Super First Foods for Baby

By Amanda Boldenow, TLC Development Manager & Parent

Introducing baby to his first solid foods can be far more exciting than presenting bland rice cereal in a bowl. There are a whole world of delicious fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins that can be offered to baby in a safe and engaging way, no spoons and pretend airplanes necessary! 

Before six months of age, babies can taste small flavors of new foods on the tip of a caregiver's finger. "Flavor" means strictly that - a small taste of the juice from a solid food, like a fruit, smeared on a fingertip that baby can suckle off, or that can be dabbed on baby's tongue. By six months of age, a baby's digestive system is ready to handle small introductions of solid foods. But what foods are healthiest, that a baby is most likely to enjoy and be enticed by into trying more?

To start, let your baby try new foods gradually. If baby has a negative reaction to a new food, the offending item will be easy to identify if new food introductions have been spaced out over several days. Nurse or bottle feed baby before offering new foods, as early solids are an opportunity for experimentation and fun more than they are suitable for meal replacements.

Ready to try solids? Here are some healthy choices that push the produce envelope beyond the bland and the boring (looking at you, mashed bananas and cereal):

The Basics

Pears: Fruits that can be steamed until they are soft (including apples, peaches, apricots, and plums) and then mashed are a sweet treat for budding palates. 

Avocado: Rich in healthy fats, avocados are easy to mash with a fork. Plus, avocados are fun for little hands to squish - let them try these utensil free.

Squash: Steamed squash of any variety, whether winter options like butternut, hubbard, or acorn, or summer squashes like zucchini can be easily steamed and mashed. They have a mild, sometimes sweet flavor, that can be made adventurous through the addition of herbs or pureed leafy greens.

Grapes: Grapes and other small "finger" fruits, like berries, are delicious first foods, but be sure to slice them before presenting to babies. Round fruits (like any solid food) can present a choking hazard.

Sweet Potatoes: Like squash, sweet potatoes (or yams) can be easily steamed and eaten plain or with flavor boosters like turmeric, basil, or light sweeteners. Steamed sweet potatoes are also fun for little fingers to smoosh and squish!

Carrots: The most common root veggie to introduce as a first food, carrots have a naturally sweet flavor.

The Adventurous

Eggs: New research suggests that common allergies, such as eggs, nuts, fish, and soy, can be prevented through early introduction. Eggs can be hard boiled and chopped, scrambled, or mixed into an omelette and diced for baby to try.

Salmon: Fish is full of healthy fats and, like eggs, brain-building omega-3's. Try mashing cooked, flaked fish for baby to try.

Turnips: Give the carrots a break and let baby try a variety of healthy root vegetables, including mashed turnips, parsnips, and beets. There are a rainbow of root vegetables to try, and early introduction can help prevent turned-up noses at unfamiliar fare later.

Kale: Leafy greens, including kale, spinach, arugula, frisee, and others are both fun to touch (especially the frisee), and healthy additions to a baby's expanded diet. Greens are easily assimilated into other dishes, including scrambled eggs and squash purees. 

Lentils: Healthy proteins like lentils cook in minutes, and can be mashed together for an easy protein boost to veggies.

Sauerkraut: Want to really go out on a limb? Try fermented foods! Try sour foods! Let baby experience a full range of flavors as they learn that the world is full of delicious flavors, most of which can come straight from the produce aisle, as opposed to the boxed fare in the middle of grocery stores. 

How to Help the Pickiest Eaters

By Shari Karmen, Occupational Therapist and TLC Therapeutic Services Manager

Oh the picky eater! Some kids are super picky, some are “normally” picky, and some are selective or problem feeders.

Normal picky eating typically begins between 18 months and three years and is usually over by six years old. These kids will have food jags where they want to eat PBJ for lunch every day. They are looking for control and typically thrive well despite their picky eating habits.  Some kids are more picky and will want PBJ for lunch every day, and then will switch it to grilled cheese, but with an occasional PBJ thrown in.  Selective or problem feeders will want a PBJ, but it must have a certain type of bread, peanut butter, and jelly. Then they will decide they no longer want it. The difference is they will not add a new food to the repertoire, but instead will limit what foods they will eat even further.

Picky eating can be stressful for a parent who worries about their child's nutritional intake and teaching them to eat and try a varied diet. There is help for the parents of picky eaters, though. Below are a few ideas you can try at home.

