A baby’s first 1,000 days of life are crucial for his or her proper development. These are the best years to make sure your baby builds optimum foundations to ensure a healthy brain development, growth, and a strong immune system. Unfortunately, 50% of babies in America are malnourished and the top vegetable eaten by U.S. toddlers is the french fry.
“Understanding the complex interplay of micro- and macronutrients and neurodevelopment is key to moving beyond simply recommending a good diet to optimizing nutrient delivery for the developing child.” – AAP Committee on Nutrition.
The science is clear about what a young baby’s brain needs to make healthy neural connections. Two of the most important factors are:
Early stimulation: A child who is read to, talked to, sung to, played with, is not only happier today, but will have a better developmental capacity throughout his or her life.
Proper nutrition: In the first years of life, a child’s brain consumes between 50-75% of all energy absorbed from food and good nutrition. A child who does not receive the proper nutrition tailored to his or her needs at every stage could be at risk of hindering their brain development and physical growth. It can even put them at increased risk of developing illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
Fruit juice is a popular drink among kids, and parents love them since they provide hydration and fruit servings (especially for picky eaters who reject whole fruits). But even though juice is natural and made from fruits, is it a drink that should be given freely without limits?
Fruit juice was allowed for consumption in moderation starting from 6 months of age on, but the American Academy of Pediatrics has just recently published a change in recommendations, suggesting new guidelines for juice consumption starting until after a year of age.
Juice consumption is notorious for filling children’s bellies and therefore replacing other solid foods or breastmilk/formula which babies need most. Although 100% fruit juice with no added sugar provides nutrients, it’s very high in sugar and low in fiber, putting children at risk for high-calorie consumption and tooth decay.
Whole fruit is always superior to juice, and if kids consume fruit, there is no need for fruit juice in their diets. Before age one, 100% fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit for babies. Once children turn one they can consume some juice to complement a balanced diet but it should be limited according to their age. If you want to feed your baby fruit juice make sure to follow the recommendations below.
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is becoming a very popular way to feed solids to your baby. It offers an alternative method to the traditional introduction to complementary foods in your baby’s diet. With this method, infants use their hands to explore food and to feed themselves, instead of being spoon-fed purees or baby food.
If you and your pediatrician decide this is the method you’d like to try, your baby can begin once he is six months old, sit upright, and can bring objects to his mouth. Once your baby is ready, place graspable stick-shaped family foods (food you eat at home without added salt or sugar) in the tray of his high chair and let him pick it up and put it in his mouth freely. As a parent, you decide what to offer to eat but the baby will decide what to eat (which should also be true for traditional spoon feeding). Always remember that food should not be forced and milk remains an essential part of your baby’s diet.
In theory, with BLW you expose your baby to a wide variety of healthy foods, teach him to eat food that the family enjoys and allow him to control his own intake. No grams or teaspoons are counted when preparing your baby’s food, nor is it necessary for your baby to finish it all. Eating should be a pleasurable experience. Continue reading →
If you have a child older than 12 months of age, you may notice that his appetite has decreased, his food choices have become selective and he gets fussy when eating. This is very common and usually occurs when little ones begin to acquire and desire independence. Also, the mayor growth spurt little ones go through during their first year of life is beginning to decelerate. For this reason, some days you might notice your baby eats well and some days it seems that he doesn’t eat anything at all. You may believe that your little one is very fussy; however, most of the time it’s simply that his interest lies in playing and exploring, not on food.
His decrease in rhythm of growth and his interest in play are not the only factors that cause children to be picky; researchers in psychology and nutrition have identified that genes may also play a role in food rejection. The fear of trying new food may be due to the temperament of your child; however, this doesn’t mean that the behavior can’t be modified. So what should you do? First of all, take a deep breath and follow the next 11 tips to ensure that mealtime doesn’t become a battleground.
1. Remember to respect your child’s appetite. Sometimes he may be hungry and sometimes he may not. Don’t force him to eat if he doesn’t want to. Experts in nutrition and psychology have discovered that forcefully finishing all the food on the plate –despite not being hungry– can lead to eating disorders or obesity in the future.
2. Establish a routine and schedule for mealtime and try to stick to it. This way your child can expect meals at a specific time of the day.
3. Invite your child to the supermarket and describe the foods you see. Speak positively about them. Let your child choose fruits and vegetables with your help; this way you’ll be exposing him to healthy foods without him feeling the pressure to try them.
