With a little patience and by including children in family meals, children who are nursing can make the long-awaited transition to a complete diet.
Medical Advisor Nelly Patricia Castillejo Padilla, nutritionist
At six months, a baby can sit up with support and hold up their head and neck, their teeth start to come in and they master important basic survival skills such as biting and chewing. This age is the perfect time for parents to introduce children to the world of food. It is also an opportunity for them to become familiar with flavors, textures and smells to gain the independence they need to eat.
Once children hit the 182-day mark after they are born, they need other food supplements besides breast milk or formula. They begin to gain more energy as they start becoming more physically active and receive minerals such as iron, both of which are essential in order for their bodies and brains to develop as expected. “Breast milk continues to be important, but after six months of age, exclusively relying on it is not enough and it must be consumed with other foods,” explains Nelly Patricia Castillejo Padilla, nutritionist and professor at Universidad CES.
Little by little, you can begin to include meats such as chicken and fish in the child’s diet and even eggs, rice, and potatoes or yucca. Castillejo suggests not introducing foods that are not a part of daily household meals, “Food is a part of a family’s food culture, of their financial situation and of where they live. All types of foods are valid, and it is not worth it to stress out and buy specialty items that are different than what the family eats. Children need nutrients and quality, not brand names,” she adds.
Ideally, this process of adapting to the family diet should be guided by parents or caregivers who can involve the child in eating habits with daily activities such as eating breakfast, lunch or dinner together at the dinner table or in their highchairs while adults sit in theirs. The idea is to get them interested in the example you set, so that they eat in a natural way, allowing them to explore, play, add toppings to their food and make decisions without being restricted. This is also an opportunity for the family to share experiences and learn how to eat in a healthy way. This is not just as a way to prevent being overweight, this is a way to avoid diseases that develop over time such as cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
From 6 to 8 months: quality, not quantity
Recommended foods: Fish, eggs and chicken liver boost iron levels and prevent anemia. Good sources of calories include rice, potatoes, oats, pasta, plantains and yucca; and soft fruits such as mangoes and bananas. Two to three servings a day of food is enough, the rest of their nutrients can be provided by breast milk.
How to introduce foods: Avoid using baby bottles by introducing blended or mashed food. Get the child involved by using cups, spoons and their dishes.
Benefits: This allows them to chew and stimulates the eruption of teeth.
From 9 to 11 months: adaption
Recommended foods: The same foods mentioned above are recommended, but in a greater quantity. A child should eat 3 to 4 meals a day, consisting of at least half a glass or half a plate of food.
How to introduce foods: Give them soft foods and food cut into small pieces, so they can grab them with their hands and play with them. Stay away from smaller foods that may choke them. Include mashed fruits with larger pieces of fruit, meat or potatoes so they become familiar with solids. Continue breastfeeding at night so they may begin to manage their sleep cycle.
Benefits: Children can participate at the family dinner table independently.
1 year: the goal
The child has more teeth at this phase, so it is okay for ground meat, for example, to be finely grounded or served in larger pieces – including the child in the family’s eating habits. “Let them eat what you are eating,” the nutritionist says. This is why it is so important for the family to have a healthy diet.
- Serve the child small portions, as this can help prevent obesity.
- Establish an eating schedule and do not give them one meal after another.
- If the child does not want to eat, take the plate away from them after 30 minutes of waiting and give them a new food 3 hours later.
- Avoid giving the child caffeinated teas, coffee or herbal teas. These beverages are not safe until after they turn two.
- Include sugar and salt in small amounts only after they turn one.
- Do not use artificial sweeteners or honey before they turn two.
- Use good food hygiene practices when preparing meals.
- Avoid junk foods.
- Offer children vegetables before fruits to prevent the child from being turned off by their flavor.
- At 9 months, start with the yogurt and soft cheese. Only give them cow’s milk after their first year.
- Do not reward or punish the child with food.
- Serve foods on light colored dishes so that they are attracted to the food and not the images on the dish.
- Try to provide a comfortable environment when eating and avoid replacing food with a bottle.
What if the child has allergies?
“While there are many allergies and myths out there, there are also studies that indicate that the sooner you introduce foods, the less chances there are for allergies. There is not clear scientific evidence about the issue,” the nutritionist explains. It is important, however, to introduce new foods one at a time. This helps identify the last food the child ate in case they do have an allergy. Allergies can come in the form of skin rashes, diarrhea, shortness of breath (the most serious symptom that requires immediate medical attention), rosacea, itching or hives and vomiting. If any of these signs appear, you should consult with your doctor. Is also important to remember that allergies can come from the allergens found different materials, pillows or clothes.
See also: Including chicken in children’s diets