As a parent, you cherish each stage in your child’s life, including his eating routines. From breastfeeding, to the first bite of cereal, to attempts to feed themselves to using spoons and forks, children follow predictable patterns. While actual practices differ from mother to mother and community to community, most doctors and health organizations recommend similar diet timetables for children, based on health and safety guidelines.
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First Six Months
The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, recommends that infants have only breast milk, with no additional food, during their first six months. Breast milk contains substances that protect infants against diseases, such as meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory problems and urinary tract infections. Moreover, an infant’s digestive system and kidneys are not developed enough to tolerate solid food. The AAP suggests that breastfeeding continue for an entire year, but that mothers can introduce formula after six months.
Six to Eight Months
Introduce solid food to your infant at around six months. Beginning earlier can interfere with the amount of healthy breast milk or enriched formula that your baby drinks.At about 6 months, or slightly earlier if your infant shows signs of a desire for food and the ability to show disinterest as well, begin to introduce solid foods one at a time, with one week intervals between different foods to watch for allergic reactions.
There are some downsides to early introduction of solid foods. One study of 847 children published in 2011 by the journal “Pediatrics” found that formula-fed infants who ate solid foods before the age of 4 months had six times the risk of obesity at 3 years.
Cereal and Pureed Foods
Begin your introduction of solid foods with small portions, 1 to 2 tbsp., of iron-fortified cereal mixed with breast milk or formula, fed to your baby with a spoon. As your baby is able to eat the cereal easily, mix it with less liquid. Offer a variety of cereals if your baby seems agreeable. After cereal, begin to add pureed meats, vegetables and fruits, one at a time. Use prepared baby food, or puree the foods yourself in a blender or food mill to retain more nutrients and reduce amounts of salt and sugar.
Eight to 10 Months
By about eight to 10 months, begin giving your baby finely chopped foods she can pick up and eat by herself or that you feed her. Try soft fruits and vegetables, pasta, cheese, soft graham crackers and ground meat. As with the pureed foods, buy store-bought baby foods that have more texture than pureed varieties or prepare your own baby food from food your family normally eats.
One to Two Years
Continue to introduce new foods and new textures to your toddler. Children under 2 years old still need whole milk, according to the Kids Health website, but you can switch to low-fat or non-fat after that time. Make sure your toddler gets enough iron by limiting his consumption of milk to no more than 24 oz., and give him plenty of iron-rich food such as fortified cereals, meat, poultry, fish, beans and tofu. Continue to watch for allergic reactions to all new foods. And avoid foods that could cause choking, such as any food in large pieces, popcorn, hard candy, raw vegetables, whole grapes, raisins or nuts.