June 18, 2012
I was pretty concerned about Astrid’s transition to solids. First of all, I wasn’t a cook. I’m a big cold cereal girl. Providing balanced nutrition – and in the form of purees no less – was daunting. (Just to be clear, I was starting from the assumption that pureed Corn Pops was probably a bad idea.)
I figured I was on the hook for introducing her to a range of foods (most of which I’d never cooked), so she could establish a broad palette and not end up hating mushrooms or being the kid who will only eat crustless pizza. And finally, Astrid turned six months old while we were in escrow on our house, so I was managing a move right about the time I was also supposed to be changing all our routines to get some solids into her.
Here’s my two cents, from the other side of the transition: it’s not that big a deal. Really.
When to start
The general guideline is to start babies on solids at about six months old.
That said, if you’re a month or two late, that’s fine. Also, if you want to kick things off earlier (or your pediatrician recommends it), in 2010 the American Academy of Pediatrics OK’d starting at four months old. Don’t stress about making this decision: a little earlier or a little later won’t make a big difference as long as Baby is eating well. Just pick a week when you’re not traveling or moving or varnishing your canoe or whatever, and have at it.
What you’re shooting for
Bertrand eating a range of foods (protein, veg, fruit, carbs) three times a day by a year old.
Don’t freak out. You won’t be making three special baby meals and measuring nutritional content on Day 1. You’re going to work up to three meals a day gradually, so on Day 1, you’ll be trying a single “meal” which will probably consist of one ingredient. Once little Guillermina masters that, you’ll introduce some multi-ingredient foods (still purees) and bump up to “eating” twice a day at eight or nine months (soft foods and finger foods). By the time she’s a year old, she’ll be eating table food on an adult schedule (albeit cut up into small pieces).
If Baby is still breastfeeding (or drinking formula) at a year, that fine: you’ll just balance food intake vs. milk accordingly. But you still need to get her on solids so, you know, she learns to chew.
In the US, the recommendation you read and hear everywhere is infant rice cereal mixed with formula or breast milk. The up sides are that it’s mild so most babies tolerate it well, and that it’s filling which means it might make for better overnight sleep. The down sides are that it tastes like pulverized cardboard and, since it’s heavy, it can be constipating (which leads to another whole set of problems and solutions).
I followed that recommendation, mostly because I would have tried nearly anything to get Astrid to sleep longer at night, but the experiment lasted about two days. She was having none of the pulverized cardboard thing, and I could see her point, so we moved on to steamed and mashed sweet potatoes and we were off to the races. Mashed up avocado is another great starter food.
Starting with mashed veggies has the added benefit of instilling an interest in healthy whole foods early rather than trying to introduce them after carbohydrates, which made a lot of sense to me. (It’s also what they do in Europe, so you can consider yourself sophisticated and worldly.) I know this won’t be true of every child, but vegetables are still Astrid’s preferred food and I attribute it to her first foods experience.
The choice between bought vs. homemade baby food is not a big deal these days. Yes, as with everything baby-related, there are militant moms who would never feed their child anything not grown organically at a local farm where they know all the goats’ names. They cook and jar and can their own baby food and follow books like Super Baby Food to the letter, watching the nutritional content of every meal like a hawk. That’s awesome and you should definitely join them – if it will make you relaxed and calm and a happy parent.
If you don’t have that kind of time or zeal, skip it. Your baby will be fine. In my view – and this is where I come down on pretty much everything baby-related – healthy and easy moderation is the best path for you and your baby. Save your fanaticism for the things you love to do. That joy will be a great example and environment for your child. If this isn’t your area of interest however, stressing yourself out to follow someone else’s rigid guidelines will just make you and everyone around you tired and crabby.
There are lots of healthy jarred baby foods on the market. They’re labeled by age, so you don’t have to worry about mashing to the right consistency or introducing a potentially allergy-inducing ingredient. If you are super concerned about Baby eating all-organic, there are lots of options there too: Earth’s Best, Plum Organics and Sprout are just a few of the many choices.
If you’re at all on the fence between jarred and homemade, I’d suggest giving the cooking a shot, at least early on. It’s ridiculously simple – and that’s coming from someone who didn’t cook really at all – and you’ll save some money. This isn’t Julia Child: it’s a mashed up avocado half once a day. If you have a steamer basket in your kitchen and one sweet potato, you’re looking at two minutes of prep (peel it, cut it up into cubes) and ten minutes of waiting while it steams. Oh – plus 30 seconds of smushing it up. No seasoning, no such thing as overcooking. Failure is pretty much not an option. And if it all get’s to be too much after that short experiment, it’s fine: you can always cut over to jarred food later.
If you’re looking for a great starter cookbook, try Top 100 Baby Purees.
I was bejesus scared that Astrid would have a food allergy that I would find out about because she went into anaphylactic shock while I was home alone 0r, worse, asleep at night. Since Ramon and I have no food allergies, this was probably a little bit of an edge case, but we all have our paranoias, right? According to BabyCenter, only about 6% of young children have food allergies and 90% of them are to milk, eggs, nuts (peanuts or other), soybeans, wheat, fish or shellfish.
It seems like allergies in children are everywhere, and, as a result, recommendations tightened about what foods to introduce to kids early. However, research indicates that waiting to introduce the most common allergy foods until later hasn’t decreased the number of kids who are allergic, so the AAP has backed off again. I’ll leave it to you and your pediatrician to have the specific conversation that will calm your fears and lay out a comfortable process for you to follow, but these are the highlights:
- No tree nuts or peanuts until age one. (These are a choking hazard too, so that makes sense.)
- In the US, it’s also recommended to wait until age one to try eggs and cow’s milk. (In Europe, eggs don’t make the list to wait.)
- Shellfish is now on the OK list for six month olds, although it wasn’t until 2008.
- No honey until age one (it’s a bacteria risk, not an allergy concern).
- Quantities. Your baby is small and doesn’t know how to eat yet, so a serving is pretty damn small. A quarter to a half an avocado is a lot of food. Buy and prepare accordingly.
- Note to self: no matter how cheap they are, do NOT buy flats of baby food until you know Junior loves that specific brand and type. Trust me.
- Fruit. Mashed up bananas are tasty and sweet, but you may want to wait to introduce those and other fruits until Baby has acquired a taste for the less-sweet veggies. It’s easier to introduce fruit after veggies rather than vice versa.
- Variety. Don’t push the same food more than three days in a row. Move on and try another food before Murgatroyd gets tired of something he liked at first.
- That said, wait three days before introducing another new food to the rotation so you’re not over-taxing your baby’s system. She’ll need a few days to process the new food + in case she does have a reaction to a particular food, you’ll want to be able to isolate which food it is that’s causing the problem.
- Rejection. If Philomena rejects a food, that’s fine. Just double back and try again in a few weeks. Babies’ taste buds are very sensitive and are developing preferences as you go, so don’t assume she’ll never eat mango just because she doesn’t go for it after the first few tries.
- Time of day. Most babies are at their friendliest and least tired in the morning, so that’s a great time for that one-meal-a-day stage. On the other hand, if you’re trying to get lots of food into him before he goes down for the night, you can try for dinnertime as mealtime. Just be prepared that a tired baby is more likely to lose patience, so feed him well ahead of when he usually starts to power down for the day.
- Trust them. As with breast and bottle feeding, your baby will let you know when she’s done or full. Don’t push too hard: this is a learning stage. She’ll still be getting most of her nutrition from milk or formula, so don’t stress about getting specific quantities of food or a balanced diet into her yet. Just let her get used to eating and new tastes and textures.