Feeding young children can be a perplexing process, particularly when you're new to parenting.
To help guide you through the first few years of your child's life, WebMD asked several experts to give us the low-down on feeding basics for infants and toddlers. They discussed when, what, and how much to feed your child up to age 3.
When to Start Solid Foods
Your infant seems hungrier, and you're wondering whether it's time for more than breast milk or formula.
"In nearly all healthy children, 4 to 6 months is the recommended age for starting solid foods," says Ronald Kleinman, MD, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Age is just one criteria for judging a child's readiness, however.
"A child's motor skills and stage of development also help determine when they are ready for solid foods," says Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RD, a pediatric nutrition expert and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Before you offer solid foods, your baby should be capable of holding his or her head up, says Tanner-Blasiar. In addition, your infant should no longer have the "extrusion reflex", which causes babies to push anything but liquid out of their mouths. Losing that instinctive urge allows a child to more readily accept spoonfuls of infant foods.
Baby, Let's Eat!
What's on the menu for baby's first meal? Would you believe pureed meat is OK?
"Rice cereal is a customary and safe first food, but most babies can tolerate a variety of foods, including pureed meats," says Kleinman.
While meat is often reserved for older infants, there's no reason to wait.
"There is no scientific evidence that supports introducing foods in a particular order," such as rice cereal, vegetables, fruits, and finally, meat, according to Kleinman.
Pureed meats, such as beef and lamb, provide iron in a form that is highly available to your baby's body. Iron is critical to brain development, and it ferries oxygen to every body cell. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says older infants are among those most affected by iron deficiency. Infant cereals fortified with iron are another good choice for baby.
In fact, the AAP suggests that -- beginning at 4 months of age -- partially breastfed infants (more than half of their daily feedings as human milk) who are not receiving iron-containing complementary foods should receive 1 mg/kg per day of supplemental iron.