During the first year of your infant’s life, the size of their brain will double — but the incredible feats of childhood development don’t stop there! By age five, your child’s brain will have grown to 90% of its final adult size!
Clearly, your little one has a lot of growing to do, and they’ll need plenty of nutritious fuel to make it happen. It all begins with complete and appropriate early childhood nutrition.
As your baby’s brain grows, so do their opinions and preferences. Even once you’ve made the switch to solid foods, it can be hard to find something that your little one won’t refuse. Making this major developmental transition can sometimes leave egg on your face… literally!
How can you ensure that your picky toddler is getting the nutrition they need during the most critical stages of brain development?
We’ve created this brief guide to curating your child’s diet to improve their cognition and learning ability. Keep reading to discover when and how to introduce foods and create smart, capable eaters and learners!
The Transition From Infant Formula to Solid Foods
According to the CDC, the right time to transition children from breastmilk or formula to solid foods is about six months of age. While some children are ready later, you shouldn’t ever introduce solids before a child is four months old. Their digestive systems are still developing and they won’t physically be ready for solids.
Your baby might be ready for solids if her or she:
- Grasps small objects
- Moves hands or objects to mouth
- Swallows rather than thrusting food outward
- Opens mouth to receive food when offered
- Controls head and neck
- Sits up with limited support
It takes the right nutrition to get your child to this point developmentally, too! Luckily, infant formulas and breast milk contain all the nutrients your child needs to develop to this exciting stage. Click here to learn more about breast feeding.
How to Start With Solids
When you begin to introduce solids, begin with one food at a time. This will allow you to confirm that your child does not have any food intolerances. Some families choose to start slow by introducing baby cereals first and then gradually introducing finger foods.
At first, mashed or strained foods are easier for young babies to eat and digest. Even so, these strange new textures can be alarming! If your child has a negative response to a new texture, be consistent and try again later.
You will want to avoid giving your child cow’s milk or soy milk until they are at least one year old. Milk-based foods, such as yogurt, are fine in reasonable quantities.
If you are introducing potentially allergenic foods, you will want to introduce them individually. Don’t introduce any other new foods during that time. Foods considered allergenic include:
- Peanuts and tree nuts
- Fish and shellfish
You should also avoid foods that could become choking hazards. Special baby snacks, like “puffs,” are good early solids because they dissolve in saliva. Save any foods that require chewing for later on, once your baby’s oral skills are further developed.
Tips and Tricks for Picky Eaters
Yes, even the youngest new eaters can be “picky!” In pre-verbal children, this might look like turning a face away from a spoon or pushing food away. Some picky babies spit out food, clamp their jaws shut, or fuss at mealtimes.
This might simply mean that your baby isn’t ready for this big transition yet. Digestive systems mature at different rates. As long as your child’s weight gain remains consistent and their growth is normal, they will do fine with a limited or formula-supplemented diet.
One of the many amazing things about babies is that they still rely on their natural hunger cues. That means there is no need to force-feed a baby, even if they don’t seem to have eaten very much. You want eating to be a joyful, stress-free experience, so follow their lead to avoid creating negative associations.
Sometimes the problem may be a sensitivity to a food’s texture, which is a problem that some adults have, too! If you wouldn’t force an adult to eat a slimy tomato or serving of chia pudding, don’t feed your baby textures that make them squirm! If your little one likes finger foods and thinks applesauce is a punishment, don’t force it.
Finally, you might want to let your baby interact with their food a little. Allow them to touch it, smell it, and experience it with their other senses. They have no idea what you’re putting in their mouth, and this can make the transition much easier!
Final Thoughts on Healthy Diets
It’s a parent’s job to feed their child, so mealtimes can sometimes get emotional. If your child is struggling with a particular meal or texture the world will not end! You are not a failure!
So much of the early days involves learning to choose your battles and make the best dietary choice in the moment.
The key to this transition is patience. Try to offer several healthier options before resorting to “junk food” just so your child will eat something. Some babies even prefer liquids for a period, and that’s okay, too.
Ultimately, no baby will go on a hunger strike! When they are hungry, they’ll let you know — and they will eat!
Don’t Ignore Early Childhood Nutrition
The changes happening in your baby’s brain today can impact the way they interact with the world for life. A lifetime of learning and exploration begins right on your little one’s high chair tray! Start with good early childhood nutrition and enjoy your baby’s incredible developmental milestones!
Do you have more questions about what’s best for your children and family? Check out the rest of the blog for more parenting posts like this one.