After starting things off with a splash of lemon, I wanted to know what we should actually start feeding Henry. Lemons are a great source of Vitamin C and a squeeze of lemon juice is a nice option for flavoring other foods, but I’m not planning to feed him lemons every day. Henry is going to need something more. So where do we go from here?
Everyone I talk with seems to have a different approach for introducing babies to solid foods. There are an overwhelming number of rules and recommendations, many of which conflict with each other. Sorting through the information is daunting and confusing. One pediatrician recommends rice cereal first, while another says whole grain oatmeal is more nutritious. One expert says to try homemade purees, while another says that babies can have large finger foods. One friend says bananas and mangoes are good starter foods, while another says to avoid fruits first since Henry will develop a sweet tooth. Green vegetables first, then yellow, then orange. Stick with bland food that is easy to digest or offer lots of herbs and spices to make food more interesting. No salt, no sugar, no nuts, no honey, no milk, no strawberries, no eggs, no citrus, no soy, no kiwi, no shellfish, no gluten. What’s a mommy to believe?
There are good reasons for health concerns with giving cow’s milk, salt, honey and other sweeteners to children under one year of age. Milk can cause internal bleeding. Salt can harm immature kidneys. Honey can cause botulism. And sugar, corn syrup and artificial sweeteners are empty calories that don’t provide any redeeming nutritious qualities.
Many experts recommend introducing only one food at a time, then waiting two days, four days or even a week between new foods to test for allergens. But our pediatrician suggested that this is both impractical and unnecessary.
First, it could take several years to introduce Henry to food if we actually wait a week between each ingredient. I’m going to need a giant spreadsheet to keep track of every food he tries. If I make my signature carrot cake for his first birthday, it will take three months just to test out each of the 14 ingredients. Additionally, our pediatrician said that most food allergies typically take several exposures and a few weeks to show up so it can be very difficult to pinpoint which food caused a reaction.
Second, it’s very unlikely Henry will be allergic to the vast majority of foods, especially meats, fruits and vegetables. I can understand being careful with foods that have a higher chance of allergen – for our family that’s shellfish, peanuts, and dairy. Overall, peanuts, tree nuts and seafood are the most likely foods to cause serious, even life-threatening, allergic reactions. We’ll be cautious with those foods, but otherwise the advice to introduce only one food at a time seems overly paranoid.
The other recommendations about which foods to start first are just suggestions. There are no hard rules that parents need to follow. It does not matter whether Henry starts with grains, meats, fruits or vegetables. Once he starts eating foods, it is most important to offer him a wide variety of delicious, healthy food.