4. Be patient when it comes to serving new food. Try to encourage your little one to taste the food while describing it, instead of simply stating that it tastes good. Remember that the presentation is very important and can sway your little one to try or reject a food. Don’t give up; sometimes you’ll have to present the same food 7-15 times before he tries it.
5. When introducing a new food, remember to accompany it with a known healthy food that your child already likes. If he likes plain spaghetti, add some spaghetti with tomato sauce on the side and give him a taste, if he prefers not to eat the rest, don’t worry, at least he tasted it or got some exposure.
6. Minimize distractions and keep mealtimes brief so your little one can resume playing soon after.
7. Offer food in various presentations: if you served raw carrots, now serve them cooked. Cut sandwiches into fun shapes, or choose to offer frozen peas. Sometimes these simple changes can make your little one enjoy a previously rejected food.
8. If your child refuses a meal, don’t rush to prepare a new one. Instead try to always serve various options, amongst them a food you know he likes.
9. Make sure that the time you sit at the table is pleasant, and have your little one see you eating the same healthy foods with pleasure.
10. Don’t feed your little one too much milk or snacks between meals as this can interfere with his hunger.
11. Finally, don’t offer dessert as a reward. This will only foster the belief that the dessert is more desirable than food.
Hopefully, these tips will help maintain peace at mealtime. Remember that you have control over when, and what foods you offer your little one, and your child has control over eating it or not. Give him time and continue offering healthy food choices every meal. If you’re worried about the quantity of food that he eats, keep a food diary. This can give you an objective perspective of his overall intake. If you believe that your child’s health is at risk due to lack of food, don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician. He can give you further assistance and if necessary prescribe a dietary supplement.
At this stage of development, children have an amazing amount of energy, so much that it seems they never get tired! Sure, every child is different and some are more active than others, but all children require a healthy diet to keep growing and to continue their active exploration of the world that surrounds them.
Since your baby learned to crawl and walk, access to his surroundings has increased, making it much easier to move to areas that get his attention. With this in mind, we know little ones don’t want to sit still. However, it is very important to keep their tummies full, even though sometimes they might seem to forget they have to eat.
How should I feed my child at this stage?
It is important to emphasize that, despite the fact that your child is still growing; it’s not at the same rate as it was during his first year of life. With this in mind, remember that it is normal for him to lose interest in food or to prefer to play instead of eating. Likewise, it might seem that some days he has a great appetite while others it might seem nonexistent. This is completely normal, as long as your little one continues to grow and is happy then there’s no problem. However, if you notice that your baby is not gaining weight or seems to lack energy, don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician.
Moreover, at this stage your baby is probably learning to eat on his own with utensils. This is an excellent opportunity to boost your little one’s adaptability. Small pasta pieces, shredded chicken, or other food that can be cut into small pieces and is easy to hold with a spoon or fork is very good to practice eating by himself.
Now, having your little one try new foods is not the only challenge that may arise. The immense energy that young children have can make it difficult for them to sit down and eat. Therefore, sometimes you can choose to feed your little one while playing or walking around, however it is not recommended. It is important and safer to teach children that we eat on the table. Tell him that once he is finished, he can continue playing. If your child eats with the family, involve him in the small talk and remember to praise him for his efforts so he may be motivated to continue eating at the table.
Also, remember to offer iron-rich food during mealtimes. Legumes, meat, fish, chicken, and iron-fortified cereal are great options. Likewise, limit milk consumption to no more than 3 glasses per day so that your baby is hungry enough to eat other food. At this stage of development your baby’s body and brain require food that contains fat, so don’t give him low-fat choices, unless your doctor advices you to do so. Finally, it is alright to add a pinch of salt to his dishes and give him the same food the rest of the family is having.
Since you are new to the world of solid baby food, you might be wondering whether you should prepare the purees at home or get the ready-to-eat jars from the supermarket. The truth is that there is no right answer; you can do both and even combine these two options. To prepare food at home is a wonderful way to feed your baby, because it presents food in its freshest form. However, sometimes it seems like an impossible task.
