Babies go through developmental stages in every aspect, including the foods they can eat. In order to protect your baby’s safety and health, it’s important to know what kind of baby food to give your child.
It’s also important to remember that choking is a hazard with babies and toddlers. To prevent your baby from getting any piece of food that he or she could choke on, make sure you never give your baby anything bigger than the diameter of your pinky finger without cutting it first. Foods that you need to be especially cautious about are grapes, blueberries, hot dogs, and other similarly shaped foods. Marshmallows – the jumbo marshmallows, for older children – are a major concern, as they are soft and conform to the inside of a child’s throat, making it harder to dislodge the food with emergency choking remedies such as the Heimlich maneuver.
Because of choking and other concerns, baby food is usually grouped by age or developmental stage. Although baby food manufacturers label their jars of baby food, making it easy to figure out which type is best for your baby, you can easily avoid the expense of pre-packaged baby food, simply by knowing a few ground rules.
The first thing to consider is breast milk versus formula. This may not seem like “baby food” to you, but it is, as breast milk or formula provides 100% of your baby’s sustenance for at least the first couple of months. Although breast-feeding your baby may seem like a hassle, you should carefully consider the advantages to your child’s health before making the decision to put your baby on formula. Breast milk is designed by nature to meet all of your baby’s nutritional needs, and formula is at best a poor imitation. Moreover, breast milk imparts the mother’s immunities to the child, meaning that babies who breastfeed get sick less in their first year than babies who drink formula.
Eventually, however, you’ll need to start giving your baby solid foods. As already mentioned, pre-packaged baby food is clearly labeled for different developmental stages; however, you can feed your baby roughly the same foods you and the rest of your family eat, as long as you know how and when to introduce them. It’s important to be cautious in introducing new foods, as you don’t know what allergies your baby might have; therefore, when you are starting your baby off on a new food, give her small quantities at first, and wait several days before introducing another new food – that way, if an allergic reaction occurs, you’ll be able to pinpoint the food that caused it.
Most baby food manufacturers also make iron-fortified, single-grain infant cereal, which can be the first solid your baby starts eating. You can start offering cereal once your baby is strong enough to hold his head up and steady, opens his mouth to accept a spoon, and swallows the food instead of spitting it out. This generally happens between four and six months. Although the vast majority of the baby’s sustenance should still come from breast milk or formula, it’s important to start your baby on solids as soon as possible, to avoid nutritional deficiencies or a reluctance to try solid foods later on.
Between six and nine months is when you’ll be able to start offering more interesting baby food. Once your baby has been introduced to all of the different types of infant cereals – single grain and multi-grain – you can start giving her other grain products, such as bread, toast, and crackers. Start slowly with vegetables and fruit, being wary of allergic reactions; you’ll probably want to start with vegetables so that your baby becomes accustomed to them before trying the sweeter, tastier fruits. Start with mild-tasting foods; at first you’ll want to puree everything you give your baby, but be sure to transition slowly to solid foods so that he learns to chew properly. Meat and meat alternatives should be introduced in the same cautious manner, but only after the child has been properly introduced to vegetables and fruits.
By nine months of age, your baby should be able to eat bite-sized pieces of fruits, vegetables, and meat or meat alternatives. You can also start offering juice, but you should limit daily juice intake to about four ounces a day; because of all the sugar it includes, juice is high in calories and can either make the child not hungry at mealtimes, or can help lead to obesity. Also, between nine and twelve months, you can start offering dairy products such as yogurt and cheese; however, the later in that period that you introduce cow’s milk, the better. Remember that toddlers should only have whole milk, rather than reduced fat milk.
As mentioned earlier, baby food manufactures make and label age-appropriate foods for your baby, taking much of the planning out of introducing your baby to solid foods. However, the expense of pre-packaged baby foods is completely unnecessary, as determining what to feed your baby on your own takes only a little knowledge and common sense.