A couple months ago, a friend who was anticipating the imminent start of solids in our then 5-month old babies commented, “You’ll have so much fun!” Inwardly I groaned. In my mind, I could only imagine sweet potatoes and peas splattering everywhere like a Jackson Pollock painting. Or having to resort to sneaky distraction tactics to get our twins to eat. Surprisingly, starting solid foods was the one thing that has been very, very fun!
We did extensive research before we started: I polled all (okay, like two) of my parent friends: “How old were your kids when you started?” (4-6 months). “What did you start with?” (rice cereal, veggies, fruits) My husband, being more analytical, vetted everything with Dr. Google before letting me unleash my inner Julia Child on the kids. Good thing, too, because I had the brilliant idea one morning of giving them some of our Greek yogurt – it turns out it contains dairy (duh), which isn’t easily digested in babies under 12 months.
As an intern many years ago, I remembered learning about all the foods you were supposed to delay because they might cause the development of allergies later: eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, honey, and (oh yeah) dairy. Recently, however, many of these guidelines were reversed. In a statement released in 2008, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) Committee on Nutrition stated that delaying particular foods had no benefit in preventing food allergies in children later in life. Holler! Living in the Bay area has made us pseudo-foodies (yes, that’s me taking pictures of my artisanal shade grown hand roasted coffee …and yes, I may review it on yelp later) and I was eager for my kids not to miss out.
So, what foods are okay for my miniature gourmands and what foods are a no-no?
Cow’s milk and other dairy products should be delayed until 12 months of age, because it’s hard for babies to digest (formula is easier because the proteins are broken down already). Honey is still a no until 1 year as well because of the risk of infant botulism, a potentially fatal illness. (Botulism doesn’t affect older toddlers and adults because our digestive tract contains more acid and normal bacteria that inhibit the spores.) And finally, babies should avoid any small, round foods that could be choking hazards such as nuts, grapes, and seeds. Other than these few guidelines, everything else is basically good eats!
We started with rice cereal (and got a ho-hum response) and then transitioned to pureed fruits like bananas, apples, and avocados. I love watching my daughter’s face when her mouth opens wide in anticipation of the puree du jour. She magically transforms from a baby into a real person right before my eyes when she grins (or grimaces!) after tasting something new. My kids both loved bananas and apples, and we were able to get them to eat avocados after sweetening it with bananas. (That’s the other cool thing – infants will tolerate almost all sorts of gross combinations because they don’t know the difference . . . yet.)
After a few days of farmers’ market fare, my husband suddenly asked: “So when do they get to try some REAL food . . . like MEAT?” Ah yes. I had forgotten that I was married to the man whose favorite food was Korean BBQ, and who once informed me he couldn’t continue dating me if I became vegetarian. Turns out his carnivorous tendencies are well-founded: the AAP actually recommends meat as one of the FIRST foods to introduce to babies! This recommendation is another departure from previous advice to wait until after cereals, fruits, and veggies (and one that even a lot of physicians don’t know about). Meat is one of the best sources of iron, which naturally falls around 6 months of age because of decreasing body stores. While I don’t recommend giving your baby a slab of kalbi, you should feel free to give him pureed meats like beef or chicken, perhaps mixed in with veggies like sweet potatoes for more flavor (and easier mixing).
I’m far from super-mom, but I’ve discovered that it’s easier than you think to make your own baby food. I simply steam or boil the item until soft, then throw everything (including some of the cooking liquid) into the blender to puree. Then we freeze the puree into storage trays (I ordered these online and HIGHLY recommend them!) And I love this parent-centered site– which incorporates the most recent AAP guidelines – for easy recipes and FAQs about starting solids. It’s official: our kids now eat far better than us. While my husband and I scrounge around for leftovers on a normal weeknight (canned chili, anyone?), our babies always have a stash of homemade, organic purees that we’ve carefully frozen, stored, and labeled in convenient 1 oz. cubes.
Any day now, my two mini-foodies will be ready to hit the bay area restaurant scene. Perhaps I should register them for yelp usernames now. . .