If you have the opportunity to prepare your baby’s food at home, you’ll know exactly each ingredient that’s in it and you’ll begin to get your baby used to your family’s meals (but in its pureed version). Now, it is not always feasible to prepare pureed meals every day, so a good technique is to choose one “cooking” day and prepare lots of different recipes and freeze them. Therefore, you can only defrost one portion at a time and save the rest for later. This can be very time effective and cheaper than buying ready-to-eat jars from the supermarket, but it does require time, organization, and preparation. Preparing food at home requires absolute hygiene; make sure you keep all the utensils and equipment very clean. If you lack the time or culinary inspiration, there is no problem with buying baby food at the supermarket; you only need to ensure that:
• It is made with natural food.
• It doesn’t contain sugar or sugar substitutes.
• It has low or no sodium.
• It doesn’t contain preservatives.
Most baby food you’ll find in the supermarket is of excellent quality; just check that they meet the requirements stated above. Buying baby food in the supermarket offers a convenient and very practical way of storage. Likewise, it’s a huge help anytime you don’t have food and are traveling or out for a walk. With this in mind, pediatricians recommend that you feed your baby with ready-to-eat jars occasionally, to get him used to the taste, and to prevent him from rejecting it when it is the only option for food. On the other hand, if you always buy your baby food, every now and then try to give him homemade food in order to get your baby used to eating homemade food with your family.
As final advice, serve the portion of food your little one will eat in a separate dish to prevent contamination of the food that he did not eat. That way, you can store the remaining food in the refrigerator for 48 hours and use it for another meal.
Introducing solid foods to your baby’s diet can come with a lot of questions and concerns. The whole process can become a bit confusing after finding out different information from articles, books, friends and family. Therefore, we’d like to clarify a few of the myths surrounding the introduction of solids.
One of these myths is that it is necessary to introduce cereals first. Now, most people do start with single grain cereals, but there is no scientific evidence that suggests that introducing solids in a particular order is best for your baby. It is also very common to hear that if you give your little one fruit first he will refuse to eat vegetables later; but again, there is no scientific evidence supporting this. The truth is that you can start with almost any food you want! You can even start with meat puree, something that was unthinkable in the past. However, thanks to recent research, it is recommended that meat be one of the first solids your baby tries, as it provides the necessary iron intake that he requires at this stage. After around the 6-month mark, babies run short of the iron reserves which they were born with. Therefore, it is important to give them iron-rich food such as red meat and iron fortified cereals.
Likewise, it is important to introduce your baby to a wide variety of healthy food that’s rich in nutrients, provided that you give him one specific food for 3 consecutive days to rule out allergies. Keep in mind that your little one is learning to eat, and therefore the foods’ texture and flavors are brand new. Don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t want to eat something in particular, this is very normal. Just try again later! Sometimes, you need to offer your baby a food 10 to 15 different times before he accepts it. For this reason, it is important to continue offering a teaspoon at a time in a pureed and almost semi-liquid consistency. Your little one is starting to learn how to eat food, so lumps or thick solids will be difficult to swallow. As your baby gets used to solid foods, you can gradually change the consistency of the food.
Who doesn’t like snacks? They’re delicious, very easy to prepare, and help balance the amount of nutrients required for your baby’s diet. If you think that your child doesn’t eat enough at breakfast, lunch or dinner, a healthy snack can serve as nutritional support. On the other hand, your little one might have a healthy appetite and eat very well but still get hungry between meals. Healthy snacks are a great way to keep your child happy and satisfied. Offer two to three snacks every day, establishing good eating habits. With a small portion, your baby will probably be satisfied, and it will prevent him from rejecting the whole snack and allow him to get to dinner time with enthusiasm.
How do I introduce healthy snacks?
It’s best to introduce snacks at the same time each day. That way, your child will learn to anticipate food at certain hours and will be prepared for them. Now, there will be days when your baby doesn’t finish his entire snack either because he isn’t hungry or doesn’t like it. However, try to continue offering the snacks at the same time, to avoid confusion in your child’s routine. Offer healthy snacks and give your baby the opportunity to choose one if he asks for it. Let him choose between two or three healthy choices.
Avoid giving junk food to your little one since they don’t add any healthy nutritional value to his diet. On the other hand, you don’t have to withhold these foods on special occasions like birthdays or parties. Just remember not to eat them in everyday life or offer them as a reward and your little one soon will understand that they are to be consumed only occasionally.
