Before I had kids, I thought that getting children to eat a healthy diet was as easy as offering them healthy foods. Boy did I have that wrong!
How can feeding your baby or toddler be so amazingly difficult?
I have invited Natalia, to come and help us feed our babies and toddler in a stress free way whilst feeding them a healthy diet and teaching them healthy eating habits.
Natalia Stasenko from from Feeding Bytes is a pediatric dietitian and mom of three children. She shares her valuable knowledge on how to feed our babies and toddlers the right way.
She presents an easy way to follow method including all the important milestones that our child will be going through before they become a toddler and all the small changes we need to implement so that we keep motivating them to feed themselves and prevent future eating problems.
When your child is between six and twenty four months, there's four main milestones that you need to pay attention to.
At six months we’re obviously starting solids with our babies.
At seven months we transition to more complex textures and flavours after our babies have been exposed to single ingredient food.
At eight to eleven months is when they develop infant grasp and also are able to self-feed with the utensils (or at least try to).
And at twelve to twenty four months is when our babies turns into toddlers and this whole new period of our lives begins.
Babies are ready for solids at around this age. Some of them are ready a few weeks earlier and some of them arrive at this point a little bit later. But six months is kind of a rough age when most babies are ready for solids.
Many moms reach out to me saying “My child looks at everything that I’m eating. He cannot take his eyes off the food but he's only four and a half months old. Should he be really starting solids?”
Your child's interest in food may not necessarily be related to his or her readiness for solids.
Babies are fascinated by everything happening around them. They're fascinated by cars, by trees, by people around them and when these people around them are doing something right in front of them, they are also very interested in it.
They may be very interested in you eating foods but not because they want solids. It’s just because they are just curious about what's happening.
Another thing I hear from parents a lot is that “My baby is not sleeping through the night he probably is not getting enough nutrition and calories. I probably should be starting solids a little bit earlier.”
When babies just start eating solids, the amount of the food that they eat is really small so it's not going to fill them up.
The main source of nutrition for them in this period is just breast milk or formula milk. If you start solids earlier hoping that the baby would sleep through the night, that may not be the answer to your problems.
Also, babies stop sleeping well during the night or start waking up more during the night for a variety of different reasons, like learning new skills, learning how to turn over or trying to crawl or whatever this new that is happening with them.
Starting solids earlier is not going to solve sleeping problems.
There are a few signs of readiness that you could follow when you're considering if your little one is ready for solids or not.
These signs shows us if our kids are ready for solids and that they're ready for self-feeding.
I recommend starting with both finger foods and purees.
Baby led weaning is an approach to starting solids that has originated in the UK and it's basically about giving babies finger foods from the beginning with strictly no spoon feeding with purees.
It’s very different from the traditional approach where babies are introduced very soft mushy food first and then textured food is gradually upgraded until about eight to nine months when they are given small finger foods.
There are things I like and dislike about both approaches.
What I like about the traditional puree based approach is that it's an easy, familiar and convenient way to start solids with your baby.
You can buy food in the jar or you can feed your baby using homemade baby food.
But I have a couple of things that bother me about purees and one of them is that it's really easy for us parents to get pushy with the spoon. By that I mean that we start controlling the amount of food that the baby eats because it’s a very basic instinct that we as parents have to make sure that our children are eating well.
I encourage you to let go of this control and allow the baby your baby self-regulate.
Another thing is that because they are eating purees so well, we feel encouraged to give them more purees instead of upgrading the texture really quickly so they transition to chunky food and eventually to finger foods.
We keep them in this puree phase because they eat it so well and when we try to introduce more textures later on, the babies may be less happy about that.
I’ve done a version of baby lead weaning with my last two children and absolutely love this approach.
I love the idea that babies are allowed to eat as much food as they want from what is offered within family meals. They use their whole palm to grasp large stick shaped or coin shaped foods and they bring them to their mouth.
Babies get to decide how much they want to eat from what is offered and babies can be exposed to a variety of foods.
Also research shows that baby lead weaning is quite doable and babies are able to start self-feeding earlier than we thought.
Six to seven months is a great age to introduce stick shaped finger foods for babies and interestingly, research also shows that babies are not more likely to choke on safe finger foods than on purees.
However, there are a couple of things that worry me about baby lead winning and one of them is that no research study has actually looked into how much the baby is actually eating from this approach.
From my experience, I know that they don't really eat a lot of those finger foods when they just start self-feeding. Most of the food just keeps falling out of their mouth and it's extremely messy. Because of this many professionals and researchers are worried about whether they're meeting their nutritional needs specifically in iron and zinc which are two of the most important nutrients for babies at this age.
