Often questions such as these plague mothers as they try to decide on what to buy, prepare and feed their baby, particularly as their baby grows and his/her eating habits change. Luckily for adults, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designed a Food Guide Pyramid as a recommendation for the portions and variety of foods that should be consumed to obtain a healthy diet. In 2010, the Pyramid became My Plate, with the same categories, except a stronger emphasis was placed on having fruits and vegetables make up at least half of the plate. Although similar recommendations are not specific for babies or children under the age of 2 years, the general recommendations of food groups and portion control are applicable for everyone. Babies’ and young children’s diets should be made up of a variety of foods from the 4 major food groups, including breast milk &/or formula (in the first year) and cow’s milk (thereafter) from the dairy group; cereals & grains, vegetables, fruits, meats or proteins, and water.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solid foods to babies at 4 to 6 months, when babies begin losing the “tongue thrust” reflex, important for breastfeeding, but often interfering with feeding. Pureed vegetables are often babies first foods. In a few months babies transition from purees to chunkier foods.
By 7 to 11 months, babies generally begin reaching for foods indicating their interest in and desire for “table” foods. Any healthy foods with a smooth surface are acceptable to feed your baby. Small, bite-size pieces of pasta, fruits, cooked vegetables and/or pea-size meats are excellent finger food options. At this age, babies enjoy “raking” their foods; then later they progress to using a “pincer grasp” to pick up food between the thumb and forefinger as they practice self feeding.
As babies mature and progress to using a spoon, usually after their first birthday, they will need considerable practice guiding their food to their mouths. Foods with a thicker consistency such as mashed potatoes and yogurt are acceptable at this stage. Given the hand-eye coordination needed to maneuver a spoon, babies are prone to have as much food as they eat also end up on the floor, so plan for messier meal times.
The overall advice for meal times is: make eating times fun; maintain a routine for snack and meal times; encourage independence, such as feeding oneself; be a role model; love variety; be patient and flexible to try foods several times before expecting a child to accept it; teach babies and young children to listen to their internal cues of fullness and avoid the tendency to demand a “clean plate.”
Remember the eating habits established as a baby and young child stick with us throughout our lives, so make a good impression. By doing so, we create lifelong lovers of fresh, wholesome foods, enjoyable meal times and ultimately, healthy, fully functioning bodies. Likewise, by adopting good eating habits, we prevent debilitating illnesses such as childhood obesity and adult onset diabetes.