One of the most exciting milestones for your child is when they move on from breastmilk or formula and start experimenting with food.
As with all stages of your child’s development, it can also come with a bit of trepidation. We all want to do what’s best for our children and make sure they’re developing good eating habits. There’s no shortage of people to tell you the “right” way to feed your child and it’s easy to see the array of accessories for food preparation in the baby stores and wonder what ones you “should” be buying. On top of that, your child probably has some firmly held opinions on food and will express them using the floor as a canvas.
Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you might fear. Here are some tips to guide you.
When should I introduce solids?
You might hear debate around whether introducing foods at a four or six months makes a child more or less likely to develop food allergies. The truth is that there’s not a lot of good evidence either way, so it’s best to follow the guidelines from organisations such as the World Health Organisation, which recommends at around six months, but definitely no earlier than four months. Prior to that, a baby’s digestive and immune systems and kidneys have not developed to be able to handle food and they are not able to chew or swallow. There is no magic date on which all children are suddenly ready for solids, so it’s best to let your child be your guide. If they are able to sit upright with minimal support, control their head and neck, have an increased appetite and are showing interest in food, then it might be time.
When should I feed them?
Introduce small amounts of food after a breastfeeding or the bottle. It might sound counter-intuitive to do it after a feed, but a cranky, hungry baby is not likely to be in the mood to try new things.
What should I start with?
A lot of people start with iron-fortified infant cereal. It is easy to prepare, and, as the name suggests, full of iron, which is a nutrient that babies often need. However, it’s not compulsory and pureed or mashed fruit or vegetable are also an option. The key thing to remember is to start off smooth. Really smooth. Like practically a liquid. As time goes on you can start making their food thicker and chunkier.
What sort of foods should I give them?
The Department of Health has guidelines on what foods to give when. Some people suggest starting off with one food and waiting a few days before introducing anything new to make it easier to pinpoint the culprit after an allergic reaction. Once you’ve done that, it’s important to include a range of flavours and as they develop, textures (although they don’t need anything with added sugar or salt). The Centre for Food & Allergy Research’s Infant Feeding Summit held in 2016, recommended that children be introduced to foods associated with allergies, such as eggs, peanut butter, dairy, and wheat before 12 months.
What equipment do I need?
There are a bunch of products available for food preparation for this age group, from machines to cook veggies to individual portion containers for freezing. How much of this you want to buy is up to you, but remember that your child is going to outgrow this stage in 6 months or so, so there’s no need to buy every bell and whistle. A blender stick is a handy thing to have, but you can also make do with a potato masher.
My baby won’t eat, what should I do?
If they’re not interested in food, they won’t starve. Remember they’re still getting their nutrients from breastmilk or formula, so eating at this age is really just getting used to the experience. Keep offering a food, even if they don’t like it initially because sometimes it takes a few goes to develop a taste for something. Don’t worry if more of it ends up over their face. It’s also important not to force a baby to eat something, you don’t want to make food a battleground. If you’re worried that your child is not getting enough to eat, talk to your doctor or early childhood health centre and they’ll advise you what to do.
What should I always remember?
Relax and don’t sweat it. Take your time and don’t feel like you have to become tethered to the kitchen cooking pureed dishes worthy of Masterchef. Once your baby gets going you can generally get away with modified versions of what you eat. Speaking of which, don’t forget to lead by example. If your baby sees you enjoying a wide array of healthy foods, chances are they’ll want to get in on that action.
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At Caring 4 Kids childcare centres, we encourage healthy eating. Contact us to see how we can help your child.