23 Feb Food firsts
by Katelin Whiddon
Food. We all need it, and we all love it — some of us too much. As parents, we focus so much of our attention on our children eating. Milk, rice, baby food and solids are stages our children go through as they are growing from infants to toddlers and beyond. We discussed picky eating in a previous article, but this article addresses introducing foods.
Many questions arise as to when we can introduce certain foods to our children. Of course, some children have special needs and special guidelines and timelines, but these tips are basic for the general population. Always consult with your child’s pediatrician before introducing anything you have questions about.
Generally, a child remains solely on milk — either breast or formula — until at least 4 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition does not recommend the introduction of any solids until at least 4 months of age. Early introduction of solid foods can cause problems with digestion, introducing unnecessary pathogens and replacing nutrition that should be gained through milk alone. Many studies also link early solid food introduction to an increased consumption of foods higher in sugar in later developmental stages.
The easier grains — single grain white rice cereal — are among the easiest and least allergenic foods to introduce at the earlier ages of 4-6 months. Generally, baby foods are encouraged to begin around 6 months of age. In terms of introducing fruits and vegetables, it is generally recommended to introduce vegetables first. Sometimes the introduction of fruits before vegetables can turn babies on to sweet tastes and deter the love for vegetables.
Anytime a new food is introduced — rice cereal, fruits, vegetables, juices, etc. — it is best to wait several days or even a week before introducing a new food. If a child has any type of allergic reaction to a food, you will want to know what triggered the reaction. If your child has had mango apple blueberry medley served with pea turkey rice dinner and has a reaction, it will be difficult to determine the individual food they had a reaction to.
Some foods are more likely to cause allergic reactions; thus, we encourage delayed introductions of those foods. These foods include, but are not limited to, eggs, strawberries, fish and peanuts. Eggs, strawberries and fish are discouraged in children until 1 year of age. There are many varying opinions on when to introduce peanut products, and new studies are published often regarding the topic. I would encourage you to talk to your child’s pediatrician regarding their recommendations on the age to introduce peanut products.
During the summer months, I am often asked about giving babies water to drink. In past generations, this has been something that was more widely seen. Today we discourage giving young babies large amounts of water to drink. Water has no true nutritional value. Our infants need to be receiving a diet high in vitamins and minerals that are best found in their milk. Giving them water robs them of these nutrients and fills their stomachs to where they are too full to drink their nutrient-rich milk. So while you worry that your child is not drinking any water, think of the water used to mix up formula and how much water is in the composition of breast milk and baby foods. I promise, your baby is still getting water.
The food topic could, and does, have books written on it, so this is just a small overview. Be sure to keep up with your child’s wellness visits at their pediatrician’s office to ensure their proper growth and development. You can also use that time to discuss their diets and ask any questions you may have.
A native of Conway, Katelin Whiddon is a family nurse practitioner at Central Arkansas Pediatrics. She and her husband, Daniel, have two daughters. A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, she has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.