child. Most parents give up after 3. If you have the will power, then keep going. If it helps, make a small chart or list to have on hand to keep track of what you’ve tried and how many times so you know. Once you hit 10, then give up for a while. Never force feed, and try be relaxed around meal times. Your baby will pick up on stress and will be less likely to try new foods. Eat new foods in front of them often so they are exposed simply by you eating too. The key is to be persistent but patient.
My baby is getting fussy around meal times, what should I do?
Often it is the stress around meal time or the pressure from parents. Check in with yourself first. Are you relaxed, are you flexible, are you patient and kind?
Then do a quick check of your baby and their surroundings. Be careful not to use cold cloths, and metal spoons on your child’s face. If these feel negative then you can have issues with fussy eaters. We find, simply using warm cloths to wipe, and not scraping your baby’s face with a spoon make quite a significant difference to a child’s desire to eat and experiences. Some babies don’t mind but if yours is showing signs of fussy eating this is step one.
Also check to see when you’re feeding them solids. I see many mums attempt to feed after a bottle or breastfeed, where they have filled baby up and then expected them to eat more. Always feed first, drink second.
Your baby’s satiety cues (hunger and fullness) are more in tune than yours are! If they’re not hungry, they will not eat. Teething, sickness, tiredness etc. can all impact on a child’s desire to eat and you need to trust that your baby knows their body. It might be a few days, or a couple of weeks, but your child will eventually eat “more” again. Don’t push too hard but keep offering food at mealtimes.
Should I be making a different meal for them and us?
The faster your baby can eat what you’re eating, the faster and easier meal times will be. Ideally, you’ll blend and mash depending on age whatever you are cooking for dinner. If you’re having roast and veg, then pull off some plain meat and some veg and blitz it together for baby. Buy a nutribullet or equivalent machine so you can throw food in, blend and wash without stress, mess, or much time. This is a little life saver for many busy mums or those planning on returning to work. Exceptionally great for those who don’t love prepping and cooking.
For parents or caregivers who want access to great options “off the shelf” I’m looking forward to Future Foody opening their doors for busy homes, run by a team of qualified and experienced parents.
What about the saying “food before one is just for fun”?
This phrase has been taken out of context by many on mum-group pages and private groups. Food should be fun absolutely, as this is the basis of education and development in babies, but food is crucial for development and growth also and you are responsible for that. Now you know how crucial certain nutrients are, you know that while food is to be explored, learned about and played with, it is also a requirement to be nutritious and important for your baby’s development. Your child must not grow up in the first year with the attitude from you that food is not important – it is. By 8-9 months your child should be able to have a small solids meal followed by breast milk or bottle. Ideally not after milk, to ensure they’re not full when trying new foods or developing their oral motor skills.
Remember, after your child turns one they are expected to be eating family foods and we need to give them plenty of opportunities to get to this point. A 10 month old who is still only eating a small variety of pureed or mashed foods is not going to be able to manage the family meal at 1 year, so this is a good goal.