Often parents look back and laugh that they were ever unsure about when babies were ready to start solids and that they survived the whims of toddler taste buds. First time round, the what, when and how of the feeding game seem like mountains. More often than not, feeding little ones is a far easier task than one can imagine, if one would just allow it to be, says Sister Lilian.
Babies often want more milk at about the stage parents think it is time to introduce solids. If solids are offered from between six and eight months or after the first few teeth have come out, most babies make the transition more easily and with less allergic reactions. It is easier for mothers too, as there is no need to prepare meals so carefully. Babies can help themselves to healthy finger foods with minimal help from mom.
Good starter foods for babies
- Fruit like pears, papino, apples, avocado, mango and peaches can simply be grated finely or pureed. Preferably don’t cook. From after six months, baby can have fruit cut into finger-food size.
- Vegetables like butternut, hubbard and gem squash, pumpkin and carrots, cooked and pureed, or pieces.
- Rice and maize cereal are least likely of the grains to give problems but even these should be delayed until later in most babies.
- As baby grows, one can start including potato and sweet potato and some finely chopped green vegetables.
- Maize meal is generally good from 10 months.
- Oats and wheat cereals should only be introduced from after 18 months.
Some golden baby and toddler feeding rules
- There is never only one correct way of feeding a baby, within the parameters of healthy food choices.
- Preparing fresh food daily is the most nutritious – reserve convenience foods for busy and difficult times.
- Milk (breast or formula) is very important right up to one year.
- Meat is not important in the first year, and vegetarian babies can be very healthy. Buy good quality animal protein if giving to baby, make it a small part of the meal only and preferably use free-range, unmedicated produce.
- Never force-feed a baby.
- A teething child often goes off his food for a while.
- Allow baby’s taste buds to guide you by never adding condiments in the first 18 months.
- Set a good example as parents – eat healthily and your baby will do so too.
- Do not give a heavy meal at night. Supper should be at least two hours before bedtime to sufficiently digest.
- Make sure that you do not offer unhealthy snacks like biscuits, crisps and sweets.
- Never add cereal to baby’s bottles.
- Over the age of one year, be sure that milk does not replace food in your child’s diet. Often children who drink excessive quantities of milk (400 to 500 ml every 24 hours is enough after a year) lose their appetite for food.
- Restrict dairy products like cheese and yoghurt as children are often allergic to these.
Did you know?
- Babies and toddlers do not get bored with a diet that does not vary greatly.
- Many babies do not want a big breakfast and thrive on nibbling on fruit for most of the morning.
- Toddlers often eat a lot less from one year as their growth rate slows significantly. Add up all the bites though, and you might just be surprised how much your toddler eats!
- Little ones who eat quite well at crèche or in other daycare situations often eat less in the evenings at home. This concerns many moms but is very seldom a problem if they are thriving and food at crèche is of good quality.
- Babies and toddlers frequently have a six-week cycle of enjoying certain foods, then dropping a few, retaining some and adding a few new ones. Don’t worry too much about balance in this regard as the body also knows what it needs at a particular time.
Start giving a wider range of foods from one year on, while still preferably keeping meals simple. Toddlers often prefer smaller meals more frequently, a snacking or ‘grazing’ type of pattern. So long as you offer only healthy foods, this is fine. Toddlers also often enjoy fruit more than vegetables – simply give more of the fruit your little one loves, as fruit is exceptionally healthy. Meat is still not essential and if a fairly wide range of fruit and vegetables are eaten, all essential amino acids can be made by the body. Baby’s milk still provides protein too and you can also include a tablespoon of ground blanched almonds (mix into or on top of food) three times a week if concerned – start slowly to check for nut allergies. So long as either fruit or vegetables feature regularly on your toddler’s menu, you need not be overly concerned about a toddler’s refusal of one or the other, as minerals and vitamins, as well as other nutrients, are in rich supply in both.
