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Make Every Bite Count: 10 FAQs on Feeding Babies Solid Foods

Make Every Bite Count: 10 FAQs on Feeding Babies Solid Foods

Posted by Tori Schmitt, MS, RDN, LD on Jan 24th 2022

A baby’s first bites can be exciting for both the baby and their caregivers. Feeding solid foods opens a new world of flavors, textures, colors – and, you guessed it, nutrition! And though all those are good things, feeding a child their first bites also brings up many new questions and uncertainties for parents, too. In this blog, I’m sharing answers to your top questions about beginning solid food with your child so that, together, you can enjoy a positive, safe, and adventurous start to solids. After all, the first 1000 days of a child’s life – which includes the days the child begins to eat solid foods – are critical to their growth and development, so making every bite count at this age truly is important! 1

So, let’s get your questions answered! Be sure to send any other questions about feeding your baby solids to me at dietitian@naturesone.com.

When should I start feeding my child solid food? How do I know if my child is ready?

In general, pediatric nutrition experts recommend beginning complementary foods with your child at around six months of age. 2-3 Possibly more important than age, however, is your child’s developmental readiness to foods. In general, before beginning foods other than breastmilk or formula, your child should be able to successfully do the following:

  • Control their head and neck
  • Sit by themself or with support
  • Bring objects up to their mouth
  • Grasp objects with their hand
  • Swallow food instead of using their tongue to push it back out.3

What foods should I introduce to my child first?

It’s your choice! Generally, purees or mashed foods are offered first with a gradual transition to softer finger foods. However, with the popularity of the baby led weaning approach, parents may choose to begin with whole foods from the start.4 Whatever food you start your baby with, be sure to keep choking hazards, good nutrition, and variety top of mind. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that infants and toddlers avoid foods with added sugars, sodium, and honey, so instead, look towards vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein foods as healthy choices.3

What are the top food choking hazards for young children?

Choking hazards for children younger than 4 years of age include round or tube-shaped foods like grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot dogs, raw carrots, and string cheese. Foods with small pieces, like candy, nuts and seeds, and popcorn, are choking hazards, too, so you will want to avoid those as you begin. Check out this website for tips to reduce choking risk and tips on how to prepare foods to make them easier for your baby to chew.

Why is iron important and how can I make sure my baby gets enough iron?

Iron-rich foods are important to maintain adequate iron stores, especially for babies fed breastmilk exclusively or partially at six months of age. 3,5  Here are some food-based sources of iron for babies:

  • Meats: beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey. Serve ground, pureed, as meatballs, or in strips for baby led weaning.
  • Green vegetables: spinach, kale, broccoli. Serve pureed, offered as finger foods, or blended into smoothies.
  • Legumes: beans, lentils. Serve pureed or gently mashed.
  • Infant cereal fortified with iron.

iron rich foods

Whole grains – like those found in Baby’s Only® Organic Quinoa and Oat Cereal – can be a source of iron, too. Iron-fortified formula is also a reliable source of iron. Check with your child’s healthcare provider to determine if your child needs a supplemental source of iron, especially if the child is preterm, breastfed, or consumes predominately plant-based foods.

Why is it important to offer my baby a variety of foods?

A variety of foods means that your baby is getting a variety of colors, flavors, and textures. And that is a good thing, since offering a variety of flavors and textures means you may be able to avoid picky eating later. As it turns out, introducing vegetables and lumpy food early on in a child’s feeding journey is associated with a protection against picky eating. 6 Don’t worry though – if your child doesn’t enjoy lumpy, bitter vegetables the first time they have them, offer them again later. It can take up to ten times for an infant to accept a new food. So, even if your child doesn’t agree with them at first, continue to expose your child to a variety of nutritious foods.7

When should I introduce allergenic foods like peanuts and eggs to my child?

In general, most children should begin to eat allergenic foods at the same time they begin to eat other complementary foods. That means that caregivers can feed foods that contain egg, peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, wheat, fish, shellfish, and soy proteins – all in appropriate forms to minimize choking risk –to children beginning at around six months of age. 3

Introducing

This guidance transforms former recommendations for caregivers to wait until a child is at least one year of age to introduce allergens. Instead, even for children at high-risk of a peanut allergy (i.e., the infant has severe eczema, an egg allergy, or both), introducing peanut-containing foods (like peanut puffs, thinned smooth peanut butter, peanut flour, or peanut butter powder) early and often after consultation with a child’s healthcare provider can help reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy. 3,8-11

Of course, check with your child’s healthcare provider for specific guidance on the introduction of allergenic foods for your child, especially if your child has a known food allergy, is high-risk, or if you are concerned.

Will my baby’s poop change its consistency and color when I introduce foods?

Yes, your baby’s poop will likely change when you introduce new foods to his diet. You may see changes in your child’s stool consistency and color. Generally, your baby’s poop will become firmer. Check out our blog on “What Should My Baby’s Poop Look Like?” for more details.

Does my child need to take any vitamin or mineral supplements when food is introduced?

