Introducing your Child to Solid Food

Junior, this is food.  Food, this is Junior.  Knock yourself out, kid. 

Introducing your baby to solid foods involves more thought and planning than just tossing a diced Italian sub on the high chair.  It is a months-long process in which the child learns how to eat solid foods and you learn what foods he can’t tolerate.  Surprisingly, one of your best tools here is a pencil and notebook or calendar as you monitor what he eats and how he responds to it.  You are, in a sense, controlling the variables in something akin to a science project. 

Why Do I Have to Do This?

The body can be allergic to certain types of food and react in a number of unpleasant ways to them.  The reaction severity can range from mild skin rashes to diarrhea to breathing problems requiring a full-blown 911 call, although this last is a rare possibility.  Foods which most commonly cause allergic reactions are milk (lactose intolerance), peanuts, wheat products (gluten intolerance) and shellfish.  Physicians will advise you to hold off on those items until later.

You introduce one particular food at a time so that you can monitor the effect of each on your child and if there is a reaction, note that food as allergenic.

How Do I Know that He’s Ready for Solid Foods?

From birth, Junior will be taking either breast milk or formula and he will continue to do so even after even starting solid foods.  It is a weaning process which commences when:

1.        He doubles his body weight;

2.       He has sufficient neck control to hold his head steady;

3.       He has enough control of his tongue that he doesn’t just push food out of his mouth (extrusion). 

4.       He can sit upright either in a high-chair or on your lap;

5.       He wants the pretzel that you’re munching while you’re reading this.

This can occur anywhere from 4 to 6 months of age and when these happen, you can take it as a sign that he’s ready to go.

What Reactions Indicate a Food Allergy?

An allergic reaction to a particular food is typically noticeable within several seconds to several minutes, although it could occur within several hours afterwards.  Here are symptoms that might appear:

1.        Reddened or flushed skin, hives or itching;

2.       Diarrhea, upset stomach/vomiting;

3.       Sniffles/running nose (aka the Green Elevens), congestion, sneezing or difficulty breathing;

4.       Anaphylaxis, a condition in which the throat and airways start swelling and lead to breathing problems.  If you suspect anaphylaxis, immediately contact your physician or 911.

So How Do We Start?

There are some foods that physicians and dietitians advise you to stay away from until the child is older.  These are:

1.        Milk and dairy products until about one year of age;

2.       Eggs and egg products until about two years of age;

3.       Peanuts, other nuts, fish/shellfish and honey until about three years of age.

Ask yourself and your mate if there is any family history of food allergies and if so, share that with your physician.  She will recommend that these particular foods not be introduced until late in the hopes of keeping your child from developing sensitivity to that food.

When he has reached the solids threshold, start with a single helping of rice cereal one a day.  The rice cereal is free of gluten, a protein found in wheat and a potentially allergenic substance.  Mix the dry cereal, available in the grocery’s Baby Food section, with a small amount of formula, breast milk or warm water.  Then feed it with a rubber tipped spoon to protect your child’s gums.  Continue the feeding until he lets you know he’s done by turning his head away or pushing on the spoon.  One of my children was notable for a particular “get that crap out of my face” look.  You’ll increase the number of feedings – up to three – each day as the weeks continue until he is taking cereal with every feeding; once regular food is established, you can stop the cereal.

After several days of cereal, you can start with a highly strained vegetable.  Again, try it for about three to five days to see if there is any allergic reaction and if none is found, note it as okay and move onto another food.  After each new food has been tried and found to be okay, it can become one of the stable of acceptable foods for meals so that there are additional choices for meals.  If there is a problem, you can link it to the new food being tried.

There is no set way of determining what food to introduce when but you might want to consider starting with some green vegetables instead of fruits and sweet potato.  Some kids get hooked on the sweet flavor early and then snub the plainer foods.  Since your memory can suffer from the pace and confusion of caring for a baby, be sure to use the calendar or pad for brief notes so that you can keep things straight.

As the first year passes, you can start shifting from strained to solid foods.  You must cut the solid foods into very small pieces so that the child doesn’t choke as he eats.  His esophagus is very small and there is a choking hazard.  By the end of the first year, he can be off of breast milk/formula at meals as well as the rice cereal.  A typical lunch for my kids at this point consisted of finely diced meat (hot dog, for instance), grapes sliced into quarters and carrots microwaved for softness (but then cooled before serving).

Remember that even as he takes in more solid foods, he may still need breast milk or formula until he’s about one year of age.  The general format of a meal in the latter part of his first year would be a small amount of formula or breast milk, followed by cereal and topped off with the food.  As a practical note for Dads, check with the new Mom before you introduce a new type of solid food since it can be a memorable event.  I was frankly ticked off to return from a restroom to the restaurant table to find that eldest had had her first bite of solid food while I was away.

Even if science wasn’t your best subject, keeping things consistent is the key.  Remember that and you should have no problem.

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