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Nutrition 101, starting solids

Starting Solids: Ready, Set, Go!

So you’ve taken the leap to starting your baby on solids and you’ve decided which food to introduce first, now you need to decide how and when this momentous occasion in your little one’s life will take place.

WHEN?

The time of day is not important but it needs to be a time when both you and baby are relaxed. Choosing the right time is key as it will set the tone for your baby to associate meal times with a happy time going forward. Remember that if you are stressed or tense, your baba will be too (and that also works in reverse!).

To determine when would be the best time for you both, choose a time when your little munchkin isn’t overtired or too hungry. You want them to be hungry but not starving, so that they are in the best possible frame of mind to take a leap out of their comfort zone (steer away from a HANGRY baby!).

I found mid-morning to be the most optimal time of day, an hour or so after the mid-morning milk feed. The same goes for the mid-day milk feed. By introducing foods for the first time in the morning or mid-day, means that you’ll have the full day to watch out for any potential negative side effects when introducing proteins and other allergens.

HOW MUCH?

Do not act as if you need to prepare for a war/natural disaster by buying every box of cereal, leaving no aisle in your supermarket unturned, until you have claimed ownership of every last box in stock. The same goes for cooking in batches large enough to start you own baby food business. Two words to remember here: start small.

Your baby is going to be tasting tiny amounts until they are able to tolerate full meals. You will eventually work your way up to a total of three meals for breakfast, lunch and supper (eventually at the same time as the rest of the family), so the initial period is simply to expose them to the various sensations associated with eating solids.

NB: Milk will still form the bulk of your child’s diet for the first year of his/her life.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ here, some babies can tolerate more than others. Your baby will guide you by either pushing the spoon away, closing his mouth, turning his head away or crying to show you that they have had enough. Start with a tiny amount (around one teaspoon) once a day and then slowly work your way towards a little more each time. If they continue to resist you it may mean that they aren’t ready to start solids and you should give it a few days’ rest. Never ever force the spoon into their mouth, there is no rush!

Remember that starting solids is not meant to replace meals or fill up your baba’s little tummy. Rather it’s to get them comfortable with the concept of eating, whilst breast milk or formula continues to form the basis of their diet.

HOW?

While organic rice cereal was once doned the ultimate food for starting solids (because it is totally allergy-friendly and bland in taste for new little taste buds), new studies have shown that childen should actually be exposed to as many foods, as early as possible from the 4 month mark. For this reason, veggies and fruits serve as the perfect foundation to which a variety of grains, healthy fats and proteins can be added to.

While previously, plain foods were the order of the day, experts are now encouraging parents to get creative with flavours and combinations from the onset. So don’t hold back on cooking with ingredients like olive oil and adding a variety of herbs and spices for slightly more complex and tastier flavours (remembering to avoid any added salt or  sugar).

When it comes to proteins, introduce one at a time, waiting 2-3 days to gauge your baby’s reaction  as you go.

Here is a rough guideline to show you what you are working towards (this is by no means the ‘holy grail’, merely some information to help guide you):

  • Step 1 (the first week): start by introducing around a teaspoon of  veggies once a day. It certainly doesn’t need to be one veggie at a time, instead you can combine veggies with interesting herbs and spices for tasty combos. If your baby is keen to try a bit more, then take his/her lead and offer a bit more. Let them guide you!
  • Step 2 (roughly between the second and third week): your baba has now graduated through the first few days and is ready for a second taste of solids in their day. If you have been giving him/her solids in the morning then this second meal could be after their mid-day milk feed. Your baby should now be able to tolerate a few teaspoons at a time. You are encouraged to introduce other foods like a variety of fats and proteins (keeping to the 2-3 day rule when it comes to introducing any new proteins). There is no reason to avoid any foods (other than salt, sugar and honey*) unless you have a family history of allergies (in which case you should consult with your baby’s health care provider).
  • Step 3 (roughly between the third and fourth week): baba is now ready for three servings a day including a variety of veggies, fruit, grains, fats and proteins for breakfast, lunch and supper. This third meal could be at night before bath time (they are guaranteed to get more than a little dirty!) and their last milk feed. Ensure that you aren’t giving them any new proteins at night (rather give tried and tested ones at night and experiment with new ones in the day to watch out for any negative reactions).
  • Step 4 (from six months old): from six months your baby should be eating three solid meals, two healthy snacks and should be eating protein with every main meal (again remembering to introduce new foods only every 2-3 days). Now is the time to have fun with finger foods! By six months your baba should be eating pretty much anything unless you have a family history of allergies or advised otherwise by your paed or nurse.

