Ask Dr. Sears: Making Solid Foods Fun

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Ask Dr. Sears: Making Solid Foods Fun

Q. I need advice on feeding my 8-month-old son. Not only am I confused about all the conflicting advice on solid foods — how much, how often, and what to feed your baby — but the thought of giving him finger foods terrifies me! I’m so afraid he’ll choke, I might just keep him on pureed food until adulthood! What’s the best way to feed solids safely?

A. Eating needs to be pleasurable for a baby, and feeding a baby needs to be pleasurable for the parent. It’s not unusual for parents to experience some anxiety about starting solids  — but it’s best if you hide this when feeding your son. Babies are very astute at picking up parental anxiety in any interaction  — especially feeding. That said, here are some ways to have a safe and nutritious experience when beginning solids.

Make feeding fun. To start, try a bit of baby food yourself, and demonstrate how good it is with an exaggerated “yum-yum!” facial expression. Your baby is sure to follow suit. Get in tune with your baby  — watch for a time when he’s hungry and in the mood to be fed. Above all, don’t force-feed. Let your baby set the pace of how much he eats. To cut down on the inevitable mess of spoon-feeding, try the “upper lip sweep,” a strategy my wife and I mastered many infants ago: As you guide a spoonful into your baby’s mouth, gently lift the spoon upward allowing the upper lip to sweep the food off the spoon.

Offer finger foods. Match feeding strategies to your baby’s developmental milestones. Around 8 months, expect the “do-it-myself” stage to commence: Babies develop a fascination with tiny objects (such as morsels of food) and enjoy mastering the thumb-and-forefinger pick-up, called the pincer grasp. Use this newfound achievement to your advantage by offering finger foods. The safest are those that dissolve in the mouth:

  • Bite-size avocado pieces
  • Small cubes of tofu
  • Teething biscuits
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Rice cake pieces
  • Cooked carrot bits
  • Slices of cooked fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg-yolk crumbles\
  • Pasta and spaghetti pieces
  • O-shaped cereals
  • Cooked peas
  • The four P’s: peaches, pears, prunes, papaya
  • Squash

A safe way to introduce meat is to take a chicken leg bone with all the tiny slivers removed but a small amount of cooked chicken still remaining. Baby can hold the bone like a rattle and teethe on it, play with it, and even eat a little chicken. Feel free to serve the chicken bone any time of day: The concept of breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods doesn’t apply to babies  — it’s more what they’re in the mood for. If they want cereal for dinner and pasta for breakfast, that’s absolutely fine. With my own kids, we found it easier to simply mash up part of the meals we were eating and let them enjoy the family meal, baby-style.

Offer small, frequent feedings. Remember, babies have tiny tummies, about the size of their fist. One tablespoon of any one food at a meal is a general guide for an 8-month-old. The amount will vary according to hunger and the baby’s age. Eating small amounts more frequently — grazing — is the way most babies normally enjoy eating. The common mistake novice parents make is to offer too much food at one time. Begin with a small dollop, and add more if your baby wants it. Keep an eye out for stop signs: When he tightens his lips, for example, it’s an undeniable “no more!”

Encourage dipping. Babies love dipping foods. Make nutritious dips, such as guacamole (skip the spices, of course) and yogurt dip. Remember, a bit of a mess goes with the territory!

Avoid chokable foods:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Popcorn kernels
  • Chunks of meat
  • Hard beans
  • Raw vegetables such as carrots
  • Raw fruits such as apple cubes
  • Whole grapes
  • Hard candy

If you do give your baby hot dogs (look for the healthier, nitrite-free kind), cut them into strips and then into smaller pieces that are easily gummed, rather than letting him bite off chokable chunks.

Shape young tastes. These are the three most important words of early infant feeding. You want to shape your child’s tastes toward appreciating real food, which is why it’s best to make your own baby food as much as possible. By 9 months of age, babies should be given any fruits and vegetables you want them to develop a taste for. Infants who are started on a wide variety of vegetables early on are less likely to develop a case of “veggie refusal” later on. While some experts don’t think children should be fed seafood until about 3 years of age, I personally believe it’s safe  — and necessary to combat the Omega-3 deficiencies prevalent in American children today. Beginning around 9 months of age, slip a few slivers of salmon into your son’s diet. And when you’re introducing a new food, try camouflaging it with a layer of a previously tried favorite — it’s likely to go over much better.

As more of your baby’s teeth come in and his swallowing mechanism matures, the texture of the foods you give him can gradually change. Follow this rule of thumb: Most babies need pureed food until the end of their first year. Between 1 and 2 years of age, your baby can slowly begin to eat the same foods as you. Remember, one of your main goals is for baby to enjoy both the taste and the texture of eating. Make feeding time a social interaction as well as a nutritional exercise, and enjoy!}

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