When: There are lots of guidelines available out there, but I'll share my personal criteria here.
- I would never feed a child under 6 months old anything but breastmilk. With my oldest I started them on solids at exactly 6 months. Because of our formula dilemma I was in a bit of a rush. I regret that. I did however, start them out on what I feel are appropriate foods still. My youngest child did not even begin to experiment with food until 9 months and was not really eating until much later. I really feel that 6 months is a bit young and the longer you wait, the better the outcome usually.
- They should show independent interest in food. I mean, they should be trying to knock you down to get to your plate or fork. Give 'em a bite and see how it goes (as long as the food is appropriate of course).
- Teeth. A baby does not need teeth to eat. Gums are great. In some African tribes, the first baby food was raw pre-chewed liver. Do not be grossed out. I chewed chicken for Stone for quite awhile before he could do it himself (so did every other member of the family for that matter). He really digested it well, where a carrot, not so much. He wanted and needed that animal flesh and fat so we had to help him out.
- Observe your baby. Even if you do not know if they are ready or not, they do, and they will let you know. If you can not trust your own intuition, trust theirs.
- Bring the baby to the table early on! Let mom or dad (or grandma if you are fortunate enough to have one in the home) hold baby during dinner. Almost from birth we passed Stone around like a hot potato so we could all eat in peace, but share the experience with him at the same time. He had a sixth sense for knowing when I was eating and had to always be awake. He knew what was best! He has always been keen on feeding himself and is pretty adept with utensils at a young age. Not that we care around here. Dad often eats with his hands as he did in India and Stone shares the love of a tactile food experience. I think that texture and appearance is often more important to him than taste, though he happily eats a wide variety of foods. My oldest began their eating experience very differently. I sat Sophie and Emma down in their highchairs at "meal time" and spoon fed them, generally not sharing a meal with them myself. How could I? I was too busy feeding them. I think not having a family meal atmosphere hindered their experience and forming of opinions. They didn't have a table full of food to experiment with, but only what mom offered on a spoon. No choices, no family socialization and a lot more stress on mom!
- As did his older sisters, Stone now has his own chair at the family table, which is where we have most of our meals. I feel that family meal time is essential in developing positive eating habits. I am so thankful that my mother also found this so important. Seperate meals were the exception growing up. We had busy schedules and places to be, but we almost always had dinner together. I now feel awkward eating anywhere else. Some find it formal, but I find the dining table comforting. Food and family are so enmeshed, I think that trying to create a strong food culture without family involvement would be like swimming up stream.
- Never feed your child in front of the TV. They are not paying attention to what they are eating! Mindful eating is the first and most naturally occurring step to making good choices.
- I think egg yolks are the perfect first food for baby. Soft boiled, a squirt of breastmilk and a teeny pinch of sea salt. If you have ever thrown away or shunned an egg yolk for health reasons (or any reason) get up right now, walk over to the mirror and solemnly promise yourself that you will NEVER do anything like THAT again. Seriously, what a sacred life giving food for all of us. The vitamins, minerals, cholesterol and choline in an egg yolk are exactly what a baby (or anyone) needs for developing healthy neuro-endocrine function. Every pregnant or nursing mother should eat eggs daily and they should be given directly to baby as soon as you decide to introduce solids. This could be preventative for mood and learning disorders. As for sea salt, it is full of trace minerals we need for robust health. In intuitive food tests babies and toddlers often reached for and ate handfuls of sea salt. They chose it over synthetic, nutrient devoid table salt and a banquet of other choices. I say listen to the babies! Test yours with a bit of egg with and without salt.
- Fat: Once baby is eating other solid foods, like say sweet potatoes or apples, throw some good ole fat in there! Grassfed of course, as the fat stores the most pesticides, antibiotics, etc. Butter, ghee (butter w/the whey and casein removed, good for those with allergies), and lard are my favorites. I always sacrifice that most delectable bite of fat on whatever cut of meat I have to my babies. Coconut, cod liver, and flax oil are great too, as are avocadoes and olive oil. Check out the Nourished Kitchens post on appropriate fats for cooking here and for eating raw, here. My babies have always loved avocadoes, and recently I started giving them small fish like sardines and kippers. Even if you think they are gross, remember, your baby hasn't developed his or her palate just yet and may find these delicious. Now you take out some good mustard, a flax seed cracker, and some cheese and try it yourself. Unbelievably fishy goodness (and I am NOT a fish person)! If you can not offer a food based fat to baby at every meal I would strongly consider a little cod liver oil on a daily basis. If you are vegetarian, I urge you to examine why. If it is not a spiritual or ethical belief, but based more on health or disgust for the taste/texture of meat, contemplate introducing high quality animal fats to your baby. A healthy fat filled babyhood diet is still possible as a vegetarian, but you will have to be much more vigilant in getting nutrient dense foods into your baby. Fat not only feeds the brain and endocrine system, but keeps cell walls pliable (essential for proper nutrient uptake and waste removal), helps stabilize the breakdown of our foods into the bloodstream, helps us to digest and utilize minerals as well as providing them. And one can not downplay the importance of the fat soluble vitamins A,D, E, and K in good health.