SOME HELPFUL TIPS :

  • Never force anything on your baby. If the fancy organic cereal (you went out especially to find) or your homemade butternut purée is getting the cold shoulder, don’t force the issue. Rather wait a few days and then try the food again. That said, just because your baby wasn’t mad about something doesn’t mean that you should steer clear of it forever more. An adventurous eater means being exposed to lots of different foods and flavours. Importantly to note is that getting used to something may take some gentle perseverance (10-14 times to be accepted!)
  • Avoid feeding porridge or any other thinned solid foods out of baby’s bottle as this could result in your little one overeating and prevents them from developing key eating skills.
  • Offer a variety of tastes, textures and food groups to avoid any fussy eating habits later on. Don’t be afraid of textures and avoid getting into a habit of puréeing everything to a fine consistency. Even babies without any teeth are able to tolerate lumps!
  • Take extra precaution to keep food as safe as possible for baby. More on preparation and storage tips here.
  • Allow your baby to touch her food and explore with her little hands. From six months your baby is able to hold finger foods, so give her pieces to hold and allow her to explore her new found independence and eat on her own.
  • Get over the mess and make it all about your baby!

MY TWO CENTS:

Starting solids needs to be seen as a personal and unique adventure for your little one. An adventure that can and should be well informed but need not be followed according to a textbook step-by-step process. It needs to be fluid, adapting as you go along, according to how your baby responds. Your baby is a little individual after all!

Us moms get so caught up in what the other is doing that we forget to go with our gut and do what may very well be a better fit for our own baby. Trust your instinct and when that fails (because sometimes we actually have no clue what we are doingsigh!) then let your baby guide you as you go.

Most importantly, remember that this is your and your baby’s own special journey (it’s not a race!) and that it is up to you to pave the way for your baby to have a healthy and happy relationship with food, now and later on in life.

Note:
  • Always allow hot food to cool before feeding it to your baby
  • Never leave your baby alone when they are eating
  • The above information shouldn’t replace the advice of your paediatrician, GP or nurse

*Honey should be avoided before the age of one due to the risk of infant botulism.

Nutrition 101, starting solids

First Foods

I decided to start my son on solids when he was 19 weeks old based on the tell-tale sales of readiness. Filled with anticipation at reaching the next big milestone (milestone card taken out of it’s pack, ready and waiting for a family album moment!) I sent my husband to go out and buy a particular brand of organic rice cereal. I was devastated when he returned home with the wrong one, only to have my bubble burst once more when I discovered that my son didn’t like rice cereal at all. Simple. Opting for a different brand or an organic option wasn’t going to change his mind (similar to Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham but without the change of heart at the end).

So what exactly should you be feeding your baby when starting them on solids?

The good news is that you really can’t go too wrong with what you decide to start your baby on (provided they are between 4-6 months and displaying key signs of readiness). In fact, experts recommend jumping right in with exposing your little one to as many textures and tastes as possible from the onset!

Contrary to previous schools of thought, this includes exposing them to allergens as early as possible, to combat allergies or intolerances developing later on.

Babies from around the world, across cultures, are exposed to different first foods: from tripe in Nigeria to tropical fruits in Jamaica. All it takes a bit of common sense, a sense of adventure and reading your little one’s cues as you go.

Rice cereal vs other grain options 

There is some controversy around rice cereal, given that there are nutritionally much more beneficial options available, however it remains a popular choice because it is an extremely low allergenic and gluten-free food. Unless your child is predisposed to developing an allergy or an intolerance based on your family history, there is no need to hold back on introducing allergens. Rather go for home-cooked oats or millet that are nutritionally superior (and tastier!) options. Other gluten-free grains that make excellent first foods are quinoa and rice.

You also have the option to mix these to the desired consistency with baby’s usual milk, so the taste is familiar. There is also no harm in using a little cow’s milk in your grains while cooking, and don’t be shy about adding in a little fruit purée, cinnamon or vanilla to ramp up the flavour profile.

Fruits and vegetables

As with rice cereal, fuit and veggies are gluten-free and (mostly) non allergenic choices. They are packed with soluble fibre to combat constipation and you have so many options to choose from;

  • Sweet root veggies like sweet potato, butternut, pumpkin, parsnip and carrot are generally loved by babies and are yummy first foods when cooked and puréed. They are also a fantastic source of betacarotene which is essential for growth, healthy skin, strong bones and good vision.
  • Stewed/steamed apples, peaches or pears. Given that little digestive systems aren’t yet fully equipped to handle a large amount of raw fruit and veggies (due to the high fibre content) it is recommended to cook some fruits and veggies. 
  • Puréed melon, mango or prunes.
  • Ready-to-eat fruits and veggies are so simple and require no preparation (just what us parents want to hear!) like ripe avocado, paw-paw and banana.