It depends. Alongside breastmilk or formula, solid foods can provide appropriate complementary nutrition. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that all breastfed babies receive supplemental vitamin D from birth. 3 Because adequate vitamin D can be difficult to get through food (even beyond a baby’s first birthday!), a child’s healthcare provider may continue to recommend a supplement even after your child starts solid foods. In addition, iron and vitamin B12 are other nutrients that may be necessary for supplementation, depending upon a number of factors like if the baby was preterm, breast fed, or on a plant-based diet.3 Check with your child’s healthcare provider to see what, if any, dietary supplements may be appropriate for your child.

Why does my pediatrician recommend responsive feeding? What is responsive feeding?

Beyond what a child eats, how a child eats matters in making every bite count. Responsive feeding is a positive interaction between a caregiver and a child at mealtime in a pleasant environment. When engaged in responsive feeding, a child’s hunger and fullness are listened to by the caregiver and the caregiver shows interest in and attention to the child’s feeding. Responsive feeding is associated with positive impacts on the child, including the proper development of the child’s feeding practices and helping the child regulate her own appetite. 12

Forcing food into your child’s mouth when they turn their face away to indicate they are finished or saying statements like “you must stay in your highchair until you finish all of your vegetables” even though a child has said “I’m done,” would not be considered responsive, and instead could result in mealtime tension, frustration, and a reluctance of the child to try new foods in the future. 12

Dad feeding baby

How much complementary food should my child eat each day?

At around six months of age, your child may only eat tiny amounts of food, like around a tablespoon or two at a time. As your baby grows, the amount of food they eat in a day grows too. Remember that through the first year of life, breastmilk or formula offers a significant contribution to a child’s daily nutrition. To see how both breastmilk and formula should be offered alongside solid foods, check out this sample menu for a child 8 to 12 months of age.

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Making every bite count can seem like an onerous task. But it doesn’t have to be! Armed with knowledge, just start with one bite at a time. Focusing on safety, variety, nutrition, and purity can make the job easier and more fun, too, for both you and your baby.

What first foods will you begin with your child? Do you have other questions about your child’s start to solids? Send them to me in an email at dietitian@naturesone.com – and you may just see the answers featured on an upcoming blog!

References:

  1. Beluska-Turkan K, Korczak R, Hartell B, Moskal K, Maukonen J, Alexander DE, Salem N, Harkness L, Ayad W, Szaro J, Zhang K, Siriwardhana N. Nutritional Gaps and Supplementation in the First 1000 Days. Nutrients. 2019 Nov 27;11(12):2891. doi: 10.3390/nu11122891. PMID: 31783636; PMCID: PMC6949907.
  2. Fewtrell M, Bronsky J, Campoy C, Domellöf M, Embleton N, Fidler Mis N, Hojsak I, Hulst JM, Indrio F, Lapillonne A, Molgaard C. Complementary Feeding: A Position Paper by the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Committee on Nutrition. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2017 Jan;64(1):119-132. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001454. PMID: 28027215.
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  4. Brown A, Jones SW, Rowan H. Baby-Led Weaning: The Evidence to Date. CurrNutr Rep. 2017;6(2):148-156. doi:10.1007/s13668-017-0201-2
  5. Domellöf M, Braegger C, Campoy C, Colomb V, Decsi T, Fewtrell M, Hojsak I, Mihatsch W, Molgaard C, Shamir R, Turck D, van Goudoever J; ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. Iron requirements of infants and toddlers. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014 Jan;58(1):119-29. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000000206. PMID: 24135983.
  6. Taylor CM, Emmett PM. Picky eating in children: causes and consequences. Proc Nutr Soc. 2019;78(2):161-169. doi:10.1017/S0029665118002586
  7. Mura Paroche M, Caton SJ, Vereijken CMJL, Weenen H, Houston-Price C. How Infants and Young Children Learn About Food: A Systematic Review. Front Psychol. 2017;8:1046. Published 2017 Jul 25. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01046
  8. Fleischer DM, Sicherer S, Greenhawt M, et al..Allergy: European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2015; 70 (10): 1193-1195. doi: 10.1111/all.12687.
  9. Du Toit G, Roberts G, Sayre PH, Bahnson HT, Radulovic S, Santos AF, Brough HA, Phippard D, Basting M, Feeney M, Turcanu V, Sever ML, Gomez Lorenzo M, Plaut M, Lack G; LEAP Study Team. Randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy. N Engl J Med. 2015 Feb 26;372(9):803-13. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1414850. Epub 2015 Feb 23. Erratum in: N Engl J Med. 2016 Jul 28;375(4):398. PMID: 25705822; PMCID: PMC4416404.
  10. Perkin MR, Logan K, Bahnson HT, et al. Efficacy of the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study among infants at high risk of developing food allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2019;144(6):1606-1614.e2. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2019.06.045
  11. Togias A, Cooper SF, Acebal ML, et al. Addendum guidelines for the prevention of peanut allergy in the United States: Report of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases–sponsored expert panel. World Allergy Organ J. 2017;10(1):1. Published 2017 Jan 6. doi:10.1186/s40413-016-0137-9
  12. Silva GA, Costa KA, Giugliani ER. Infant feeding: beyond the nutritional aspects. J Pediatr (Rio J). 2016 May-Jun;92(3 Suppl 1):S2-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jped.2016.02.006. Epub 2016 Mar 18. PMID: 26997355.