Nutrition: What to consider when you start your baby on solid foods

By Rosie Schwartz, RD on April 23, 2013
Starting your infant on solid foods is a milestone that can elicit a great deal of excitement. Yet all too often, the anticipation can be followed by disappointment as your child spits out your carefully prepared offerings. Take heart: raising a healthy eater with an adventurous palate is a process. Be optimistic; your patience will pay off.

Keep in mind that each child is different and siblings can behave completely independently from each other. But one thing’s for sure: it’s best to wait to begin solids until your baby is developmentally ready. Otherwise, you can be sure your offerings will end up anywhere but in their tummies.

When should you offer solid foods during the meal? Is it better to feed them before their breast milk or formula, afterwards or in between? There’s no right or wrong answer. It depends on the child.

Despite these individual preferences, don’t discount the important role you play in influencing their likes and dislikes. Remember that older infants, even nine- or ten-month-olds, can pick up on your attitudes about what they’re eating. My granddaughter absolutely loved exotic options like avocados and hearts of palm, but hated tomatoes, and would vigorously spit them out if they got mixed in with her other food.

At the same age, she loved to be carried through my garden to see the flowers and vegetables growing. One day when she was just under a year, she picked a cherry tomato and I was afraid she might pop it into her mouth and choke on it. So I made a huge fuss about “Julia’s amazing tomato” and that we needed to wash and cut it up. I really talked it up! When she finally put a quarter into her mouth, I was stunned when I heard her say, “Mmmmm.” Now, she squeals with delight whenever she sees tomatoes.

Since then, I have suggested to parents that they involve their youngsters with the foods that they have previously rejected. Even a 10-month-old can “help” to prepare broccoli or kidney beans while sitting in their high chair. It just may take a little creativity on your part to persuade them just how important their assistance is.

The basics

Start with iron

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends starting with an iron-rich food such as iron-fortified cereal. Stick to a single grain variety so you can determine if there are any intolerances or allergies. Offer one new food at a time for three or four consecutive days. This can also help pinpoint any adverse reactions. Recently revised guidelines from Health Canada also recommend starting with protein rich foods such as meat and eggs.

Sweet eats

Babies love the sweet taste of fruit and may reject various veggies, so offer vegetables before introducing fruits. This may help avoid the expectation of all foods being sweet – even breast milk tastes sweet. Your baby’s individual preferences may make no sense. Be patient and keep trying by offering tastes of different foods.

Smooth talk

The textures of various foods can also influence your baby’s preferences. For one child, the smoothest of purées may be required while another may love a lumpier mix. In the same way, some older infants may prefer to be fed while others may refuse to eat foods that they cannot pick up and feed themselves.

Fat facts

Babies require fat for optimal brain development so steer clear of low-fat dairy products until your child is two years of age.

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice and author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide (Viking Canada). Read Rosie’s take on healthy eats at rosieschwartz.com.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.

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