Some experts recommended starting little ones on veggies first, before introducing them to much sweeter tasting fruit (and naturally preferred by babies). The jury is still out on this train of thought: rather, what is important is that you expose your child to as many different tastes as possible, getting creative with fruit and veg medleys and flavour combinations.

Iron-rich foods

The primary reason for feeding your baby solids in the first place is because they have an increased need for iron from four-six months, beyond what formula and breast milk are able to offer them. Iron is responsible for carrying oxygen to red blood cells and is required for growth and development of the nervous system. Quite simply, there is no substitute for this important mineral and you need to ensure that your little one is getting enough iron-rich food choices to fuel all of his or her growing needs.

Iron fortified cereals and red meat are popular first food choices as they are both packed with iron.

  • Iron fortified cereal: the benefit of opting for dry cereal is that you are easily able to play around with the consistency as you gauge your baby’s reaction to the mixture. Pay attention to the nutritional contents on-pack to ensure that the brand you have selected isn’t crammed with sugar and other additives.
  • More recently red meat, along with other proteins, are recommended from the onset (no need to wait for the 6 month mark!). Many countries around the world are now advocating red meat as one of the top first foods due to its high iron and zinc content. Meat is a fantastic protein source as it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is essential for sleep regulation. Opt for lean cuts of beef or lamb: seasoned (no salt), cooked and puréed with a little liquid, even including some veggie combinations, to form a nutritious and iron-packed meal.

Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron, so it is recommended to serve vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables along with iron-rich foods.

What about other first foods?

Although the above covers the most popular first food choices, the latest research suggests exposing little ones to as much as possible, as early as possible (based on baby’s signs of readiness). That means there is nothing to stop you from jumping right in. A few things to help guide you as you go:

  • Introduce protein foods every third day to watch out of any allergic reactions.
  • Don’t hold back on the flavours you offer, so get creative with offering your child whole, delicious foods from the onset including flavours like nut butter, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices (no salt or sugar however). 
  • Honey should only be offered from 1 year of age due to the risk of infant botulism (rather include maple syrup in your recipes instead).  

For more guidance on getting started, read further here.

Note:

  • Babies who are predisposed to allergies should first be assessed by a paediatrician, GP or nurse.

  • If you suspect an allergic reaction consult your health care provider before excluding any food from your child’s diet.

  • Breast milk or formula should still form the bulk of your baby’s diet and should do so until one year.

  • The above information should not replace the advice of your paediatrician, GP or nurse.

baby feeding toolkit starting solids
Nutrition 101, starting solids

Your Feeding Toolkit

So now that you’ve decided to take the leap to begin your baby’s relationship with solids, you find yourself standing in the aisles of Baby City wondering where to start. Everywhere you turn are different products begging for your attention, each promising something better than the last. Add to this the idea of having to fit yet another baby contraption on your already crowded kitchen countertop.

The good news is that you actually don’t need that much stuff. In fact you may already own quite a few bits and pieces that have been tucked away and long forgotten deep within your kitchen drawers. Remember that before you know it, your baby is past the pureed food stage and is able to eat exactly what the rest of the household is eating (barring a few small tweaks). So unless you are planning on starting a baby food factory in the comfort of your own home,  there really is no need to buy every gadget and machine known to mankind.

The first thing to do, before getting started, is to invest in a good feeding chair. Go for something washable or better yet wipeable, and steer clear of light colours. It doesn’t have to be an expensive chair but it needs to be one that supports your baby correctly (a booster seat doesn’t count!) Being supported correctly means:

  • Being supported at the hips so that your baby is positioned upright (without sliding around or slumping) with his pelvis tilting slightly forward.
  • Using bolsters (rolled up blankets or towels) where needed to ensure baby isn’t moving around.
  • Ensuring baby has a footrest for balance so that they can concentrate fully on eating and not on balancing (if baby can’t reach the footrest, make use of rolled up towels or even Tupperware).
  • Making sure baby can rest her elbows comfortably on the highchair tray.

Note: never leave your little one unsupervised when they are in their highchair and be sure that you position the highchair somewhere out of harm’s way (plug points, stove tops, ironing boards, sharp corners etc.)

Right, once that’s out of the way you need some other feeding accessories:

Plastic spoons that aren’t too broad but are small and flat enough to ‘scoop’ the perfect amount into baby’s tiny mouth (my favourite are the Munchkin spoons found at Baby City, Clicks or Dis-Chem).

Little plastic bowls. Preferably ones with a lid so that you can pack them into your baby bag when on-the-go or to store food in the fridge. While porcelain ones are cute (and oh so quaint), they will undoubtedly land up in a million little pieces on your kitchen floor. So think twice before handing over your great granny’s porcelain porridge bowl.

