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Parent's Corner

Bon Appétit: How to Feed Your Baby Right

By: Pamela Brill

As Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season draws near, it’s only natural to want your baby to enjoy eating his first real meal. Of course, cultivating a future foodie may be easier said than done, especially as the temperamental toddler years approach. With a little expert advice from pediatricians and dieticians, you’ll be able to get your child started on solids and expose him to the wonderful world of healthy eating.

First Foods

How do you know your baby is ready to expand his diet beyond the basic bottle? Take a cue from your little one directly. “A baby will show signs that he is developmentally ready, such as sitting up with support, being able to hold his head up, showing interest in his food and being able to take food off a spoon,” says Bridget Swinney, a registered dietician and author of Baby Bites: Everything You Need to Know About Feeding Babies and Toddlers in One Handy Book. This is typically between four and six months of age.

Once you’re ready to start, experts suggest foods that are iron-rich such as rice cereal and pureed meats. Dr. Kathy Erlich, a pediatrician and co-author of Super Nutrition for Babies, suggests making your own food and mixing it with breast milk, formula or even homemade broth. “It’s high in minerals, nutrients and calcium,” she says of the latter. “Babies 6-12 months are in need of iron because the red blood cells [received from their mother] are dying off.”

Fruits and vegetables are another important food group to introduce into a baby’s diet. Erlich recommends first fruits such as sweet potato, avocado and pureed apples rich in vitamin C to help absorb iron. As for veggies, look for those that are easily digestible: peas, carrots and squash. If you’re preparing your own baby food, it’s best to steam vegetables (rather than boil) to avoid the loss of nutrients, advises Lauren O’Connor, a registered dietician/nutritionist (www.Nutri-Savvy.com). She also recommends introducing one food at a time and waiting approximately five days before starting on another one to watch for allergies.

“Once you’ve tested for allergies, you can begin adding variety in flavor or texture by combining two or three foods,” says O’Connor. For instance, try processing chicken with peas and sweet potato or chopped carrots using a high-speed blender or food processor. Storing any unused portions in air-tight containers ensures their freshness. “Exposing [babies to] a variety of textures is important because they need a variety of nutrients for proper growth and development, and both flavor and texture add to the appeal of the food,” she adds.

If you’re buying your baby food, start with stage 2 and move onto stage 3, with thicker textures. “It’s important to follow baby’s lead,” says Swinney. “If the texture is too much, then go down a stage.”

Managing Allergies, Fussy Eaters

Along the course of feeding your baby, you may discover that some foods and tastes do not agree with him. However, it’s oftentimes difficult to discern if this is due to a child’s temperament or a dietary issue. “A lot of times, parents aren’t aware of allergies,” says Erlich. “If a child acts fussy when eating, mothers should take the food out of their diet first and then see if that makes a huge difference.”

If you are no longer breastfeeding or supplementing your child’s diet with breast milk, read the packaging labels closely and check in with a registered dietician familiar with food allergies. “Luckily the nutrition facts labels are required to list if there is a top allergen in the food,” notes Swinney. She recommends visiting www.foodallergy.org, a non-profit group dedicated to food allergy research and education.

And as your baby turns into a toddler, you may inevitably wrestle with finicky palates at mealtime. To make the experience more pleasurable for both of you, experts advise offering a number of different foods and to refrain from forcing food on a child who’s uncooperative. “Set an example of eating a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups, especially vegetables since they are generally more challenging,” says O’Connor. “Show them how tasty vegetables can be by cooking or steaming them, so they are bright and fresh—not overcooked, soggy or lackluster in color.”

Even when you’re at your most frustrated point, don’t give up. “I’ve found that picky eaters are not born; they are usually made by their environments,” says Swinney. “It could take 10-15 exposures to a food before a child decides to taste it.”

Lastly, it may seem obvious, but make sure your child has an appetite by cutting down on frequent snacking. “Toddlers need to be hungry at mealtime,” says Erlich. “If they’re feeding all day long, by the time the meal comes, they aren’t hungry. Keep the snacks to a minimum and give them something healthy like fruit or cut-up vegetables.”