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BABY'S FIRST BITES

Parents generally have the most profound and lasting influence on their children's eating habits and food tolerances. To a large extent, these tolerances and habits are influenced by how babies are introduced to foods, and how we promote good eating habits, and how we educate them about food. This educational process involves more than just good versus bad, i.e., avoiding sugar, fat, cholesterol, sodium, etc., and emphasizing fruits and vegetables. The educational process should include introducing children to a wide range of tastes and textures, without a preordained dichotomy between "foods that are good for you" and "foods that taste good."

Today most adults are aware and firmly convinced that organic/natural foods surpass processed foods in both flavor and nutritional value. These same adults know that diet and health are inextricably linked and therefore have altered the way they eat and cook. Unfortunately, these realizations have not always filtered down to the way we feed our youngest eaters.

We often fail to associate infant nutrition with adult nutrition, thinking that infant nutrition is somehow removed or distant from our own notions of healthy eating. Consciously or unconsciously, most parents associate the feeding of infants, six months to one year with the purchase of costly multicolored little jars, with each color representing variety. With confidence and trust, we place the nutritional responsibility and diet of our children in the hands of corporations, who process all the natural nutrients and vitamins out the their product and reinject them back into the product prior to sealing in order to make them shelf stable. These same foods can be made naturally at home in just minutes at a fraction of the cost.

Today, with a strong economy projected through the millennium and increased concern for healthy eating, more families will undoubtedly be preparing most meals at home. It is important for parents to understand food values as well as flavors and textures to ensure proper nutrition for their family. Preparing food, while necessary to sustain life and assure proper growth, should also be a joy, a ritual, and a binding force between babies and their families. It is important to prepare recipes that are unique, simple, not fancy, easy to make, economical, delicious, and nutritious. Parents need to be made aware of how to introduce babies to solid foods: which foods to avoid for allergic reactions; early tolerances; quantities (portion control); and dietary balances to assure proper nutrition.

In this age of low-fat and fat-free diets, some parents incorrectly believe that their babies should be placed on such a diet immediately. What most parents do not realize is that babies need fat for healthy brain development, and the majority of pediatricians feel that low-fat diets are not recommended for babies under two years of age.

Healthy eating is one of the most important things that we can do for ourselves and our children. Most pediatricians recommend that infants not include solid foods in their daily diet until they are six months of age. They have found that the protein, fat, and carbohydrate content of breast milk and formula is nutritionally complete and properly balanced for babies, whereas the addition of solid foods changes this natural balance and may tend to promote food allergies. The early introduction of foods often increases the possibility that infants will develop allergies as well as increasing the sodium content of the child's diet. This may eventually contribute to high blood pressure or obesity later in life. Solid foods also interfere with the absorption of iron in breast milk. Contrary to popular belief, solids do not help babies sleep through the night. Also, physically, before six months of age, your baby does not have a digestive system capable of processing solid foods or the motor development to eat them, because the baby's tongue and cheek muscles have been used only for sucking. Therefore, by holding off on solids, you are allowing your baby's motor development and immature digestive system time to grow ready for other foods.

After a half year of being strengthened with breast milk/formula, most children's digestive systems are mature enough to start drawing nutrients from other foods. Your baby may be ready for solids at about six months of age or more when not satisfied with extra feedings. Active babies may require solid foods a month earlier, while others refuse to swallow anything until walk. If your baby is chewing toys out of hunger, rather than relief of sore, teething gums (which only a parent can tell), or is eyeing your lunch, then it may also be time for solid foods.

According to the Academy of Pediatrics, six months can be an important age for a baby's nutritional needs. The iron supply that mothers give to the child before birth is nearly gone, so extra nutrients may be needed.

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