Bibs! I have recently discovered disposable bibs and they are my new best friend for messy feasts. They are big enough to cover a substantial portion of my little guy and the best part is that there’s no need to worry about trying to get stains out  – have a look out for the Pigeon disposable bibs, found at Baby City, Clicks or Dis-Chem, that come in a pack of 20. (If you can’t find them it may be because I have bought them all). If you opt for washable bibs, go for the ones with a waterproof backing. Don’t even waste your time with pretty little bibs (unless as an outfit accessory or drool catcher), you will soon see that they serve no purpose when it comes to the sheer carnage about to ensue during mealtimes.

Drinking cups. A sippy cup can be introduced from seven months and a straw cup can be introduced from nine months. Bottles should be used for milk feeds only and water or diluted juice can be given from a drinking cup. The straw cup is the best choice to prevent tooth decay when drinking juice (as it prevents liquids from pooling in the mouth, which is the case with both a sippy cup and a bottle). Philips Avent, Dr.Brown and Nuk all make fantastic quality straw cups that are dishwasher safe and BPA free.

You may require a washable mess mat to place under the feeding chair to catch the debris raining down from above. This wasn’t needed in my household as my dogs have smartly worked out that being positioned directly under my son’s feeding chair during mealtimes is a guaranteed feast for them too.

Now for the food preparation tools:

  • A handblender or food processor. I found using a handblender so simple and easy to fit in a kitchen drawer or clean in the dishwasher (no additional counter space needed!)
  • A steamer. Stove-top, electric or microwavable will all do.
  • A masher to smash larger pieces into a mushier consistency. As your baby grows and can handle different textures, a masher is a handy tool to use.
  • A deep ice tray or food cube tray to freeze individual servings. I used a silicon ice cube tray for smaller portions (the silicon makes it easier to get the frozen portions out) and the food cube tray for slightly bigger portions. I found the freezer containers with the attached lids to be the easiest to store (the lids don’t pop off by mistake in the freezer) Look out for Tommee Tippee Pop Up Pots and Tray or Vital Baby Prep and Go Food Pots, both from Baby City.
  • Freezer bags (found at any local retailer) to store individual ice cubes of food (using a permanent market to record the contents and the date the food was made).

Now the fun (and a bit of mess) starts. Look out for my next post on preparing baby food.

Happy feeding!

 

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Nutrition 101, starting solids

Starting Solids & When To Take The Leap

As a mom, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling as though you need to get on board as quickly as possible to ‘take on’ the next developmental milestone, but you stand to negatively impact your baby’s associations with food if you take the leap too early.

If you push your baby before they are ready, they are likely to miss out on experiencing pleasant memories around their first food experiences. Remember, it’s all about timing and each child is different.

So how do you know when your baby is ready to start eating solids?

According to the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), solid foods should only be introduced between four and six months. The reason why, is this is when your baby has a more mature immune and digestive system and will be less likely to develop an allergic reaction, which could otherwise have been avoided (provided there are no allergies in the family), not to mention other ailments like  constipation, tummy problems and even pulmonary issues (from inhaling tiny particles of food into the lungs).

Essentially, an immature system has a greater chance of producing antibodies as a reaction to the protein in foods, which results in an allergic reaction. This is something you should (and can) avoid at all costs, if all it means is waiting until your baby is good and ready to start eating solids.

Studies have shown that by four months, babies require more iron than the amount available in milk (breast milk or formula) for their growing developmental needs – iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells and in energy metabolism. Between four and six months, your little one’s digestive system would have started producing some enzymes to digest foods and will need some essential nutrients to fulfil the demands of their little bodies. Babies should therefore be introduced to solid foods by no later than six months to provide them with more nutritionally rich sources of iron.

The AAP has given the green light to starting solids provided that your child is showing the tell-tale signs that they are ready;

  • Your baby is drinking milk non-stop and never seems to be satisfied.
  • Your baby begins waking at night, all of a sudden, to feed when they had previously been sleeping through.

Note that the above two ‘signs’ can be mistaken for a growth spurt, which generally occurs around 3-4 months and again around 6 months and will last anywhere from a few days up to a week.

Increase milk feeds first to rule out a growth spurt but also be on the look-out for some of the other signs:

  • Your baby is able to hold up his/her head
  • Your baby is able to turn his/her head when done feeding or when wanting to eat
  • Your baby is able to sit with minimal support
  • Your baby wants to chew and may even have teeth
  • Your baby shows a keen interest in food (I remember my son watching me eat my breakfast mesmerised by the spoon I kept lifting into my mouth, pretending to chew along with me!)

By waiting until the right time, you not only avoid the challenges that come with food allergies, but you also cement the foundation for your baby to have an adventurous diet.

For more on starting your little one on solids read my post on how and what you need to get started.

The above information should never replace the advice of your GP, paediatrician or nurse.