Sarah Smith, APD, Bayside Dietetics
Many years ago, the internet opened us up to the world of information. This can be useful at times, like working out your baby’s name or whether you’re getting the best price on nappies, but there are some situations where the information can be overloading and overwhelming. When it comes to introducing solids to your baby, I’ve outlined the three key aspects that sort the information into what is actually worth worrying about, so you may excused from googling any further.
Which are the key foods and nutrients we need to be providing when we introduce solids?
The combination of nutrients provided to an embryo during pregnancy, then feeding with breastmilk or formula after birth, provides everything a young infant needs. For many months, an infant will grow and function well. As their body gets bigger, and as the supplies from pregnancy are used up, the infant’s diet needs to change to meet these needs, and breastmilk and formula, are no longer enough. This happens around 6 months of age.
The number one nutrient that is running low at this time is iron. Hence, the standard advice is to start solids around 6 months of age, and to include iron-rich foods.
Iron is found in most abundance in meats like beef and lamb, and smaller amounts in fish like salmon and tuna, and chicken. In vegetarian sources, it is harder for the infant’s body to absorb iron, but it is found in legumes such as kidney beans and chickpeas, as well as tofu and nut pastes.
Iron is also added to many cereals, which means we then call them fortified cereal. Fortified cereal includes most infant rice and oat cereals and standard adult cereals such as WeetBix and Weeties.
It’s a good idea with the introduction of solids to your child, you introduce either a fortified cereal or pureed meat to provide them with an iron-rich food source from the start. Your child’s feeding skills will develop quickly and they can soon move to soft pieces of meat or tofu.
Aside from this key nutrient, the introduction of solids can simply follow introducing your child to the family’s typical foods in a texture appropriate to their skills and development. As long as that includes food from all food groups, that is enough to cover the remaining nutrient needs of your child.
How much should we be feeding our children as we introduce solids?
I was provocative in the wording of that question because the answer is that it actually isn’t our role to portion control as a parent! A great connection between a child and their cues around food is nurtured if they are encouraged right from the start to trust their own cues and approach food with curiosity. This means providing our children with the opportunity to explore and eat food by setting up a mealtime, but then allowing them to go at their own pace. As they accept food, trust them to work out how much they need. Only they know how active they have been that day and how much their bodies are growing! They may simply have a taste or they may finish a bowl.
If the amount your child is eating is worrying you, a helpful way to approach food is to reflect on your child’s intake over a week, rather than analysing their intake meal by meal. Within a week it will be normal for your child to have some meals where they feed only a little, and others, where they feed much more. They might avoid vegetables one day, but be very interested in another. Sitting back and reflecting on the big picture can be helpful to ensure the mealtimes remain relaxed and enjoyable.
What about allergies?
Current advice around introducing solids for food allergy prevention encourages the high-risk foods to be in early, rather than delayed. ASICA, Australia’s advising body on allergies, recommends common allergy-causing food should be introduced by 12 months in an age-appropriate form. Foods to introduce are well-cooked egg, peanut butter, cow’s milk, cashew or almond paste, soy such as tofu or soy yoghurt, sesame, wheat in pasta or bread, fish and other seafood. Introduce these one at a time so any problem food can be identified if there is an allergic reaction. If your baby has an allergic reaction, stop giving that food and seek medical advice. Otherwise, continue to offer your child the food a couple of times per week as part of a varied diet.
That’s it. There aren’t actually any rules around which foods to offer and how much to offer. You are the expert on the way your family eats, and your child is the expert on how much of the food is offered to eat. That’s really all the information you need 😊