If your toddler is too busy to sit and eat at table, know that healthy grazing is fine! Simply leave bite-sized pieces of good food in small plastic dishes in a place accessible to your toddler. Do start at least one meal a day at the table as a family but when your toddler becomes restless, allow him to run around. Make sure that the rest of the family remains at table to demonstrate to your toddler that mealtimes are for togetherness.
Picnic-style meals and enjoying the fact that the birds, ants and dogs will clear up usually take the tension from messy eating which is still very common at this stage and accounts for many maternal headaches!
Never feel that you are depriving your toddler if you don’t give him or her the occasional sweet or salty treat. Contrary to popular belief, babies don’t come pre-programmed with a sweet tooth, at least not for the type of sweet things we are talking about here. They don’t know that cookies, crisps and sweeties count as treats, rather than fruit or veggies. It is more our attitude that tells them this.
Growth and health perspectives
Family growth patterns need to be taken into consideration when evaluating weight gain – smaller people mostly have smaller children. If there has been a tendency to be smaller than the norm and suddenly grow faster at a later age this may well repeat itself, for instance. General health and energy levels are also good indicators of whether or not nutrition is good enough. Excess mucus, skin rashes, constipation, mucus in the stools and allergies are indicators that common allergenic foods like dairy and grain products, overly processed foods and sugary treats need to be reduced or avoided.
Encourage safe DIY cooking – if toddlers have ‘helped’ stir the pot, peel the fruit or cut the veggies, it is quite amazing how much more keen they are to eat the end product; guide them and you will not only have healthy eating habits as a reward, but improved hand-eye co-ordination too. You’ll need patience though!
Cocktail and kebab meals are popular – toddlers often seem more keen to eat cubed veggies and fruit when on a stick. For small appetites use cocktail sticks and progress to kebab sticks as your toddler grows or the appetite improves.
Making a food picture often takes the sting from picky eating habits – faces, houses, trains, tractors, cars and animals innovatively shaped out of healthy food go down a treat. Ensure that not so much effort is applied that if your toddler is not hungry, you feel like an unrecognised artist!
Beverages for toddlers
Fluid requirements of toddlers are very individual, just as with adults – some are thirstier than others. Excessive thirst may indicate that there is a problem like diabetes, so have this evaluated if it is a concern. Beverages often contain preservatives that can trigger allergies. It is best not to give toddlers boxed or bottled fruit juices in excessive amounts, but rather to concentrate on water as the main thirst quencher. It is a good idea to filter tap water supply. Not all mineral waters are suitable for small children. Apart from the fact that water is the best drink for thirst, it prevents the situation developing of a child not being keen on water and always needing other drinks – expensive and not necessarily healthy!
Freshly prepared fruit juices are healthy but little ones should learn that you eat fruit and drink water, by and large. Fruit and some vegetables have quite a high percentage of water and so help to quench thirst too. Rooibos tea is a healthy beverage and can be given warm or cool.
Adding sugar or other flavourants to milk, water or tea is inviting dental problems and difficulty in re-educating the taste buds to healthier options at a later stage. Do not spoil a child with fizzy soda drinks, nor give drinks like coffee – these are simply not healthy. Some little ones enjoy the occasional iced fruit lollies, which will supply fluids.
Healthy snack ideas for little ones
- Plain rice cakes with a little butter and marmite
- Veggie sticks with avocado dip
- Pitted fresh dates
- Fresh date and coconut balls (place dates and shredded coconut into blender for a minute or two and shape into balls)
- Frozen banana ice cream (peel, blend for 1 to 2 minutes, freeze in a plastic dish, and take out 5 minutes before eating)
- Frozen fruit lollies
- Fresh fruit
- Unpreserved raisins
Respect nature’s colour code
If your child eats something from most colour groups most days of the week you can be sure that the diet is balanced. Greens, yellows, whites, oranges, occasionally reds; it’s all been thought out by wise old Mother Nature.