When my son was three months old and I felt that we really had a handle on breastfeeding, I started to think about the next step – introducing him to solid food. My plan was to start giving him solids at six months, the age NHS recommends and the age when baby’s gut lining becomes less permeable and they have have a more mature, closed gut.
At five and a half months, all the signs of food readiness were there:
- J could sit up without support
- He had lost the tongue thrust reflex and was not pushing things out of his mouth with his tongue
- He was trying to chew
- He had a pincer grasp and could pick things up between his thumb and forefinger
- He was grabbing food from my plate and seemed genuinely curious about trying what we were eating
So one day, I gave him some avocado, he seemed to enjoy eating and playing with it and we started to introduce more food slowly from there.
Anecdotally, many parents expect breastfeeding to reduce when they introduce solids. I can personally attest to the fact that this is not always the case. At seven months, J was still breastfeeding 5 times during the day and at least three times at night. It was only at 8-9 months when M and I started giving him three meals and two snacks a day, did the breastfeeding cut down to three times in the day and a few times at night.
Now that J is 17 months old, past the baby led weaning stage and no longer breastfeeding, what do we give him to eat? I started to think about this properly today after receiving the latest NHS email (which I find very informative). This email included a link to a Netmums page with lots of toddler recipe ideas, which got me thinking.
There is no doubt that feeding a toddler can be tricky.
They go through food fads, they refuse to eat when they’re tired, timing is key when you want them to try new things and they’re prone to throwing food all over the kitchen if they don’t like something. But the thing is, they’re capable of eating a lot more than we think and we need to trust them when they tell us they’re full – when J starts throwing food, the meal is over and I take him out of his high chair.
I’ve never really understood the recommendation to give babies and toddlers bland food. How will they develop a complex palate if they’re only exposed to mushy purées with no seasoning from the time they start solids? The same applies to toddlers. They are capable of trying and eating a much wider range of food that we seem to give them credit for.
Image courtesy of Maya Picture at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Think of the Koreans, who give their babies and toddlers kimchi, gradually increasing the spiciness until they’re capable of eating the same kimchi as their parents. The same goes for Indian and Pakistani parents who start their kids off with a mild daal, increasing the spiciness as they get older.
My personal experience of this comes from my Bahamian mother, who loves the spicy food from her native country and other surrounding Caribbean countries and would think nothing of giving my brother and I a spicy conch salad or rice and peas when we were toddlers, because she knew it was good for our palates and that we had to build up a tolerance to spiciness over time.
I try to apply these principles to my son J, who loves his food and generally loves to try new things. When M and I go out to eat, he’ll typically eat what we eat – steak, fish, bunless burgers, chicken, fish, curries, roasts, etc. M and I aren’t fussy eaters and enjoy trying new things, so J will generally eat from our plates as I’m not a massive fan of ordering from kid’s menus in restaurants.
At home, a typical day of food might look like this for J:
Breakfast: Omelettes, scrambled eggs or oatmeal with fruit
Lunch: Quiche, savoury tarts, stews, couscous with veg and hummus
Snacks: Banana, sweet potato, cheese, raspberries or blueberries, chorizo, fruit pouches (we like Ella’s Kitchen and Plum Baby)
Dinner: Leftovers from our dinner the night before. J eats his dinner a lot earlier than us so we typically eat something different to him and I make enough for him to eat the next day.
We definitely haven’t cracked it. Someday J eats a lot and will eat everything we offer and will do so with a fork or spoon. And then I do my happy mom dance!
Other days, he’s in discomfort from molars cutting through, sick, distracted or just plain tired, he doesn’t want to try anything new or eat much at all. What I’ve learned is that you just have to roll with it, not take it personally and know that they’ll probably eat more the next meal. If you look at what they eat over a week, it all balances out.