Food Introduction Strategies For Infants

Whether infants are breast or bottle fed there are basic considerations when first introducing solids into their diets.  The digestive tract is immature and unable to tolerate large, complex proteins.

1.  Children should not be given any solids until 6 months of age.  Waiting until the child has cut their first tooth is optimal to ensure that all digestive enzymes are present.  Younger children will often grab food from their parents plate and appear as thought they are hungry.  In such cases, it is often the child’s need for exploration that motivates this behavior. They are sometimes more interested in the texture than in consuming the food.  This may also be a sign the child is not receiving adequate nourishment from formula or breast milk.  According to Leo Galland, MD, if a child grasps for food with his palm, he is not ready for solids; if he grasps with his fingers, he may be ready.  You can breast feed exclusively for at least one year without having your child suffer nutritionally.

2.  Food should be introduced from the least allergenic to most.  Allergenic foods include: dairy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, soy, corn, citrus, white potato, sugar, chocolate, cocoa, meats, and tomatoes.  Wait at least one year, but preferably 2-3 years  before introducing these foods.  When and if they are introduced, use organic products and don‘t give them to your child every day.

3.  Vegetables are generally added first.  Good first veggie choices are pureed winter and summer squashes, sweet potatoes, green beans, peas, carrot, and avocado.  Spinach, beets, and turnips should be avoided until 9 months.  Fruits can be added one month later.  Good fruits to start with are peeled and cooked apples, pears, peaches, plums, and apricots and melon.

4.  Only one food is added to the diet at a time.  Simple foods are preferred over complex mixtures. Wait one week before introducing a new food in order to observe any adverse reactions.  Reactions can include: changes in behavior, sleeping or bowel habits, skin reactions, and respiratory problems.

5. Serve organic foods, or at least ones not grown with pesticides (chemical fertilizer is used), as pesticides are more concentrated in babies and children.  If these are not available, buy produce grown in the US, as conventionally grown food in other countries can contain pesticides banned in the US.  Pesticides contain chemicals that disrupt hormones in the body and can also be cancer causing.

6.  Food should always be served at body temperature.  Never microwave in plastic!  Plastic also contains hormone disrupting chemicals that leach into the food when heated.

7.  Canned, bottled or frozen fruit juices should be avoided.  The simple carbohydrates content is too high.  Fresh squeezed juices are preferable.  Carrot juice can sometimes cause diarrhea in small children, therefore it should be rotated into the diet and diluted.  Limit juice to no more than 3 ounces per day.  Water should be the primary liquid given, with a splash of juice, perhaps to flavor it.

8. Once a food is established as safe, it is best not to serve it everyday.  Rotate all foods in the early stages (and beyond) to prevent the onset of intolerances and /or allergies.

9. Infection, especially viral intestinal infection, often leads to a temporary intolerance to some foods. Stay clear of potential allergenic foods during and at least 2 weeks after the illness.

10. Iron-fortified brown rice, oat, or barley cereal are a good start (in this order).

11. At 10 months, add more protein rich foods.  Good sources to start are almond butter, sesame seed butter (tahini), lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, amaranth, and millet   Other beans can be added after 1 year.  All necessary protein can be obtained by serving a variety of nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains.