Infant nutrition is of great importance. Already in the infant stage, it can have a significant influence through early nutritional programming that will condition our future metabolism. Subsequently, creating lasting healthy habits will make it easier for our children to naturally develop a love for fresh food, fruits, vegetables, and other elements of our varied gastronomy. Last but not least, food, beyond providing nutrients to our body, is a way of socializing, getting to know other cultures, other forms of doing things, and getting closer to others.
We will find ourselves with different needs and requirements in each stage of life. In the beginning, breast milk will be the great pillar of infant feeding. It is designed to meet the nutritional needs of the baby. Still, it also provides defenses, promotes the growth of healthy microflora, and facilitates better acceptance of flavors when we switch to solid food. For various reasons, breastfeeding may not be feasible; artificial feeding will be the other option to feed the infant.
Introduction of the solid in infant feeding
The introduction of the solid in infant feeding, either through purées or “complimentary on-demand,” is always subject to different points of view. There are always controversies when assessing the time to introduce it, the way to do it, and even the speed of exposing it to new foods. Each baby and each family have their quirks. Different cultures frame different food landscapes… and then we have “fads.” In this crucible, each father and mother will struggle to find the best option for their daughter or son. If necessary, pediatrics and nutrition professionals offer an adapted guide, and we will guide you on when to introduce certain foods.
As general lines, we could say that:
- The baby’s intestinal barrier is not entirely effective until four months, so that we will keep milk as the only food until that age. By respecting the introduction rhythms of some foods, we will avoid or delay the appearance of allergies and intolerances. For example, gluten is considered appropriate to introduce no earlier than six months but no later than eight months. It doesn’t need to be present in the child’s diet daily, with its inclusion every 2 or 3 days is enough.
- Each boy and girl will develop their rhythm of food acceptance. Parents and caregivers must accompany us on this path, trying to ensure that neither our fears nor our voluntarism cause rejection or frustration in our children.
- We will avoid adding salt, sugar, or sweeteners to infant food. In early childhood, hyperstimulating the brain with intense flavors will increase the threshold of need for food additives and flavorings in adulthood and could create a preference for processed food. You can add olive or sunflower oils together or separately. Both provide different fatty acids necessary for proper development.
- Green leaves (spinach, chard, and lettuce), pork, and red fruits are recommended to be delayed until they are the one-year-old—the same thing with cow’s milk.
- We must encourage the consumption of whole fruit instead of juices, which should always be natural and taken in a glass. Drinking them in a bottle favors the appearance of cavities.
- For many young children, eating is boring. Some require a more significant number of intakes per day but less. We will not force or inappropriately encourage them to eat. In addition to possible rejection, excess caloric intake and subsequent weight gain can increase the risk of obesity in adulthood.
If you have any questions about growth, consult your pediatrician to clarify doubts and avoid misunderstandings.
Food introduction is not a race. The only and grand prize is accepting the most excellent variety of foods and the enjoyment of, and with, our children of food.
Infant feeding: preparation is also important
Younger infants require more care in the preparation of their food. As hygienic measures, remember the simple and handy washing of hands and cleaning utensils and cooking surfaces that will touch food.
Campylobacter jejuni, sometimes present in raw poultry meat, is a bacterium that does not cause significant repercussions in adults and that nevertheless is the cause of some cases of diarrhea in infants and young children. Proper cooking and handling, along with handwashing, will minimize risk.
We will cook at appropriate temperatures, avoid excess saturated fats, and favor healthier preparation methods.
Once cooked, we will adequately preserve the food if it is not consumed right away. Once cold, we will not let them spend more than two hours out of the fridge. Proper planning will prevent risks and food waste.
Creating healthy eating habits
Children imitate what-they see, not what they hear. The example will mark food, physical and intellectual activity that we adults give around them. Eating is going to have a very emotional component, and thus the atmosphere that we create around the table will encourage the attitudes that we consider correct. Some practical tips to keep in mind:
- The atmosphere of the meal should be familiar and pleasant—a moment to share.
- Food is important enough to be excluded from reward or punishment dynamics.
- It is not necessary to force to eat, but it is essential to create some rules and routines that must be respected. In the case of refusal of food or “bad eater,” we will attractively present the food as far as possible. Foods that are not liked will be offered in small quantities (a bite), cooked in various ways, but with some frequency until tolerance to that flavor is created. Some have to be offered up to 10 times to be accepted.
- Many children classified as poor eaters improve by staying to eat at school. This should not be oriented as punishment/correction, and any improvement in attitude should be praised. Sometimes behavior during meals at home reflects family dynamics that must be considered and modified.
Lastly, what you participate in is appreciated more. Involving our children to the best of their ability in food preparation tasks will help them get to know them better and feel like protagonists. Feeding our children can become an opportunity for enjoyment, cohesion, and improvement for the whole family.