(In the UK vitamin drops are recommended to all children aged 6 months to 5 years who consume less that 500 mls of formula milk a day. However, the vitamin drops don't normally contain either zinc or iron.)
Another thing that worries me in the strict baby lead weaning approach is that some babies are not ready to self-feed until they are eight to nine months of age.
I wished there was more flexibility within the baby lead winning approach so that's why I created the mixed approach to starting solids.
The Mixed Approach is a term I use in my work and some other feeding professionals use to describe a baby led weaning variation.
We give our babies nutritious purees that are rich in iron and zinc that can fill this potential nutritional gap in case they do not start self-feeding immediately.
Aside from that they also get plenty of finger foods to figure out how this whole self-feeding works.
With the mixed approach to started solids they get the boost in their eating skills and they also get the nutrition that they need.
It’s a win-win situation.
There is also flexibility for us parents.
You can actually enjoy your family meal time. Your baby can explore the finger foods while you're eating.
As a mom of three, I found this a really life changing dinnertime solution because I could actually feed myself while my baby was exploring finger foods.
But if it was just my baby and myself at lunch or snack, I could give her some nutritious purees to just make sure that she's getting enough good nutrition.
The baby has to be exposed to finger foods. You can give them a piece of broccoli and a nutritious puree, especially if the baby is not eating the finger food.
The kind of spoon that you should use is long handled and has a flat tip.
Your baby can be transitioned to an open cup at meal times. Instead of introducing your baby to a sippy cup or bottle to give him or her some water at mealtimes, you can use a very small and light open cup.
After your baby has been eating smooth purees for around two to three weeks, that's it. Smooth purees need to be left behind and we need to move to more textured food as soon as possible.
From my experience as a feeding professional, when babies are kept on smooth purees for far too long, it gets harder for them to get used to the new textures.
This is also the age when we would want to think about taste training our babies. Exposing them to a lot of different experiences in terms of spices, flavors, textures, herbs. Just introducing them to this wonderful variety of food around us.
At this point after your baby has been eating solids for about one month he or she probably has built enough variety so you can start mixing different single ingredient finger foods and purees.
I also want to mention about allergens. Your baby can eat all the potential allergens from about six months unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You can introduce eggs including egg whites, nuts, fish, wheat, soy, dairy, shellfish, etc.
Then you would want to wait one or two days after introducing new foods to just see how your baby is reacting and you would want to know the signs of food allergy or food allergy reaction.
This stage is very different with all babies and in my approach I try to rely more on the specific baby's development rather than providing some general cut off milestones. This stage is very broad and what you do largely depends on how your baby is developing.
This is when babies start picking up smaller pieces of food with their fingers and start to learn how to use utensils. It’s going to be really messy but it’s definitely worth doing it.
The spoon that should be used is very different from the one that you use during the earlier stages. It should have a shorter handle and a deeper end so they can easily scoop up food.
Also, babies around this age start refusing spoons. That means this is the perfect opportunity to give them a small finger foods or give them the spoon so they could learn self-feeding. And even if they don't learn how to self-feed immediately, you still give them lots of finger foods.
Finger food is really the big focus at this period because this is when their self-feed skills are really blossoming. You can see so much independence and so many curious things will be happening at mealtimes.
Twelve months is when our babies become toddlers. We don't have to think about so much about texture and other things. We obviously want to keep the foods safe, meaning that there's no choking hazards and the foods are not easily snapable.
The baby can pretty much eat just like any family member, of course, with much more mess.
Some babies arrive at this point much earlier and other babies need two, three, four, five months more until they're ready to self-feed completely.
If you're sharing the meals with your baby, I would encourage you to cut down on the amount of salt that you're using in cooking so that the baby can actually eat off your plate.
I would definitely encourage you to start sharing meals with your baby as soon as you start solids.
The most important thing is to be guided by your baby rather than an article on the internet or how your neighbour's baby is eating, or what other Facebook Moms are saying or even what I am saying.
You should be guided by your baby's unique development because all babies are different.
We want to stay very responsive and attuned to them.
This way they will show us what they want to do next, what they're ready for, how much they want to eat and whether they want to eat. We want to be as attuned as possible to our babies.
Some babies for example never want to eat purees and some are put off by the finger foods.
That’s why I like the mixed approach to solids because I think it just gives us more flexibility and more peace of mind we can be guided by our baby's development versus some strict guidelines. Our baby will start self-feeding very quickly if we do all of those things right.
First of all, I love breast feeding. I breast fed my three children but I also know that breast feeding on demand can interfere with how much babies eat solids.
Very gradually, try to introduce little more schedule into breast feeding by eight, ten or twelve months. It doesn't need to be abrupt. It doesn't need to happen within days. It's more of a process and if you keep this in mind you know that it will happen gradually.
