After the 6-month mark, deciding what to feed and even how to feed your child can become quite stressful and confusing for every new parent. There’s so much debate over early childhood nutrition, and opinions differ on certain aspects of a baby’s diet. We’re here to make that transition smoother for you and your little one.
The following are some basic cues you can follow to create meals that are not only safe but also very nutritious for your baby:
1. Breast milk first, solids later.
Your baby should be fed solely on breast milk or formula before solids to ensure that they receive all their vital nutrients and health-giving factors before filling up on solids. At around nine months, this often reverses and food comes first.
2. Liquid to puree to lumps and bumps
The transition from strictly liquid which tends to have a consistent taste and texture to solid foods can be a tricky one. “Food” is thicker, varies in taste and texture as well as color. It is important to ensure that all foods are either cooked or pureed (by hand, blender or baby food appliance) into a smooth 'liquidy' paste resembling runny yoghurt (breast milk or formula can be used to thin the food). You can introduce a new food once every 3-5 days to understand your baby’s reactions.
3. Start as you mean to continue
Your little one may only have a teaspoon of the food. So it’s important to maintain the quality of it. Always opt for food dense in nutrients and free from additives, the quality of your baby’s food cannot be compromised on. This holds true for toddlers too who have much larger appetites but still relatively small tummies.
As your baby becomes more independent, what counts is the food that is offered since you will have less control over what is actually eaten. Be persistent and consistent, and remember to not lose your patience while your baby is eating, no matter how frustrating the experience can be. Being a good role model for them at this time can help your baby with meal time.
4. Say no to meal breaks
It’s absolutely disheartening to see your baby get cranky. Missing, skipping or even delayed meals can put you as a parent in a tough spot. A regular flow of nutrients throughout the day will ensure that your little one has all the energy they need as well as building blocks for their growing brain and body.
5. A good dose of iron
At around six months, the iron content in your baby’s body can get low. A good supply of iron for healthy growth and development is essential. Most baby cereals are fortified with iron so make sure you invest in the right one. Speak to your doctor about other ways you can introduce meals that are iron rich for your baby.
6. Messy but fun
Make eating food a positive and pleasant experience for your baby. Even if it means you let them get messy and play with the food, touch it and feel its texture as they explore. Most parents will reprimand their children for making a mess, but learn to embrace it! This will help keep the routine as exciting as your baby would want to make it. A bib is always handy in times like these along with some baby wipes.
7. Take your time
Introduce new foods one at a time as you try out different variants over a 3-5 day period. So if your baby has a reaction/allergy to a particular food it is easier to determine the culprit. You also get to learn about the foods your baby loves and makes their favorite.
8. Warm, hot or cold
Room temperature is most babies' preference in terms of food temperature, although some may prefer it slightly warmer, for example, at body temperature (given milk straight from the breast is at this warmth). Place your baby's bowl into a bowl of hot water to warm it to the desired temperature. And of course, avoid using a microwave to warm up your baby’s food.
9. The importance of water consumption
Babies’ kidneys are not as adept as adults at handling the waste products from digestion of food. As your baby starts on solids, it becomes increasingly important to monitor the amount of water your little one is drinking, particularly in the case where milk feeds are being replaced by solid foods.
Young children don't have fully developed thirst cues so it is important to offer your little water at regular intervals. Ensure that your baby’s bottle/sipper cups are placed in easy-to-see and reachable positions and keep a check on the content levels throughout the day.
Usually parents give fruit juices to children to assist with their dietary intake of vitamin C. While milk, fruit juice and water are the three most popular fluids for children under one, water is the preference. While some intake of fruit juice is fine (in moderation), excessive intake can lead to gastric upset, loose stools and may interfere with your child's appetite and in severe cases their physical development. Dietary guidelines recommend that children:
- Are not given any fruit juice before six months of age.
- Are not given juice in bottles or other vessels that pour easily, allowing a child to drink juice over the day.
- Are not given juice at bedtime.
11. The right time to start on cow’s milk
Generally, it is best not to introduce cows' milk as a drink until after your baby is at least one, to reduce the risk of allergy or the displacement of breast milk, formula or meals.
12. Alternatives to milk
Milk alternatives can be a fantastic option after the first year. Many are fortified with calcium to make up for any shortfalls. Such drinks also offer a variety of fluids and nutrients, and may benefit children who are lactose intolerant or have other allergies and sensitivities.
Some alternatives include:
- Soy, a number of which are now fortified with calcium (opt for those made from whole soybeans)
- Nut, such as almond milk (high in essential fats and calcium)
- Oat (notably low-glycaemia index and reputed to be good for the nervous system)
- Rice (can be quite sweet)