You've probably heard the phrase, "Food before one is just for fun." Not to add any pressure, but what if I told you that food before one actually isn't just for fun? While it's true that the majority of baby's calories and nutritional needs will still come mostly from milk in the beginning (so don't worry if the quantity of solids seems small!), introducing solids at around 6 months provides so much benefit for baby. Here are a few:
1) Learn the skill of eating. Eating isn't something we're born knowing how to do. Just like crawling or walking, it takes practice! Learning to chew and maneuver food in the mouth takes time. Solids introduce new textures and help baby learn oral motor skills that later help with language development. Without exposure to a variety of food textures by 9 months, the likelihood of having feeding issues later in life increase. 2) Discover the tastes of foods. Introduce as much variety in the first year of life as you can. During this time, babies are more eager to try new foods. You'll be glad you did once they get a little older! Most parents are alarmed when their baby responds with a strong reaction that appears negative (although it’s fun to take a video or picture of this!). At this age when your baby makes a face, though, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like it. Likes and dislikes to food come much later in development. Just keep offering these foods without expectations for the best success. Don't be afraid to season foods. Babies enjoy seasoned foods just like us and it can even help them be better eaters later in life. Start your baby with mild seasonings (wait on the cayenne for a bit!) and avoid adding salt. Offering seasoned foods now will help your baby be more accepting of these strong flavors later on. 3) Prevent potential food allergies. You may remember when it was advised to avoid the top food allergens until baby turned at least 1 year old. However, now it’s been found that introducing the major allergens at 6 months of age or before one year can actually help prevent the development of allergies later. The top allergens to introduce include: eggs, peanuts, nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, and dairy. If your family has one of these allergies, talk with your pediatrician about introducing the food in a small amount at the clinic first. 4) Fill in the nutritional gaps. By 6 months of age, baby's nutritional needs increase and milk alone can't support their needs. Iron, zinc, and fat are key nutrients that will support growth and development. When creating baby's plate, offer a high iron food (e.g. red meat, eggs, beans, iron-fortified baby cereal), high calorie food (e.g. avocado, nut butter, olive oil, cheese), and fruit/vegetable at every meal. This will help you build a balanced plate, while also knowing your baby is getting the nutrients she needs. No matter how you start introducing solids, stay consistent and positive. You'll soon be on your way to raising an adventurous eater! __________________________________________________________________________________
Kara Hoerr, MS, RDN, CD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Kara Hoerr Nutrition where she provides virtual and in-person 1:1 nutrition coaching for families. To learn more or to set up a free discovery call, visit www.karahoerrnutrition.com, email Kara at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Instagram.