Attention new moms and dads! What you’ve been told to feed your child after six months may just be old news. New guidelines for feeding children from six to 24 months have just been released, with a few new significant recommendations that you’ll want to know about.
Instead of starting solids at four months, babies should start the transition to solid foods at about six months, or when a baby shows readiness. (Readiness means they show interest in what you are eating, have lost the tongue-thrust reflex that pushes food back out of the mouth, and can sit upright.)
It used to be that cereal would be provided first, followed by vegetables, fruit, then milk and meats. Now, any iron rich foods can be offered first, which includes not only iron-fortified cereals, but also well-cooked minced, mashed or shredded meat or meat alternatives (like cooked, mashed beans or lentils, or eggs).
Iron-rich foods should be offered a few times each day, too. Ideally babies between six and 12 months should be eating iron-rich two or more times a day, and those from 12 to 24 months of age should be eating iron-rich at every meal.
Once iron rich foods are commonplace, all other foods can be offered.
The only exceptions to this are honey, which can be given after one year, and homogenized cow or goat milk, which can be offered from nine to 12 months, or later if mom is breastfeeding. Cow and goat milk should be limited to no more than three cups per day, as it may displace other foods which have nutrients not found in cow milk.
When you hear the words “baby food,” you often think of a pureed texture. With the new guidelines, however, this will now be passé, as parents are advised to start baby off with not just pureed foods, but actually a variety of textures.
Delaying the introduction of lumpy textures beyond the age of nine months is associated with feeding difficulties in older children and a lower intake of nutritious foods such as vegetables and fruit.
Finger foods are highly recommended, as they encourage self-feeding. Safe finger foods can include: pieces of soft-cooked vegetables and fruits; soft, ripe fruit such as banana; finely minced, ground or mashed cooked meat, deboned fish and poultry; grated cheese; bread crusts or toasts.
In terms of allergies, parents used to be advised to delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods until about one year of age, or later if there was a significant history of allergy in a family. Experts now recommend the opposite. Eggs, milk, peanuts (in the form of thinly spread peanut butter), seafood, soy, and wheat — the most common food allergens — are recommended as part of baby’s first foods, and to be offered early and frequently. This advice applies to all babies (unless they have an existing allergy to one of these foods), no matter what their future risk of developing a food allergy. Similar to older recommendations, parents are advised to wait two days before introducing new foods, as allergic symptoms, if any, usually take about 48 hours to appear.
One of the more challenging recommendations is that parents are now advised to offer children open cups, and not sippy cups. This will inevitably take some time to get used to, and patience on behalf of the parents, but the rationale for this does make sense.
Open cups are thought to support development of mature feeding skills, whereas a sippy cup continues to use sucking response, similar to drinking from a bottle or breast. Using an open cup, versus bottle or sippy cup, is also thought to reduce constant consumption and over exposure of the teeth to sugar-containing liquids. Decreasing this exposure may help reduce the risk of dental decay.
In addition to nutrition, the social aspect of eating is considered to be just as important. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to include older infants and young children at mealtimes, even if their feeding times do not always align. Meal times will provide them with exposure to tastes, colours and textures, and an opportunity to watch the rest of the family, too.
All of this helps to develop healthy eating habits, as well as deter picky eating.
Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact her through the website: www.recipeforhealth.ca.