Introducing Solid Foods to Toddlers

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
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During the first two years, children move from exclusive breast or bottle feeding to eating table foods with the rest of the family. There are two important parts of this process:

  • Deciding what specific foods and textures to introduce at each age.
  • Deciding how best to feed babies so they develop a healthy relationship with food.

Types of Foods

The order in which you introduce solid foods doesn't matter for most babies. The traditional progression has been single-grain cereals followed by vegetables, fruits and meats. While there is nothing wrong with this pattern, pureed meat or poultry actually may be the best first food to provide sources of iron and zinc.

Current evidence does not indicate needing to wait beyond four to six months before introducing potentially allergy-causing foods such as eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts and fish. In fact, introducing peanut-containing foods as early as four to six months can help prevent peanut allergy.

Introduce one new food at a time and wait three to five days before starting another. If you notice diarrhea, vomiting or rashes, stop the new food and contact your baby's health care provider. These symptoms may indicate a food allergy.

Food Texture

Textures are very important for introducing foods. Most babies prefer to start with softer, smoother textures and gradually move toward thicker foods. Firm foods, especially round foods, slippery foods and sticky foods are choking hazards. To avoid choking, don't offer the following foods to children under 4 years of age:

  • Popcorn
  • Peanuts
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grapes, cherry tomatoes
  • Whole kernel corn
  • Olives
  • Hot dogs
  • Hard, raw fruits or vegetables such as apples, celery and carrots
  • Chunks of meat or poultry
  • Sticky foods, such as peanut butter, which can get stuck in the back of the mouth
  • Hard candy, gum drops and jelly beans

For toddlers and preschoolers, chop grapes, meat, poultry, hot dogs and raw vegetables and fruits into small pieces (about ½ inch or smaller).

Nurturing Healthy Relationships with Food

Establishing a positive feeding relationship during infancy can have lifetime benefits. According to registered dietitian nutritionist and child feeding expert Ellyn Satter, the key to a healthy feeding relationship is the appropriate division of responsibility.

Adult Responsibilities

Adults are responsible for what food is present and how it is presented.

  • Choose foods that are the right texture so your baby's tongue and mouth can control it and swallow easily.
  • Hold your baby on your lap when you first introduce solid foods. Then move your baby to a safe high chair.
  • Support your baby well in an upright position for easy exploration of the food.
  • Have your baby sit up straight and face forward. This makes swallowing easier and choking less likely.
  • Talk in a quiet, encouraging voice while you feed. There's no need to be entertaining. Babies are easily overwhelmed and distracted with games.

Child Responsibilities

Children are responsible for how much and whether they eat.

  • Wait for your baby to pay attention to each spoonful before you feed it.
  • Let your baby touch the food in the dish and on the spoon. You wouldn't want to eat something if you didn't know anything about it, would you?
  • Feed at your baby's tempo. Don't feed faster or slower than your baby prefers.
  • As soon as your baby shows an interest in touching or holding food, allow self-feeding with finger foods.
  • Heading turning is a common cue that your baby is done and it is time to stop feeding.

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