A lot of children are picky when it comes to eating. If you are going through this, we have good news – it is totally normal! As long as your baby continues to develop at a healthy rate and is happy, there is not much to worry about. In fact, after the first year growth slows and children don’t require as much food. Furthermore, the cognitive and physical development children experience makes them more interested in playing and exploring – and less interested in sitting down and eating.
One of the reasons why children get fussy and deny eating is because they seek independence, and refusing food gives them a sense of choice. Children want to choose what and how much they eat and they don’t always have an appetite, so sometimes they eat very well and other days they seem to eat nothing. Now, we must respect their choice to eat or not, but remember that only you have control over what food you offer and at what time.
It is important to offer healthy choices at mealtime and keep presenting new options often because it can take from 10 to 15 exposures of the same food to get a child to like it or even try it. Moreover, when it comes to offering new options remember to present them in small quantities along with familiar food that you know your little one likes.
Now, not all children are the same, there may be different reasons why they don’t want to eat or try new food. With this in mind, in this article we present different profiles of children who refuse to eat and tips on how to feed them.
If your child is sensitive to taste, smell, or texture:
• Present healthy food choices together with food that you already know he likes.
• Gradually offer your baby new food, keeping in mind that it can take from 10 to 15 exposures before he tastes the food.
• Pay attention to the food and textures that bother your little one and try to serve the same food with different preparation the next time.
If he has a strong temperament and doesn’t want to try or eat certain food:
• Serve new food along with the food that your child already likes. Encourage him to touch, smell, or try new food.
• Resist the urge to prepare special food for your little one, but make sure that in every meal there is something that he likes. Always try to give him what the rest of the family is eating but in small portions.
• Offer him healthy dips like natural yogurt, hummus, ketchup, peanut butter or dressing to motivate your child to eat fruits and vegetables.
• Get your child involved in the simple aspects of cooking so that food interests him and gets his attention.
• Remember to gradually expose him to new food and stay calm if your little one doesn’t want to taste it.
Your child may appear to be a picky eater, but what he really wants is to feed himself. In this case you can:
• Offer finger-food during mealtimes.
• Let your little one handle the cutlery even if he doesn’t have good hand-eye coordination yet.
• Ask your child how he wants food to be served in his plate.
Your little one is very active and doesn’t like to stop playing to sit and eat:
• Don’t sit your little one down until the meal is ready and his plate is set.
Your baby has grown a lot, now’s a great time to start including him in family meals! Despite not being ready to eat everything the family eats, your baby can begin to try many different textures, consistencies, and flavors. He can try small pieces of the same food others eat; but limit the amount of added salt and sugar. It’s also a very good time developmentally to introduce the spoon and sippy cup if you have not done so yet. Sitting around the table, your baby will be able to see you using utensils and drinking from cups, and there is nothing more exciting for a baby than being able to imitate their parents.
Including your baby in family meals may seem like more work, however, you can do it gradually as your baby is adapting to the routine. You can start by feeding your baby and when he acquires more dexterity and is able to feed himself, you can incorporate him and let him eat at the same time as the rest of the family does. You can also try this for one meal a day, and then gradually add more meals.
What are the benefits of including your baby in family meals?
• Learning from others. Your baby will observe how his brothers or you, his parents, eat. He will see as they use their utensils and their positive reactions towards the food during the meal.
• He will be able to taste new food and might even show more interest towards it.
• Finally, your little one will begin to learn good table manners. He’ll see that he has to wait his turn to talk; he can learn to say “please” and “thank you”, and even to chew politely. Gradually he will learn more and more things through observation and imitation.
How do I adjust my cooking so that it’s appropriate for my child?
• Prepare the recipe as you always do, but separate a small portion for your little one before seasoning the rest of the recipe.
• Cut your baby’s food separately too, according to the desired texture. Remember that despite not having all his teeth, your little one’s gums are stronger than you think. As long as the food can be easily dissolved in his mouth, there is no reason to put off introducing more textures.
• Remember to offer a type of food that you know your child likes in case he is a picky eater.
• Talk to your baby and involve him in the conversation, although he may not speak yet, he’ll love to interact with you.
• Keep in mind that your little one won’t always want to finish all the food you offer him. Let him choose what he likes best among the options you give him and resist the urge to get up and prepare something special if he doesn’t want to eat anything.
• Make mealtime short or let your little one retire to play near you when he has finished eating. At this age he probably won’t want to sit for a long time in the same place.