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Introducing New Foods To Your Child

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

There are so 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 around withholding certain foods from children have recently changed.  Actually, they have 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 them eating rice cereal and added vegetables, fruits and then meats.  The recommendations ( I don’t know if they were actually via the doctor or my friends) were to try a new food every 2 – 3 days.  We were not very “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.

imagesOver the years, as food allergies seemed to become more common,  there were newer guidelines which recommended restricting certain foods from a child’s diet.  In  theory it was thought 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.

There were even some doctors recommending that pregnant and breast feeding women avoid certain foods too.   At the time, this seemed very restrictive to me, and by now my own children were living on peanut butter and fish sticks (both newly forbidden foods).  I don’t think many of the children born in the late 90’s ever saw a jar of Skippy.

In the past 2 years the theories regarding delayed introduction of foods have been “de-bunked” and we the pediatricians are returning to a more relaxed approach to feeding infants.  It seems that keeping children away from peanut butter and 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 were 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 of age. It seems logical to me to start cereal, as a baby is usually happy in the morning at breakfast time, and that is a good time to begin spoon feeding. In reality it does not have to be cereal. There is some data that we should start protein first (meat, hmmm….breakfast sausage for babies?).

I then begin vegetables, simply because of taste, again with the thoughts that a baby will not eat carrots when given sweet pears first, but I really don’t think there is any study to substantiate that belief.  Then we just “plow” ahead with almost any food that can be pureed or mushed to spoon feed a baby.  So many mothers are making their own baby food, and that is 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, lentils and so on.

There is not a “FORBIDDEN” food, except for CHOKING issues.  So, 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 a baby is 8 -9 months old they are ready to explore some mushy finger foods too, and this does not have to be limited to cheerios, goldfish and puffs.  Pieces of overripe fruits (any kind) cut into small bits are great.  So too are noodles and sauce (tomato is fine) as well as eggs.

Unless you have another child with definite food allergies I would try everything.  The more foods your baby is 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.

That’s your daily dose.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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