Q: I need some guidance on starting my infant on solids. Can you help?
A: My goal in counseling parents about solids is to emphasize healthy eating and to teach them how to positively shape their child’s taste preferences. A growing body of research shows that babies’ palates are influenced before birth. Maturing in the “amniotic soup” infants taste the foods their mothers eat. This process of “sampling” foods continues for breast-fed children, as mother’s milk takes on the flavors of what she consumes.
While processed rice cereal is a common first food, it has limited nutrients and can be constipating. Minimally manipulated and tasty whole foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, and meats are superior. A variety of organic and richly colored foods tastes better and ensures more nutrients, antioxidants and fewer toxins. Exposing children to variety early on will encourage interest, acceptance and openness to trying new foods and flavors.
Feeding your baby can be a fun process of introducing the many different flavors and textures of whole foods. You can gradually add seasoning with herbs and spices, garlic or onion. Our little ones love tasty food as much as we do!
Q: Shouldn’t I only give one new food every 5th day?
A: The rule of “one new food every 5th day” has not resulted in fewer allergies in kids. While the American Academy of Pediatrics says not to limit any first foods, this conflicts with the advice most pediatricians give. In fact, emerging research suggests that introducing more variety from the get-go results in babies liking more things. Don’t be discouraged if your baby makes faces or seems not to like something on the first try. Sometimes kids need to be exposed to a certain flavor 15 to 20 times before liking it! Stay the course, continue to offer the same food (perhaps prepared a little differently) every few days, and your patience will pay off.
Q: My two-year-old is a terrible eater. I’m afraid I cave in to his bad habits by giving him things like bananas, crackers and pasta. How do I change?
A: It’s our job as parents to provide nourishment so our child grows and thrives. Because we fear our child may “go hungry” when he won’t eat what we’ve offered, we risk giving in to the notion that allowing something highly processed–and usually white–is better than nothing at all.
Healthy children don’t starve themselves. If they eat less one day, they typically consume more the next. Providing consistent limits and structure, even with foods and meals, helps your child feel safe and secure. While it will require a lot of patience and conviction up front, this approach will be better for everyone in the long run.
Gather as a family for dinner and model enjoyment of the food you’ve cooked. Take your child to the grocery store or farmers’ market and invite him to participate in the selection of ingredients. Sticking to the periphery of the store and avoiding the center aisles will ensure exposure to whole, fresh food rather than packaged/processed stuff. At home, involving your kids in meal preparation can be a fun and new way of engaging them with food.
Wean yourself off the “fallback” snacks and foods. If your child refuses a food you offer, require him to take a single bite. If he decides not to eat what you’ve cooked for dinner, that’s OK. Remind him that he’ll be extra hungry for breakfast and let him know what his morning food options will be (e.g. eggs prepared just the way he likes them, whole cooked oats with a little maple syrup, almond butter and cinnamon, fresh fruit and plain yogurt, or a healthy smoothie).
A picky eater’s behavior won’t change overnight, but you may be surprised by what happens if you set some ground rules, consistently stick with them and involve your child more in the kitchen.
Author: Julia Getzelman, MD