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What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler

New to parenting? Here are the nutrition basics you need to know.

How Much Is Enough?

The first few weeks of eating solid foods is more about becoming accustomed to spoon-feeding than meeting nutrient needs. After all, your baby is learning to negotiate food that he must keep in his mouth, work toward the back, and swallow.

Tanner-Blasiar says you should expect your child to eat only one or two teaspoons at a sitting during the first week or so.

"When you begin your baby on solid foods, he is still getting the majority of his nutrition from breast milk or infant formula, so he won't eat much else," she says.

Older infants may try to feed themselves. It makes for messy meals, but self-feeding encourages the development of a child's fine motor skills. As he nears the 1-year mark, offer your baby water, breast milk or formula from a "sippy" cup to help self-feeding skills along.

Baby Knows Best

"Children are born knowing how to regulate their food intake," says Tanner-Blasiar. "It's a parent's job to respect their child's instincts."

Overfeeding encourages children to override their inborn ability to eat when hungry and stop when full, which may encourage a pattern of overeating that leads to an unhealthy weight.

Infants as young as 6 months are capable of expressing their interest in eating. How will you know he's had enough? Here are some of the telltale signs:

  • Swatting at the spoon
  • Turning his head away from the spoon
  • Pursing his lips tight when the spoon comes his way
  • Spitting out every spoonful you manage to get in his mouth
  • Crying.

If your child seems disinterested in solids when you first offer them, wait a few days and try again. Some children take more time than others to come around to eating from a spoon. While some are consistently poor eaters, most babies eat what they need to thrive.

"If your child is growing and developing in a way that satisfies his doctor, and he is healthy and energetic, then his intake is adequate," Kleinman says.

Toddler Time

After age 1, most children don't need infant formula for good nutrition, but you may continue to breastfeed for as long as you and your baby want. Now's the time for baby to give up the bottle, if he hasn't already. Children can have full-fat cow's milk or fortified soy beverages to drink from a sippy cup.

With the exception of reduced-fat milks, your child can eat nearly any food after age 1 as long as it's in a form that's safe for him, such as pureed or finely chopped. A family history of allergies makes certain foods off-limits for some toddlers. Check with your pediatrician about your child's special needs.

Toddlers tend to be erratic eaters. Growth spurts, painful teething, and illnesses all contribute to their fickleness about food. So does a general fascination with their surroundings and with their newfound physical prowess. Many times, toddlers are more interested in pulling themselves to a standing position or learning a new word than with eating. One thing's for sure: toddlers eat when they are hungry.

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