This is an unedited excerpt from my 2nd book, "What to Know Before Having Your Baby" - coming out in February of 2017.
Because infants begin their life on breast milk, parents often think that milk is essential for their child’s diet even beyond the first year of life. While milk is absolutely important for the first few months of life, once babies can start eating solids, the value of milk (breast, formula, or cow’s) quickly diminishes. Milk’s main purpose is for humans (and animals) to provide an easy source of nutrition to their babies until they are ready for solid foods – which offer a far greater diversity of nutrition.
By one year of age, the bulk of a child’s nutrition should be from solid foods – ideally they should be eating a well-balanced diet pulling from all of the food groups. At a maximum, a one year old should be taking no more than 24 oz of milk or formula, and as long as they are eating a balanced diet, there really is no minimum amount of milk that a one year old needs. And though milk does offer vitamin D and calcium – you can get plenty of vitamin D from the sun and all the calcium you need from meat, certain vegetables, soy, nuts, beans and other solid foods.
Solid food introduction can begin anywhere between 4 to 6 months of age. Traditionally, parents in the U.S. start with cereal, move to fruits & vegetables, and add meats as the last food group. However, many experts now recommend reversing that order as meats are the most nutritious in vitamins and minerals and cereals are mostly filler foods with the least amount of nutrition. Regardless of the order, by 8 to 9 months of life at the latest, babies should be eating from every food group, and ideally the sooner the better.
Past concerns about causing food allergies led to a very conservative approach to introducing solid foods. Recommendations were to give only one new food every 3 days and certain foods such as peanuts and eggs were to be avoided until several years of age. New data has clearly shown that this thinking was incorrect and it is now known that early introduction of foods (particularly highly allergenic foods) is helpful and reduces the risk of food allergies in the future. Outside of honey, which can cause botulism, all other foods are safe to eat for babies as long as parents are careful of choking hazards.
As for the “one new food every 3 day rule” – although this rule might help figure out what food caused an allergy by making the process of elimination easier, most kids with true allergies will have to undergo a series of tests if a true food allergy is suspected, thus making this rule unnecessary and a bit overly restrictive. It is perfectly reasonable and definitely easier to be aggressive and introduce several new foods at a time.
While there is a whole line of baby foods available at the supermarket, feel free to offer bite size portions of soft foods that parents eat for their own meals. Foods such as pastas, baked potatoes, soft meats, and steamed vegetables are all safe, nutritious, and tasty for babies to consume as soon as they can chew well. The more flavors children encounter early on, the less picky they will be later!
So go ahead and give them a bite of your dinner – they’re probably eyeing you as you eat it and wondering where their portion is! As long as you can mash a food between your pointer finger and thumb, even with no teeth, baby’s gums are powerful and can handle it. The sooner they are eating real foods, the sooner you can cook one meal and make your life easier. And ultimately if it is nutritious for you, it is nutritious for them.
So how should you incorporate the solid foods into your current feeding schedule? The truth is there is no singular best way, but here is one method of doing it. Pick one meal to begin with such as the feeding closest to breakfast time. Before giving formula or breast milk, start by allowing your baby to eat as much solid food as they will take. When they will no longer take any more solids, top them off with their normal bottle or breastfeeding until they are full. Once they seem to have the hang of one meal, add a second around lunchtime, and soon thereafter a third around dinnertime. It is that simple!
Some simple rules of thumb with feeding:
1. You are in charge of the quality of food, the child is in charge of the quantity of the food. They will never shortchange themselves!
2. Aim for a balanced diet over a week at a time. Not every day and certainly not every meal needs to be perfectly balanced. It all goes to same place!
3. A child’s growth controls their appetite, not the other way around. Your kids will grow in spurts controlled by their hormones and appetite will follow accordingly. Again, they will never shortchange themselves!
Ideally, your child should be eating 3 solid food meals a day covering all of the different food groups by 8 to 9 months of life. And by one year of age, children should essentially be eating what their parents are eating. The bottom line is there is a lot of freedom in how to start solids. Try lots of different foods and have some fun with it!