How many times have you wished there was a Mommy Hotline… a number to call to ask any question, and not worry about sounding silly or questioning how good the advice is?
The Mommy Hotline fantasies are common, especially questions about eating. So let's talk to an actual expert on the subject about this.
Stephanie Middleberg, R.D.N, author ofThe Big Book of Baby Food andThe Big Book of Organic Toddler Food has some solid (pun intended) advice.
When to introduce solids
Pediatricians often say anywhere from four to six months, depending on the child. Some babies are very strong at four months, but for a lot of kids, that can be young. Listen to signals coming from your baby. The most telling sign is when they start to show interest in food. Around five, five-and-a-half months, both of my kids were trying to grab food out of my hand or off of my plate. Other than that, they should have good neck strength and be able to sit up unassisted, which is really important because it helps prevent choking, and they should no longer have that tongue thrust reflex that babies are born with.
Deciding between baby led weaning or purees
It doesn’t matter, and it doesn't have to be black and white. You could give pureed sweet potato and a chunk of roasted sweet potato at the same time. You can do both. In fact I do think it’s worthwhile to do a combination, because at a certain point with purees, around eight to ten months, you want to make sure you’re increasing the texture so they’re able to learn to chew.
Above and beyond the debate over whether to start with purees or pieces of food, you want to encourage independent eating and let them explore, which means they are feeding themselves. It’s extremely messy, so strip them down, cover the floors, and let them have multiple spoons in their hands. I like those GOOtensils, which are easy for babies to handle. Feeding themselves helps them control the pace and develop their fine motor skills, and also allows them to stop when they’re done.
Whether you feed your baby purees or pieces off your own plate, it’s important to let them dictate when they want more. Are they still grabbing and opening their mouths? And pay attention to refusal signs like getting fussy, throwing food on the ground, or turning their heads. That means it’s time to end the meal. It could be after five minutes or 25 minutes, it really varies. Trust that they are able to self regulate.
Organic or not
We can’t totally control the toxins in our environment, but this is one area we have some control over. And we know now that most organic foods have more nutrients in them, so it’s not just about the pesticide load. But it doesn’t have to be organic or bust. We do the best we can. If you can’t or don’t want to do all organic, you can try to follow the recommendations of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen.” But I would much rather someone feed their children conventional fruits and vegetables than be afraid to because they aren’t organic.
It’s really important to include fats in a babies diet, which they need for development. You can start to heat up purees in coconut or olive oil, or using some ghee. And iron really is important for babies. Around four to six months, their stores start to deplete. But they don’t need to get it from rice cereal, they can get iron from vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and kale. Or give them meat, which has highly absorbable iron, either soft and stewy in pieces or pureed. Blackstrap molasses are high in iron, you can add it to smoothies. You want to add a source of vitamin C, which helps with iron absorption. So mix strawberries with spinach or mango with black beans.
Exposing babies to different flavor profiles is also important. Between six and 18 months there's a "flavor window" which is a time to maximize introducing different flavors, like herbs and spices. Pretty quickly after you start with solids, begin adding in spices and herbs to purees or soft foods you’re roasting for them. And know that while some babies love everything, others need to warm up to new foods. Try not to fall into the trap of just giving them what they like. Parents can dismiss a food because a child rejects it the first time, but that’s a mistake. It can take 15 to 20 tries for a baby to decide they like a new food.
I would also recommend that parents sit down with their babies while they are eating. Take a moment to sit down, smile, perhaps have some food in front of yourself too. Modeling is such an important aspect of teaching kids to eat. Setting that tone early on is important.