One main health concern for parents of babies and toddlers is whether their kids are receiving an adequate and nutritionally balanced diet. Parents have many dietary questions, such as when to introduce solids, appropriate food choices for baby, and the correct protein and nutritional needs of a toddler. 

There is not one perfect way to feed a child; however, there are certainly helpful guidelines to review, as well as acceptable variations – many dictated by culture and family values – which meet dietary standards.

An important nutritional decision parents make is when to first introduce solid food. A significant fact to understand regarding solid introduction is that babies nutritionally thrive on breast milk alone during their first 12 months. Food introduction can progress slowly while breastfeeding, without affecting baby’s growth and development. 

Babies should not begin solid introduction until 6 months of age. Prior to 6 months, babies lack digestive ability to properly break down food. To evaluate baby’s readiness for solids, he should be able to make a pincher motion with 2 fingers, not push solids out with his tongue, be willing and able to chew/gum food and swallow, sit up on his own, and show interest in solid food. At this time, parents can introduce 1 tsp of food beginning with avocado, sweet potato, or steamed and pureed apple or carrots. Over the course of the 2-3 weeks following introduction, minimally increasing the volume of food after breastfeeding by 1 additional tsp up to 3x day. Over the 2 months following, the variety of fruits and vegetables can increase. At 9 months, limited sheep and goat milk products, such as yogurt, can begin. 

For most babies, grains and meat are not introduced until 10+ months. Beans, legumes, and nuts are not digestible until a baby reaches 18-24 months. Again, many cultures introduce pureed beans and legumes earlier than this, but these foods are not easily digested prior to 18 months. Always remember, as new foods are introduced to babies it can take up to 8 times of introducing a new taste or texture for a baby to incorporate it into his diet. This can be frustrating, but with time, many babies can significantly increase their palate. 

At 18 to 36 months, children should have a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, non-gluten grains such as oatmeal, rice and quinoa, meat, and beans/legumes. The toddler years can be the most challenging in terms of variety, eating vegetables, and simple compliance at meal times. However, the amount of food most toddlers need for adequate nutrition is much less than most parents realize. Below is a list of portions for each food category for children 18-36 months:

Meat/Beans: 2oz per day / Grains: 3oz per day / Vegetables: 1 cup per day

Fruit: 1 cup per day / Goat Milk: 2 cups per day

The best advice any parent can heed about their children’s nutritional health is to cook whole, fresh food daily. Limit packaged and processed foods, avoid any foods with sugar added, absolutely avoid fast food and high fructose corn syrup, and be patient with your child as they learn about new flavors and textures. 

Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is state licensed naturopathic doctor with a focus on fertility, family wellness, and pre-conception health. She can be reached at Optimal Health Center (760)568.2598.

Sources: 1) wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com/solids.htm#.U_LDs6jc1Tw; 2) who.int/nutrition/topics/infantfeeding_recommendation/en/; 3) whqlibdoc.who.int/paho/2003/a85622.pdf?ua=1; 4) nourishingorigins.leighanneduchene.com/2009/11/21/a-holistic-approach-to-introducing-solids-to-baby/; 5) borstvoeding.com/voedselintroductie/schema/engels.html; 6) healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/nutrition/Pages/Serving-Sizes-for-Toddlers.aspx; 7) kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_center/healthy_eating/toddler_food.html

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