During their first five years of life children experience dramatic changes at a remarkably fast rate, and the fuel for their optimal growth and development is proper nourishment. From his birth until your child has mastered the use of a fork and knife, you and he will benefit from a procession of tools created to help you feed him the freshest, most nutritious foods-from breast milk and/or formula to his first solids and beyond. It begins with bottles, bottle organizers and bottle warmers, nursing pillows, breast pumps, and breast pads. Within six months, high chairs and portable hook-on chairs enter the scene as tot-friendly dishes and utensils mark his start on solid foods. Baby-food processors and recipe books join a league of healthful, made-for-kids prepared foods and snacks to become mainstays in your kitchen. Find out here what feeding facilitators have proved helpful to other parents.
- Breastfeed as soon as possible after birth and for as long as possible.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first six months of your baby’s life and continuing to nurse after that while incorporating solid foods until your child is at least 12 months old. The advantages conferred to your child are profound. Breast milk promotes optimal brain and vision development, provides immune system components that compensate for babies’ deficiencies – particularly important before they receive vaccinations – reduces the risk of health problems including digestive disorders, respiratory infections, bacterial meningitis, diabetes, and SIDS, and protects against obesity later in life. Your infant will also experience subtle flavors of the fruits and vegetables you eat through your breast milk, making him more familiar with those tastes and more accepting of them when he begins eating solid foods. For breastfeeding tips from other moms, click here: Expert Breastfeeding Secrets. For more support consult these resources: La Leche League International; The National Breastfeeding Helpline; and The International Lactation Consultant Association.
- Don’t start solid foods too early.
You can begin introducing your baby to solid foods when he is about 6 months old. Start with one new food at a time, such as an iron-fortified single-grain cereal made for infants mixed with some breast milk. Feed it to him with a spoon; getting it from a bottle could cause your little one to choke. After trying a new food, wait three days before introducing anything else new so that you can watch for allergic reactions, such as diarrhea, rash or vomiting. Over time try to get your child used to a wide variety of foods. Some experts suggest introducing vegetables before fruits so that your child learns to enjoy the less sweet taste of vegetables before discovering the naturally more pleasing flavor of fruit. Avoid heavily spiced foods, honey and sugary juices, treats and desserts. Once your baby has begun eating a variety of foods, can sit up unassisted and is able to bring objects to his mouth, you can offer him soft finger foods, such as small pieces of banana or cooked potato, wafer-style crackers, scrambled eggs, or well-cooked pasta, so that he can learn to feed himself. Check the temperature of cooked food before setting it in front of him to make sure it is cool enough that it will not burn his mouth. For more on nutrition for 1 and 2 year-olds, click The Best Toddler Nutrition. Continue to carefully monitor your child’s eating and avoid foods that could pose a choking hazard, such as nuts, hard vegetables, whole grapes or cherry tomatoes, until he is at least 4 years old.
- Don’t start cow’s milk too soon.
To help prevent allergic reactions, iron-deficiency anemia and digestive disorders associated with cow’s milk, wait to introduce your child to cow’s milk products until after he is 1 year old. After his first birthday, if he is eating a balanced diet of solid foods, you may start offering small amounts of whole vitamin D milk or yogurt. You may want to try offering it to him in a sippy cup to begin weaning him from bottles around this time. If he responds well, you can gradually work up to 32 ounces a day. After age 2, consider switching to lowfat or nonfat.
- Offer nutritious fare from the start.
Food preferences are formed early in life. A 6-month-old’s diet should consist of healthful foods such as breast milk, lots of veggies and fruits, fortified whole-grain cereals, fish, meat, eggs, beans, and plain yogurt. Discuss diet with your doctor at every well-baby visit, and keep tabs on the foods offered to your child by other caregivers.
- Don’t overfeed your child.
Watch for cues that your infant has had enough, such as turning his head away from a spoonful of food. Don’t insist that a child of any age “clean his plate,” and don’t offer food treats as a reward. Each child’s caloric needs are individual. Depending on his activity level, a child between the ages of 2 and 6 years needs about 1,200 to 1,600 calories divided into balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. For 7- to 10-year-olds, that number increases to about 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day. For a daily eating plan based on your child’s age and activity levels, visit USDA.
- Eat healthful foods yourself.
Your child will emulate your eating habits.