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Ask Dr. Sears: Refusing Solid Foods

Q. My 11-month-old daughter has gone from eating two jars of baby food a day to only one or two spoonfuls. She's still drinking the same amount of formula and water. I'm worried something could be wrong with her. What should I do?

A. Between 6 and 12 months of age, many babies go through a passing stage of refusing solids and favoring milk—either from the breast, or formula. This preference is likely due to the ease and familiarity of sucking from the breast or bottle versus the hard work of swallowing solid food. As long as your baby gets the nutrients she needs during this phase, there's no real cause for concern. Here's how to keep her healthy and encourage her to return to solids:

Feed her plenty of milk.

Your baby needs about two ounces of formula per pound per day. Most 11-month-olds average around 32 to 36 ounces daily. As long as you feed her this amount during her solid-food strike, she'll get all the vitamins and minerals she needs.

Add healthy fat to her diet.

During an infant's first year, many of the calories for growth come from fat. Human milk is about 50 percent fat (yet another reason breast milk is best). If your baby's growth seems to be slowing, try increasing her intake of nutritious fats. Flax seed oil is a great supplement for children during temporary dietary downturns. Add two teaspoons to her formula (1/2 teaspoon to four bottles) daily. This provides around 80 extra calories a day. Avocado also contains lots of healthy fats and is a perfect food for babies. Mash up a little ripe avocado and let her eat it off your fingertip.

Offer nutrient-dense foods.

For picky solid-food eaters, stick with foods that pack the most nutritional punch in a small volume. Your best bets are avocado, yogurt, tofu, eggs (only after one year of age), veggies (such as carrots and squash) and flax seed oil.

Redefine "baby food."

Perhaps your daughter is trying to tell you that she wants an upgrade in her cuisine! Many mothers say that once they switch from jarred baby food to homemade, their babies begin to eat more solids. Try giving your child the same fresh, healthy foods you eat: Purée fresh fruits, cooked vegetables, lean meats and seafood (such as wild salmon). By feeding her nutritious homemade food—the very food you eat—you're shaping her tastes from an early age. Today's childhood obesity epidemic (and subsequent nutrition-related illnesses, such as diabetes) is due in large part to children being raised without a taste preference for healthy foods. Instead, kids favor artificially sweetened and nutritionally deficient packaged foods. If you serve your baby freshly prepared foods as often as possible, she's more likely to grow up preferring those tastes and shunning packaged foods.

Try lap-top eating.

Sit your daughter on your lap, put her puréed food on your own plate and try a bit of it yourself. This strategy capitalizes on an infant's desire to copy what you do. Seeing the food on your plate and watching you eating it should entice her to try it, too. Some babies just want to eat grown-up foods on grown-up plates!

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