Introducing New Foods to Your Child
Sue Hubbard, M.D.
Introducing New Foods to Your Child
There are no "forbidden" foods for young children anymore, except those that can trigger choking issues.
I receive many questions (including Megan's via our iPhone App) about "when" you can feed a child different foods. More and more information is being published on this subject and the "older" recommendations about withholding certain foods from children have recently changed. Actually, they've changed about 360 degrees!
Like so many things in medicine and life in general, "nothing stays the same." When I was beginning foods with my own young children, we always started with rice cereal and added vegetables, fruits and then meats. The recommendations we received (I don't know if they were actually via our doctor or friends) were to try a new food every 2-3 days. Food choices were not as "sophisticated" then, either, and there were only about 7 vegetables in the Gerber section and about the same number of fruits. I don't think "organic" was even a word.
Over the years, as food allergies seemed to become more common, new guidelines were issued which recommended restricting certain foods from a child's diet. The theory was that by delaying a child's exposure to a food group, they would have a more mature GI tract and immune system, and therefore might not develop food allergies.
Some doctors were even recommending that pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid certain foods, too. At the time, this seemed very restrictive to me, and by then my own children were living on peanut butter and fish sticks (both newly "forbidden" foods). I don't think many children born in the late '90s ever saw a jar of Skippy!
In the past two years, theories regarding delayed introduction of foods have been "de-bunked" and we pediatricians are returning to a more relaxed approach to feeding infants. It seems that keeping children away from peanut butter, fish and eggs really did nothing to slow down the development of food allergies. What it seemed to do was to make new parents quite uneasy about introducing new foods, and many children ended up eating "less healthy" foods by avoiding some food groups.
Currently, I recommend that parents begin feeding their infants solid foods at about 5-6 months. It seems logical to me to start with cereal, as a baby is usually happy at breakfast time and that's a good time to begin spoon-feeding. In reality, you don't have to start with cereal; some data suggests we should start with protein first (meat, hmmm...breakfast sausage for babies?).
I then introduce vegetables, simply because of taste, again with the thought that a baby will not eat carrots when given sweet pears first, though I really don't think there's any study to substantiate that belief. After that, we can "plow" ahead with almost any food that can be pureed or mushed to spoon feed a baby. Many mothers are now making their own baby food, and that's really quite easy for certain foods. There are now many more selections in the baby food aisle and babies are happily eating avocado, mango, beets and lentils.
There are no "forbidden" foods anymore, except those that can trigger choking issues. Peanut butter, cashew butter and almond butter are great sources of protein. So too are bits of flaky fish, such as salmon and tilapia. By the time babies are 8-9 months old, they're ready to explore some mushy finger foods, too, which need not be limited to Cheerios, Goldfish and puffed cold cereal. Overripe fruit (any kind) cut into small bits is great, as are noodles and sauce (tomato is fine), as well as eggs.
Unless you have another child with definite food allergies, I'd try everything. The more foods babies are exposed to, the broader range of tastes and textures they will have tried. Just remember to cut everything into tiny pieces and offer a little bit at a time. The risk of choking seems to be greater than the risk of food allergies.
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