They say it takes a village to raise a child and that is 100% true! Parents rely on one another for advice to get through the many phases of childhood and nutrition is always a central topic. In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of setting the foundation of good nutrition early, systematic food introduction, rejection and parental modeling at meal time. Let’s get in depth today about what foods to introduce first and why. We’ll also go through some common pitfalls that I see in my practice and how to address them.
My education and training in paediatric nutrition have taught me that a more traditional approach gives long term benefit. As a result, I always recommend free range organic egg yolks and liver from a grass-fed / pastured source as baby’s first food. Given the modern advice for rice cereal, you’re bound to get a few sideways glances when you suggest this food to your fellow mothers. If you arm yourself with education, then you can confidently know that egg yolks are considered mother nature’s multivitamin. They are packed with iron to support growth, cholesterol to wrap the developing nerve endings in baby’s brain, lutein for eye health, choline for liver health, folate, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K and Vitamin B12. The list is much longer than this but you get my point. Egg yolks offer far more value than rice cereal. Liver is one of the most nutrient dense foods available and if obtained from a good source, it can provide an extremely bio-available form of iron and zinc, critical for growth and immunity. Your baby was born with enough iron and zinc to get them to 6 months on breastmilk or formula alone but their stores are depleted around this time and introducing nutrient dense, specifically iron-rich, foods is a must.
If liver isn’t your thing, that’s okay. I’d opt for a grass-fed beef poached in bone broth before pureeing and serving. If you are an advocate of baby led weaning (BLW), go for grass fed beef mince meatballs. Do whatever you need to do to get nutrient dense foods into your baby. If you run out of ideas, call on your village for help! Ask your best friend, your mother’s group or find a healthcare professional who is aligned with your values and talk to them. You have a window of opportunity here, use every day to build a library of nutritious foods.
It’s important to transition your baby to finger foods by month 10 (if you didn’t do BLW) as self-feeding is linked to less fussiness in early childhood. You choose WHAT and WHEN your child eats, but let them choose HOW MUCH by self-feeding. As I said in Part 1 of this series, don’t put pressure on yourself or your baby. It is not my recommendation to force food on your child as it will likely lead to a power struggle over food that can have damaging effects in the long term.
Not everything is rainbows and glitter all the time. Let’s talk about common pitfalls when introducing solids. I do tend to see a lot of the same roadblocks in my practice. Parents often get stuck in a routine at 9 months and don’t know what else to introduce. I ask those parents to write a complete list of what they have introduced and undoubtedly things like asparagus or Brussels sprouts are missing. Or perhaps they didn’t think to introduce figs and papaya. We focus on whole foods and stay as far away from anything packaged that we can. Sometimes we all need a bit of finger food inspiration! If this is you, start by listing what you have introduced and walk up and down the fresh food aisles of the grocery store. Your goal is to introduce everything you see!
Another common myth I need to break with parents is that breakfast must be porridge, cereal or eggs with toast. This couldn’t be further from the truth! The media tells us what foods are “breakfast” foods and we blindly follow. If you give your infant slices of free range chicken breast, broccoli florets tossed with butter from a grass-fed cow and cubes of pumpkin oven roasted with olive oil at 7am, they will still eat it! That choice for breakfast is packed with essential amino acids, protein and iron for growth, zinc for immunity, fat soluble vitamins, calcium for bone health, lutein for eye health, magnesium needed for 300+ cellular functions. The list is much longer but you get the point. Your child is busy crawling, cruising or even walking so make those brief times when you can actually get them into the high chair count. Giving nutrient dense foods is your best option. If this sounds like you, give yourself a goal to break the mould tomorrow and give dinner for breakfast.
The final common mistake I see is parents giving their child steamed vegetables and fruits with no added fats. Babies need so much fat to unlock vitamins like A, D, E & K, they need it for cell development and to complete their nervous system. Super healthy parents (usually the ones who hit the gym daily) will show me a typical meal for their child that is a lean chicken breast with steamed broccoli and 10 blueberries and wonder why their child isn’t putting on weight. That’s what I would give to my adult clients who want to lose weight! If your baby is not showing enough growth when plotted on the growth charts or if they are experiencing constipation, add fat! Coconut oil, ghee, avocado, bone marrow, olive oil and butter (assuming dairy is okay) are all great options. Fatty acids are a building block for your baby. A comprehensive diet must include them. If this is you, the fix is simple, star being more liberal with your fat additions and use the next week to test out each fat option I listed above.
Your baby’s nutritional development does not stop at 12 months. It is up to you to continue to introduce the healthy, nutrient dense foods beyond 12 months. Don’t get caught up in the lunchbox comparison and try to make the most creative lunch box (unless you want to!) but rather, keep it simple and colourful. Consistency is key so commit to a style of serving food that suits you.
My last piece of advice is to control what you can control. You have the power to determine what is in your refrigerator, what is in your pantry but you can’t always control treats served at parties. Moderation is best, let your child enjoy cake with their friends but have homemade mango and coconut milk popsicles ready to go home for an after-dinner snack. Involve your children in grocery list writing, selecting fruit and vegetables at the grocery store, family dinner planning for the week and in meal preparation. They will be more likely to enjoy food and want to eat healthy if they were involved in the process.
I live by the beautiful words of Maya Angelou, who once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Arm yourself with education and now that you know more and know “better”, I want you to do better for your child. 1,000 days will pass in the blink of an eye and the window will close. Set your child up for success and give them the advantage they deserve.
About the Author
Michelle Fernandez is a Paediatric Nutritionist. She holds a Bachelor degree in chemistry and biochemistry and a Masters in human nutrition with a concentration in paediatrics. She’s been practicing nutrition since 2014. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and two beautiful children, aged 4 years and 1 year. Michelle practices what she preaches with her own children and loves nothing more than hearing positive feedback from her clients about their thriving children. Her goal is to educate as many parents as possible to give them confidence to introduce nutrient dense solids to their little ones.
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