Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Baby's First Foods - Part 1

CONGRATULATIONS!!!  You have a baby.  If you are reading this in earnest, you probably have a little baby who is getting ready to start eating something besides your milk.  Yes?

I don't know about you, but this whole process of introducing solids freaked me out at first.  With my first child, I was so careful about what I ate so my baby would be healthy and I would have good milk production... I found I was actually a little anxious about putting anything else in his mouth!  Isn't that crazy?  Well, parents have all sorts of crazy worries about their kids, and I'm no exception.  But for most of us, the first few steps of introducing solid foods to babies is the most challenging.  Then it gets much easier.  It helps to have a little hand-holding for those first few steps so you feel confident.  I'd like to share some ideas to help inspire you to feed your child (and your whole family!) well.

Start as you mean to continue!!! This is the single best piece of advice I read as a new mom, and it was from a book by Tracy Hogg, The Baby Whisperer. Starting now with nutritious, minimally processed food will mean that you can develop your child's palette and expectations from day one. If you don't want them to have candy or juice a lot, simply don't ever start! Don't even think, 'Oh, it wouldn't hurt little Suzy to have just one little m&m! Look how much she likes it!' Oh brother, now she's going to (rightfully) expect one every time you open the bag and that's the beginning of your power struggle over junk food. Giving it to them once, then taking it away causes more suffering for everyone involved than never giving them a taste for it in the first place. And you can extrapolate that thinking to many other areas of parenting. It's up to you to decide what you want in their diet now, then stick to it.

See, this is an interesting phase of parenting.  Your baby is getting all the nutrition they need from their milk.  Weather this is breast milk or formula... this is the source of nutrition. So the best way to ensure their good nutrition is to eat well yourself.  Did you know that the level of essential nutrients in breast milk can vary 2-10 fold depending on how well you eat??  You're planning a nice salmon and broccoli dinner now, aren't you?  Introducing solid foods around 6 months of age is about training your child's palette, teaching them to eat, introducing them to your food culture.  That is it!  So you don't have to freak out about getting the balance right (yet).  What you need to focus on is what kind of food you want them to eat and how you want that to happen.

Time to go to Your Happy Place
Imagine something with me for a moment.  Imagine 3 years from now when you are shopping with your preschooler.  What are they doing?  Are they begging for a treat?  Demanding you buy them a sucker and rolling on the floor of the supermarket until you give in?  Imagine 6-7 years from now when you have school-aged children.  You're at breakfast... what would you like to have them eating?  What are they doing? What are you packing in their lunch? Imagine a realistic but ideal situation for your child.  Shopping without begging for candy.  Eating healthy foods at breakfast using 6 year old-good manners.  THIS COULD BE YOUR LIFE... but it is up to you and you need to start now.  Aim for the stars and be cool about where things land... because free will kicks in pretty early, don't you find?

Here is what happens...  If, at 11 months of age, you start offering your child a bit of cooked whole grain cereal (like oatmeal) for breakfast instead of... say... Lucky Charms... they will in all likelihood want oatmeal for breakfast every day and won't even know what Lucky Charms are when they fly by them in your shopping cart.  Similarly, if you always offer them water with their meal and never even offer them a glass of Kool-aid, water is what they will reach for when thirsty.

Cynthia Lair has always been inspiring to me when it comes to preparing delicious whole foods for my family.  When talking about feeding children, she reminds us to look at our own views about food.  Our children will be looking to us for cues about what to eat and not eat and how to react to food.  Our kids pick up on the most subtle feelings of ours and will definitely notice your attitudes about food.  

You own views on food and eating
Vegetarian?  Vegan?  Omnivore?  Dairy-Free?  Gluten-free?  Fast-food fan?  Is it critical that your child live your ideals about food?  Do they need to follow the same restrictions?  The same freedoms?  A plant-based diet is an extremely healthy way to eat.  No doubt about it.  But babies are just little growing machines... and they need dense nutrition to do it.  Plants are definitely a big part of this, but I would argue that animal foods play an important role in our lives during periods of growth like early childhood, pregnancy, and lactation.  Naturally, this varies greatly depending on the individual and even the climate/latitude we live in.  If you don't like many vegetables, please consider buying a few for your children to give them a shot at the good life.  And if you don't eat animal products, consider your reasons and if that applies to your baby too.  It is possible to buy some very responsibly produced animal products that can be very helpful in a child's diet.  Fish oils, sustainably-caught fish, pastured meat and poultry and fresh eggs from pastured hens can help give your child high-quality protein and the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) that are essential for optimal growth and development.  Don't be afraid of animal fats, either.  A babies digestive system is very well-suited for utilizing fat for energy.  I mean, look how rich breast milk is!

I'm getting ahead of myself now.  At this phase, just start thinking about your own diet and views about food.  Then start looking a few years down the road to imagine how you'd like your children... your whole family, really... how you'd like to see them eating.  Then we can talk about how to set the stage for that.

See Part 2 for more specifics on what to start your baby on and Part 3 on practical tips on how to make and store baby food safely.

p.s... there are a lot of good books on feeding babies and children.  Check one or 2 out from your library.  I'm a big fan of 'Feeding the Whole Family' by Cynthia Lair.  Find something that resonates with you.


  1. thanks Karen,
    I look forward to part 2.

  2. This is fantastic and soooooo timely. Thanks Karen. I love the Baby Led Weaning Cook Book. It's helping me cook good family food! Can I ask a quick open question for anyone to respond to... Bertie has favourite foods that I know he will eat every time (banana, meatballs, brocalli, muffins - homemade). It seems when I introduce a new meal he doesn't eat half as well and wakes up in the middle of the night wanting milk. It feels very tempting to give him what I know he will eat. At this early stage is it important to persist with offering variety whether or not he eats it....? He's 9 months.

  3. Hi Fran! I can only speak from experience here. I'd experiment with continuing to offer new things... first, when he is hungry. Then make sure there is enough of a favourite to fill his tummy so everyone can get a good nights sleep. That's probably what you are doing. Just keep popping new things on his plate (and yours) and don't make a big deal of it. It might take a year or 2 but he'll either come around, or be just fine on his fav's.