Out of all the major milestones your mini-me will hit during her formative years, feeding will have to be one of most exciting ones. She literally goes from being a milk monster to a taste tester in a matter of months. We’ll be honest ― it’s going to be a messy business, but so fun, too! Here’s how to teach your tyke essential mealtime skills.
0 to 6 months
• Bubba subsists solely on breastmilk or formula ― or a combination of both ― as her main source of nutrition for the first 6 months.
• Babies are born with tiny tummies that fill up quickly. So, expect junior to cry out to be fed every two hours if you’re nursing her and every three hours if she’s on formula. This is because breastmilk digests more quickly than formula.
• Your little one is born with natural oral reflexes to root (make sucking noises with the mouth), swallow, gag and burp. She also has a tongue-thrust reflex, an instinctive reaction to push food out with her tongue, to ensure that she never chokes.
• With a doctor’s recommendation, 4 months is the earliest you can introduce solid food to your sweetie. Signs of readiness include ― she can sit up unassisted, shows interest in what you are eating, holds her head up high and she has outgrown her tongue-thrust reflex.
6 to 12 months
• Ideal first foods include cereal, puréed root veggies such as sweet potato, yam and carrots or mashed avocado or bananas. Mix them with either breastmilk or formula, so that it smells and tastes familiar to her.
• Junior’s first spoonful will be memorable, so make sure to use a spoon with a soft, silicone or plastic cover to protect her tender gums, in case she bites down on it.
• Timing is key when starting junior on solids. Offer milk first to whet your wee one’s appetite, then bring on the main course. Start with one meal a day, then slowly move up to two or three. If you want junior to get used to participating in family mealtimes, let her join you at the dining table daily.
• By 10 months, your mini-me should be able to cope with lumpy or coarsely-mashed food. This is a great time to try baby-led weaning ― offering your munchkin bite-sized “real” foods appropriate for her age. This could be anything from steamed apples and thinly-sliced raw carrots, to even tiny pieces of cooked meat. This gives junior control over what she’s eating, hones her pincer grip, encourages self-feeding and independence, plus she can decide how much she wants to eat.
12 to 18 months
• While you can continue bottle or breastfeeding, 12 months is the earliest you can introduce cow’s milk into your cutie’s diet. Give it to her in a straw or sippy cup, so that she can practise for future transition to a proper cup. Another ingredient junior is ready for now is honey as her intestinal tract is more mature.
• Give your tot more opportunities to be in control of meal time by allowing her to self-feed with a spoon and bowl. The scooping action will also help with her motor skills. But beware, things are going to get messy! Place a washable mat under her high chair and a coverall bib to protect her clothes. Better yet ― let her dine in her diapers to minimise washing up!
• Picky eating usually peaks at this point. Junior might refuse what you serve her or choose to eat the same food over and over. Don’t despair ― it’s just one of the many power struggles you will encounter with your mini-me.
• Avoid turning mealtimes into a battleground. Variety is key. Gently, but frequently expose a new food to your munchkin, together with familiar ones. Encourage her to taste, smell or lick the new food. Junior may need to be exposed to a new food up to 15 times before she’s game to try it.
• While nutrition is vital in order that your tyke grow up strong and healthy, don’t place too much emphasis on it. At this age, it’s all about cultivating good eating behaviours. If junior doesn’t like raw veggies, roast it to bring out its natural sweetness, bake some in a muffin, or serve it with a yummy dip like hummus. It’s all about making food and mealtimes fun.
• Little ones have little tummies, so offer small portions. If they want more, you can always top up. This also minimises food wastage and overfeeding.
• At this age, toddlers eat three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), plus a snack, either in the morning or afternoon, usually after a nap. Snacks don’t necessarily have to mean sugar-laden doughnuts or cupcakes. Instead, reach for healthy, yet fun choices like apples topped with a dab of peanut butter, yoghurt and fruit, or wholemeal biscuits.
• Make it a habit to eat an array of healthy foods yourself, so that your child will follow suit. If you want junior to pick up good eating habits, you’ve got to practise what you preach!