- Introducing baby to fermented foods early is a wise choice. So many of us reject the sour taste when it has so much to offer nutritionally. All of my kids love kraut, and I am not talking kraut from a can, but a truly fermented, live, probiotic food: sour, bubbly and delicious! Stone was drinking the juice from our kraut at just 8 weeks as part of our protocol for acid reflux caused by food intolerances in my milk (I removed those foods from my diet of course too, but healing was still necessary). Cultured foods like kraut, kefir, beet kvass and kombucha are much more efficient at colonizing bacteria than supplements at the health food store. It is not only the good bacteria themselves, but chemicals they secrete into their environment, called bacteriosides, that are responsible for the seeking out and killing of bad bacteria, viruses, and parasites in the gut. Most commercial probiotics seperate the organism from their growing medium, therefore eliminating these important bacterial secretions. Introduce them to baby early and not only will he/she just LOVE them, but your child will enjoy robust health from birth onward. Pregnant and nursing mothers should definitely be eating probiotic foods on a daily basis as you are the source of your little ones bacterial colonization and birth and beyond. There are numerous studies, who knows which is "right", but some say that bacterial communities are established and unalterable as early as two years old (Mary Bove 2009). I don't know how absolutely I believe that, but it is definitely motivation for building a good foundation.
- Bone broth is an excellent choice even before introducing solids. Baby doesn't even need teeth! Check out my previous post for nutritional info here.
- Fruits and veggies: Homemade applesauce is the master of blending! I have stirred in everything from blueberry puree and spinach to spirulina, slippery elm and strawberry cod liver oil. Applesauce is great in season and through the winter as is winter squash and a wide variety of root vegetables. In spring, thoroughly cooked greens blended w/bone broth and some fat are great. Some hold off on greens, but I have always found them easily digested and palatable to my babies.
- Introduce grains too early. Hold off on the grains. Yep, they are super convenience foods for sure, but that is just it. You trade nutrition for convenience. Introducing grains too early is depriving your baby of more nutrient dense foods and conditioning their palate to carbs. I go as far as to say that grains are harmful. Introducing them to immature intestines and immune systems is to set up perfect conditions for gut damage leading to food allergies and learning disorders, not to mention that dry starches are great for growing bad bacteria and yeast in the gut. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that with the introduction of grains into the human diet came degenerative disease. Dental caries, bone density problems, and inflammation of joints starts to show up in the fossil record at this time. Other problems linked to grain consumption are smaller brain size and pelvic circumference. There are a million sources on the dangers of grains, especially when prepared improperly. Check out westonaprice.org or this page of gluten links. This is not about food allergies, but the effect of grains on the population as a whole.
- Do not be scared of raw local honey. I have given all of my kids honey from early on (it is a great way to deliver herbs) with nothing but wonderful results. Do not introduce cane sugar to your child out of fear of honey before one year! One report of botulism in a group of kids in California in the 80's started the whole honey scare. They never even narrowed it down to the honey exclusively, there was also Heinz ketchup involved. Raw local honey from a reputable beekeeper is one of the great sacred foods. Honey itself is antibacterial when high quality. Industrially raised bees, being moved across the country seasonally, pollinating and making honey from pesticide laden and GMO crops will make inferior, possibly dangerous honey. Do not go to Publix and get the cheap plastic bear. Go get local honey in a glass jar. Get to know the beekeeper if possible. One of my favorite people in my community is "my" beekeeper, Eddie Mckenzie of Sale Creek Honey. His product is widely available in southeast Tennessee.
I'm sure there are about a million things I have missed, so I would love to hear suggestions and opinions! If any of this seems confusing, just remember to look back before our government and corporations started dictating to us what we should eat. I always like to use that phrase "technology as servant, not master".
Look at tradition, at human experience, at your experience and move forward with confidence.
picture property of Rhonda Prince
I just couldn't resist including a pic of one of my babes, healthy and radiant fat lover that he is!