Scheduling formula is easier because we do feed formula on certain a timetable.
As far as solids are concerned we do start with only one or two solid meals in the beginning mostly at breakfast or lunch when the baby is less tired and sleepy Then we want to build up to three meals and two snacks until they reach twelve months.
Another change that will have to happen between six and twelve months is that we do want babies to drink breast milk or formula at the beginning of the feeding when we're just starting solids.
They're hungry and they cannot eat enough solid foods to actually feel full and if they're hungry they will be just angry they will not want to learn how to self-feed.
But as they're growing up, as they are learning how to eat and as they are eating bigger amounts of food we want to move breastfeeding or formula by the end of the meal after they've eaten solids.
The nutrition that they're getting from solid foods is becoming more important at this age. Most of the iron and by about nine to ten months has to come from the solid foods in their diet.
When babies turn twelve months, they can start drinking cow's milk. This is the main drink especially if your baby is formula fed, you wouldn't want to buy any more of this expensive formula because cow's milk basically meets your baby's nutritional needs.
There’s also the option of soy milk that is nutritionally similar to cow's milk but I wouldn't recommend giving your baby any other plant milks because nutritionally they are not adequate.
This switch is tricky because our babies or small toddlers love drinking since they've been drinking most of their nutrition up until recently.
At this point keep the intake of milk to within sixteen twenty four ounces a day.
This also goes for all dairy in general including cheese and yogurt. Too much calcium from dairy can interfere with iron absorption.
The first challenge of feeding toddlers is most of the time they refuse to stay at the table. Toddlers are busy and they have a million things on their agenda. What you can do in this case is you can help the baby transition into mealtimes gradually.
Related: Help! My Toddler Won't Eat!
Schedule in meals and snacks and create a ritual before mealtimes. You can maybe sing a little song, wash their hands with you or maybe clean up the toys. Anything that helps them transition and get them in the mood for eating.
Lower your expectations. In most cases especially if they're not very hungry, it's very hard to keep toddlers at the table for more than five to ten minutes.
The second challenge is they will experience crazy shifts in appetite.
Their appetite at this age is truly unpredictable. One day they can eat enormous amount of food then almost nothing for the next three days. There’s really nothing much that you can do about this except to provide regular eating opportunities for your toddler.
The third challenge with children at this age is they become wary of new food. If you have a broccoli munching, blue cheese loving baby, most likely he or she will become less adventurous when they become toddlers.
It’s very normal for toddlers to be very suspicious about this new food and they also start rejecting the food that they previously like.
We want to give the toddlers the options within the family meals and make sure that there is one or two foods that they typically eat.
Then just let them decide how much or whether they want to eat it or not. If not, don’t push it. We don't want to exert a lot of control around meal times because that will make the problem worse not better.
Another challenge that you will experience is at this time, there is a strong drive for starch and dairy.
Toddlers can really drink their weight in milk and some of the toddlers I know really like yogurt, pasta, bread, pancakes etc.
Related: Healthy Snacks for Toddlers
Obviously vegetables and meat take the back seat and many parents reach out to me because they're concerned for their child's nutrition at this point.
The first thing I would recommend is cutting on dairy and the second is instituting the structure in meals and snacks.
Provide eating opportunities every two to three hours. I would also encourage switching things a little bit switching things up.
For example, if you always give some crackers and fruit for snack and your child just gobbles it all up and then for dinner its potato, broccoli and chicken and he or she is not interested.
Serve a more evening kind of a meal during snack times or include his favourite crackers and fruit at dinner.
Sometimes we have this association, even as grownups, that snack equals fun foods and dinner equals boring food. We would not want this to happen for our toddlers.
A tip that I can give you if your child does not want to eat meat is using this safe toothpicks and put meat on them. It makes so much difference for this little ones. It’s like a whole new way of eating for them.
Lastly, toddlers like to skip dinner. Keep in mind that this is very normal for toddlers. It’s not horrible and your child will be fine. Nutritionally they're not going to be compromised if they skip one meal a day.
What we can do is we can maximize the eating opportunity at other times of the day.
Most toddlers have good appetite in the afternoon after they wake up from their nap. They're just hungry but then when it comes to dinner, they're tired, they've been eating all day and they just don’t want to eat.
Maximize the potential of this snack and try to give a mini meal so when it comes to dinner it can be more of exploring food and spending time with the family experience.
Never pressure your child to eat something. This is really something that backfires.
I know that it can be a challenge at times but it's such a precious time to watch your baby learning all about foods and feeding.
Introducing solids to your baby is one of those times that you'll look back on and remember for years to come. Plus a perfect photo opportunity to record the mess and embarrass them later on in life!
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