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Starting solids is an important milestone but for many parents it can also be overwhelming as you work out what foods to start introducing and when.
When it comes to introducing your baby to their first foods, Haven Health Expert Gina Urlich is a nutritionist and mum of four, who says, “Every baby is different so there is really no magic number that says to start feeding your baby on this date or at this age.”
According to Gina, the following developmental signs suggest your child is ready to begin eating solids:
1. Introduce solids gradually
It’s best introduce your little one to solids gradually and include a mix of natural foods, like fruit and vegetables and focus on nutrient-rich foods..
“Iron, zinc and omega 3 are of particular importance,” says Gina. “Your baby’s iron needs at 6 – 24 months are the highest they will ever be in their life!
For convenience, first foods are commonly pureed, but many babies prefer to eat soft chunks of food they can pick up and feed themselves.
2. The best first foods
Fabulous first foods to meet nutrient requirements that are also low allergenic are:
When starting solids, Nutritionist Gina Urlich says it’s best introduce new foods gradually.
3. Variety is key
“You have the power to shape your baby’s palate and avoid fussy eating,” explains Gina.
“A mother who consumes a varied diet throughout pregnancy is the first stage in shaping the palate for her baby. The window of opportunity continues when babies begin their journey into eating solids. Offering lots of diverse flavours at this stage is important.”
Once your baby is showing the following developmental signs, they are ready for solids:
“Then take advantage of this critical window of opportunity,” says Gina. “There is no need to train your baby to love sweet; they naturally do given the sweetness of breast milk. Salty food is also an enjoyable flavour.”
Gina encourages parents to offer a variety and repetition of savoury, sour, spicy and bitter.
“Remember you are not starting solids to fill them up – You are starting solids to heal the gut and for flavour exposure.”
4. Offer a range of foods with different flavours and textures
“I really believe in following your baby’s guide and intuition. Some babies love being spoon-fed and others are strongly independent from the get-go and start with baby led weaning. It also has to work with your family and comfort level,” explains Gina.
“If your baby favours baby-led weaning then I encourage families to still spoon-feed the essential nutrients, iron rich foods in particular. Some research has shown that babies that are exclusively feed by baby led weaning methods have been lower in iron.
“Offering a loaded spoon that they can feed themselves with or veggie sticks with purée as a dip can boost nutrient intake.”
Gina says parents have the power to shape their child’s palate and avoid fussy eating.
5. Keep offering new foods
While your child may at first refuse to eat a new food, keep trying as it can take several attempts before they agree to try it and like it.
“Ten yucks to one yum!” says Gina. “Offering variety on repeat is vital for avoiding fussy eating.”
Even if they avoid it the first time, keep exposure to those foods on a regular basis. Just by putting it on the plate children naturally become more open to foods by seeing, smelling, touching and eventually tasting foods.”
6. Make food fun
Your child is more likely to eat what’s good for them if it looks good too! Try using a cookie cutter to create star-shaped sandwiches and apple pieces.
7. Eat meals together as a family
Sit down together as a family and serve your child the same meal the family is eating but in a portion size your child will eat. Toddlers learn behaviors from their parents and are more likely to eat what they see others eating.
Keep offering a fussy eater a variety of foods on repeat. “Ten yucks to one yum!” says Gina.
8. The importance of gut health
“Babies produce only a very small amount of the pancreatic enzyme amylase, and therefore are unable to properly digest grains, which is why I don’t recommend fortified rice cereal,” explains Gina.
“White rice is a refined carbohydrate that is a highly processed, nutritionally devoid food for infants. It is inflammatory and one of the hardest food groups for them to digest.
“Infants do however produce proteolytic enzymes to digest proteins as well as digestive juices: hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which breaks down protein and fats. Foods like cereals, grains and breads are very challenging for little ones to digest. Therefore, these foods should be some of the last to be introduced.”
Gina says mother nature always gets it right and it makes perfect sense looking at the nutritional profile of breast milk.
“Breast milk provides up to 60 per cent of its energy as fat, which is critical for growth, energy and development.”
She continues: “All babies are born with a leaking or permeable gut lining so that they can fully benefit from the nourishment of their mother’s colostrum. This ‘first milk’ from the mother delivers powerful nutrients and immune boosting substances like lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, sugars and antibodies to the fragile newborn infant. The permeable lining in the intestines of each newborn baby allows them to absorb nutrients quickly and supports immunity.
“This permeable lining starts closing around six months of age when we start introducing solids. Offering foods like bone broth helps support gut integrity and close the gap junctions in the stomach.
“Offering prebiotic and probiotic foods will also support immunity and gut health of the baby. These foods include brine of sauerkraut, coconut kefir, culture coconut yoghurt. Start with a very small amount (¼ teaspoon) and slowly increase over the next few months. You can supplement with probiotics under the guidance of a nutritionist.”
Gina says having a healthy microbiome creates the blueprint for a good metabolism, brain development, physical development and the strength of the immune system.
“A diverse microbiome rich in beneficial bacteria also lowers the risk of developing autoimmune conditions such as asthma and eczema.”
Offer your baby prebiotic and probiotic foods to support their immunity and gut health.
9. Picky eating is normal during the toddler stage
“Little ones have a natural fondness for sweet tastes; nonetheless, all other tastes can be learned through exposure and repetition. Just because they refuse something once don’t stop offering,” advises Gina.
“Sometimes it can take up to 10-15 attempts for a food to be accepted! So, if your toddler is refusing, just try again another day, but keep offering.”
10. Fussy eater tips
Advice for parents if their child is refusing certain foods:
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