by Pediatrician Mary Versfelt, MD
The first year of a baby’s life is filled with constant change and evolution, yet one particular rite of passage is consistently among the most stressful: introducing solids. This phase should be exciting. It’s an important milestone and one of limitless possibilities. Yet many parents are constantly worried about the process and unsure of where to start. What if he’s picky? What if she reacts badly to certain foods? Should I be cautious about herbs and spices? Confidence may quickly fly out the window with so many uncertainties.
Research shows that adherence to strict guidelines is a thing of the past, and that providing only bland fares will not only deprive a baby of key nutrients but may also feed into picky habits down the road.
Here are five things parents should know about infant nutrition. You, too, can tackle this exciting adventure head on and raise healthy eaters in the process.
- YOUR BABY’S PALATE STARTS FORMING IN THE WOMB.
Research shows that what a woman eats during pregnancy can influence a baby’s food preferences. This fun little fact seems rather obvious but one we tend to overlook when it comes time to feeding our babies outside of the womb. During pregnancy, a woman doesn’t deprive herself of flavor, so your baby will be born with a memory and familiarity to certain foods and tastes. And during breast feeding, savory flavors are transmitted in maternal milk. Continue on that path to flavor when introducing solids. Consistent exposures to varied flavors will help shape your baby’s preferences over time.
- CLEAN SLATES EAT THE RAINBOW.
The window to introduce solid foods can vary from child to child, but typically occurs between four and six months. Known to some as the “flavor window,” this is the time babies are most receptive to new tastes. This is an optimal time to introduce new culinary experiences and ensure welcome results.
- SIZZLING TASTE BUDS.
While a baby may be born hard-wired to gravitate towards sweets, taste buds at this stage are in full development and open to new flavors. Babies are prepared to eat well beyond bland, and their developing taste buds are equipped to handle flavorful experiences. Parents should avoid over exposure to sweetness, which is our natural inclination as humans. Instead, parents should encourage less common flavors and acquired tastes. Babies can learn to eat almost anything if exposed early.
- PASS THE GARLIC.
Popular opinion would have you believe that babies and spicy foods don’t mix, but this too is up for debate and personal preference. When considering spices for baby food, the aromatic ones are the best to use once solids are introduced. Cinnamon, cumin, garlic, ginger and turmeric are just some of the spices that can be added to food to enhance flavor and train a baby’s palate from early on.
- YOU HAVE THE POWER.
A lot is up for debate when it comes to infant nutrition. There is no research to support a particular order to introduce foods or list of forbidden ingredients to avoid. Recommendations from the AAP include encouraging a variety of flavors and textures, and even potential allergens, early on. Rather surprisingly, common food allergens (such as egg, peanut, tree nuts, and fish) have been found to be less associated with allergies if introduced relatively early. Parents have much more control than they know in shaping their kids’ eating habits and they should take advantage of it. While they should always consult their pediatrician before changing or shaping diets, they should also trust their instincts and not be afraid. Increasingly, evidence suggests exposing babies to new and bold experiences little by little, from the very first bite, is the path to healthful, adventurous eating.