Ten Ideas for Feeding Your Picky Eater:

1.    Involve your child in meal planning and preparation. This includes making a shopping list together, going to the store together, wearing an apron to help prepare food, and then letting your child help in preparing the food. The child's task can be as simple as tearing lettuce for a salad, as long as they are involved with the process.

2.    Use fun props and place settings for mealtimes such as colorful cups, fun placemats, and curly straws. Give you child choices and control in what utensils they use (the color of their plate, etc.)

3.    Keep a mealtime routine. Have meals at the same time every day. Create routines within the meal such as washing hands, setting the table, and then clearing food away after the meal.

4.    Eat with your child. Mealtimes are social so talk at the table, but not about what your child is not eating! For tips on engaging your child in conversation, see some of our previous posts on speech and language activities for kids.

5.    Use the timer on your phone so that your child knows how long the meal will last. Have an alert go off 2-5 minutes before the 20-30 minutes dedicated to mealtime is up. This helps everyone know that there is an ending to the meal.

6.    Watch mealtime language. Don’t bombard your child with questions or constantly say “take a bite”. Talk about the color of the food, how you can hear him crunching, and the texture of the food. Read some of our tips on using responsive language with kids.

7.    Focus on the meal rather than the TV, smart phones, and other electronic devices. You can have music playing, but keep the TV and toys away from mealtime.

8.    Reward your child for positive behavior outside of the mealtime with non-food items. Feeding can be very emotional, and linking food with a system of rewards can have a negative outcome for some kids.

9.    Only put a small amount of food on your child’s plate. Sometimes seeing three servings of three different foods can be overwhelming. 

10.    Encourage your child to try new foods. If he can tolerate the food on his plate without eating it, that’s success. Slowly up the ante by having your child touch, lick, and/or kiss the food. Eventually he will take a bite. Remember it takes 20 tries before a child likes a food.

If you feel like there are other factors impeding your child’s ability to eat, seek help from an Occupational Therapist or Registered Dietitian. An Occupational Therapist addresses motor skills, sensory components of eating, how to use your muscles in your mouth from feeding, and much more to help children move away from the habits of selective or problem feeding. 

 

Healthy Eating Before Five Years Old

Healthy eating habits begin early.

Did you know that a child's eating habits can be established as early as two years old? Or that 95% of a child's brain development occurs before age five?

These are just two reasons why TLC focuses on child health and nutrition both in our preschool classrooms and our pediatric therapy services. Our two garden beds, installed by TLC alum Cooper Knight, are just one way we integrate activities related to healthy food selection, overcoming fears of new foods, cooking, the science of healthy bodies, and the science of food production.

In our classrooms, students are fed healthy snacks in a nut-free, allergen-sensitive facility. Children in both classrooms and therapy sessions learn to make their own healthy snacks from fresh ingredients, many of which are grown by the children in our two on-site garden beds during the spring and summer.

Poor nutrition contributes to delays in intellectual development by causing brain damage, illness, and delays of motor skill development (e.g. crawling and walking). Early shortages in nutrients can reduce cell production; later shortages can affect cell size and complexity. Nutrient deficits also affect the complex chemical processes of the brain and can lead to less efficient communication between brain cells, potentially crippling a child’s cognitive potential for life.

A variety of positive food experiences and activities can help develop good eating habits and food preferences in children. TLC’s programs strive to provide these positive experiences daily, and provides opportunities for parents to gain further information on continuing healthy nutrition habits at home.

Toddler & Preschool Protein-Packed Superfoods:

  • Eggs

  • Oatmeal

  • Peanut Butter

  • Avocados

  • Salmon

  • Black Beans

  • Nuts & Seeds

  • Lentils

  • Green vegetables

Zero to Three, a program of the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, states that brain development is most sensitive to a child’s nutrition between mid-gestation and two years old. Children who are malnourished do not adequately grow physically or mentally. Their brains can be smaller than normal because of reduced dendritic growth, reduced myelination, and the production of fewer glia (supporting cells). A newborn’s brain is only about ¼ the size of an adult’s, and grows to be 80% of adult size by age three, and 90% by age five, when a preschooler graduates from TLC, making their time at TLC one of the most critical periods in their development for adequate nutrition acquisition.

If you'd like to learn more about how TLC works to build healthy minds and bodies through our birth - 5 preschool classrooms and birth - 12 pediatric therapy services, contact us today at (303) 776-7417.