Starting your wee ones on solid foods can be a minefield. And everyone has an opinion about how you should go about it. We’ve been there. So we asked Certified Holistic Health and Integrative Nutrition Coach, Jen Khalaf of Thrive Hive Wellness, to share her advice on the subject.
So your child is ready to start solids? Great! Pull up your rugs and stock your cabinets with baby Oxyclean – life is about to get very colorful!
Introducing solid foods is an exciting (and potentially exhausting) milestone. I’ve gone down this road twice and had two very different experiences. I’ll try to be brief because you’re likely reading this post while trying to pee and keep your child from pulling all of the toilet paper off the roll at the same time.
With my first child, I had no clue what I was doing and felt my pediatrician wasn’t providing me with the nutritional support I was looking for. Her recommendation was rice cereal first, then fruits and veggies etc. First, rice cereal didn’t make sense to me because it’s not nutritious and it’s hard for adult bellies to digest (things that make you go hmm). So, because I didn’t have enough on my plate already (pun intended), I decided to do a little digging. I asked around, read a few books, consulted a holistic pediatrician and reached out to my friends abroad. Turns out, other cultures are feeding their children what they eat (in a mushier form) and are a lot less scientific (read: neurotic) about the feeding process altogether. I decided to give my son veggies and fruit first. So, for 3-4 hours a week, I holed up in my kitchen and did the whole made-from-scratch-purées thing. While it was a valiant effort on my part, I couldn’t’t keep up with his appetite and quickly grew tired of the massive clean up. My routine was mind numbing and tedious: make food, clean up food, diaper change, stain remover, rinse, wash, repeat. Keeping in mind that the point of this endeavor was that he actually got the majority of the food in his mouth as opposed to all over my (occasionally) washed hair and on the walls, so I made sure I was leading the charge (helicopter noises and all). It worked well enough, I suppose. I then tried baby lead weaning, but his determination to choke himself and my fear of said choking ended that exploration rather quickly. The downside of purées (other than the labor intensive part) is that at some point you’ll have to go back to square 1 when they graduate to food that needs to be chewed! Ugh, are we there yet?! Some of you may not have entered this stage while others are thinking, been there, done that, got the strawberry stained t-shirt to prove it. So, bear with me.
Fast forward 2 years and another child later, and we were at the golden gates of first foods again. I didn’t have the time or energy to go down the purée path this time around. I felt guilty that I’d done it for my son and didn’t want to “deprive” my daughter of the healthy food I’d provided him, so I put on my strongest poker face and gave her whole foods and trusted (read: prayed to God) she wouldn’t choke herself. She would take larger bites than I was comfortable with, but I gave her the space to explore, and, sure enough, she would spit out pieces that were too big to swallow. I reminded myself to keep my face neutral – if she was coughing or gagging, she wasn’t choking (I strongly suggest taking an infant/child CPR class – for safety and confidence). I had to watch her carefully, but I gave her what we were eating and I tried to give it to her in a way that she could feed herself. And here is the kicker: she did! She even figured out how to use a fork and spoon by herself and she’s only 18 months old. My 3.5 year old is still struggling with this skill.
I’d love to tell you there is a one-size fits all method of feeding kids but, as with everything in child rearing, that’s not the case. My advice is that you try to be relaxed when you start this process. Of course, consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns. Know that right now, your child is getting nourishment from breast milk or formula so take the stress off yourself to get them to consume food for that purpose early on. Your role is to provide them with what you deem as healthy food exposure. Their role is to decide whether or not to eat it. Exposing our babies to foods is less about filling their bellies and more about letting them explore flavors, textures, and figure out “how” to eat and what is safe to swallow.
So what should you feed them? From a nutritional standpoint, I recommend that you feed your kids as many whole unprocessed foods as you can. Organic is best, but not always available or affordable, so check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, which can help you make the best decisions for your family. Life is busy. There is never enough time, so don’t beat yourself up if you give your kids some processed stuff, but be cautious about the sugar and sodium content. With the advice of our holistic pediatrician, we started with orange vegetables (roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin), green vegetables (peas, broccoli, string beans), fruits (avocado, strawberries, bananas, apples, pears), meats and fish (rotisserie chicken is a great one, or even the meat and veggies from chicken soup) and grains (quinoa is a fantastic source of nutrition and really easy for kids to eat). So what about nuts? Well, advice regarding nuts has changed recently. New research indicates early exposure to trace amounts of nuts can actually help decrease allergies.
Be sure to check with your pediatrician on the most accurate data and don’t be afraid to do research on your own as it can take a while for new studies to make it to your doctor’s desk. Most of all, listen to your gut: mother’s intuition is real! Be patient with yourself and your child and remember that this is new for both of you. If something is not working, change it up. I knew the way I approached eating with my son wasn’t successful so I did things differently with my daughter. She eats just about everything from fish to quinoa and she makes a massive mess in the process, but she has a healthy appetite for new foods and is an independent eater. If it means I need an extra paper towel to mop it up after, well, that’s a small price to pay.
Looking for a little more guidance on feeding your family? Happy Exploring!
Jennifer Khalaf is a Certified Holistic Health and Integrative Nutrition Coach (IIN) working with mothers and families to improve their health in a simple and accessible way. Jennifer specializes in helping moms reclaim their health and seriously increase their joy factor through nutrition and self-care. She offers one-on-one coaching and provides pantry makeovers and cooking demos for families in the NYC area. Jennifer also serves on the board of Tournesol Kids, a non-profit empowering children to lead healthy and resilient lives. Jennifer lives in Manhattan with her husband and two young children who are constantly keeping her on her toes. For more information, follow her on Facebook and Instagram. For more information about Jen’s services or to schedule a free consultation, feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org