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Feeding Babies and Young Children

Eating is much more than just nutrition. Feeding your baby or young child is the start of their relationship with food and eating. Read on to find out how to help your baby or young child learn healthy eating habits and have a healthy relationship with food and eating right from the start.


Feeding Tips

Feeding Your Baby (Birth to Six Months)

For the first six months babies need only breastmilk or, if not breastfeeding, infant formula. Breastfeeding can be continued up to two years and beyond or for as long as mom and baby would like along with the addition of solid foods.

For more information about Breastfeeding or to make an appointment at one of York Region's Breastfeeding Clinics call Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653.


Vitamin D

All babies need vitamin D

Vitamin D is important to develop and maintain strong bones. Vitamin D plays a role in protecting babies against rickets, a condition in which bones become soft, often leading to bowlegs and other bone problems. New research also suggests vitamin D may have other health benefits and protect against long-term diseases including some types of cancer, diabetes and immune disorders.

Why does my child need a vitamin D supplement?

All breastfed children under 24 months of age need extra vitamin D because they:

  • Are not exposed to direct sunlight. Babies under a year have sensitive skin and should be kept out of direct sunlight due to their increased risk of skin cancer
  • Usually do not get enough vitamin D from breastmilk, other drinks or food. There are only a few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, such as fatty fish, like salmon, sardines or herring, and egg yolks. In Canada, vitamin D is added to cow’s milk and margarine, and the industry has started adding vitamin D to plant-based beverages, like soy and almond, juices and some breakfast cereals

How much vitamin D should I give my baby?

  • All breastfed babies and young children receiving breastmilk should be given 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D each day until they are 24 months of age or their diet contains 400 IU of vitamin D
  • Babies who only drink commercial infant formula do not need vitamin D supplements because it is already added to the formula. If you are not sure if you should give your baby a vitamin D supplement, talk to your child’s health care provider
  • Make sure to give the vitamin D3 version. Other vitamin D products, including vitamin D2, are not recommended for babies. Cod liver oil also has vitamin D but is not recommended for babies because it is high in vitamin A, which can cause serious health problems at a young age

Can a breastfeeding mom take a vitamin D supplement instead of giving it to her child?

There is not enough research to recommend that breastfeeding mothers take a vitamin D supplement instead of giving it directly to their child.


Iron

Babies need iron for growth and development. Healthy, full-term babies have enough iron stored in their bodies for about the first six months. Breastmilk contains small amounts of iron. If you are not breastfeeding, it is important to provide your baby with infant formula.

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Introducing Solid Foods

Start offering iron-rich solid foods to your baby at about six months old. However, breastmilk or, if not breastfeeding, infant formula will still be the main source of nutrition for your baby in the first year. Breastmilk can continue to be an important source of nourishment for the older baby. Continue to breastfeed or feed breastmilk for up to two years and beyond or for as long as mom and baby would like.

Seat your baby in an upright position (not reclined) in a highchair or secured booster using a safety harness. If they cannot sit upright and they are less than six months old, they may not be ready for solid foods.

Solid Foods to Start

Start with iron-rich foods, such as:

  • Beef
  • Dark meat chicken
  • Legumes (beans, lentils)
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Iron-fortified tofu
  • Iron-fortified baby cereal (rice, barley, oat, wheat)

After you have introduced iron-rich foods, the order of introducing other foods does not matter. Begin to add fruits, vegetables, grain products and milk products such as yogurt and grated cheese.

For more information about feeding your baby, read the I am ready for solids booklet.

Getting Started

You can offer new foods each day to your baby, except for commonly allergenic foods (see below). Wait two days between offering commonly allergenic foods. Once you are offering iron-rich foods, there is no particular order for introducing other new foods. Let Canada's Food Guide be your guide and choose a variety of foods from all four food groups.

You may notice your baby’s bowel movements change texture, colour and odour when you begin to offer solid foods. This is normal. If you think your baby may be constipated, talk to your baby’s health care provider.

Food Allergies

The latest research suggests that there is no need to wait to introduce the most commonly allergenic foods to your baby. This is true even if there is a family history of allergies (e.g., baby’s mother, father or siblings have allergies).

The common allergenic foods include:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • sesame
  • soy
  • wheat

If your baby is allergic to a food, a reaction will most likely occur within the first 48 hours of eating that food. This is why it is recommended to wait two days between offering the foods on the commonly allergenic foods list. For foods that are not common allergens, there is no need to wait before offering a new food.

Foods Not to Offer Your Baby

Once your baby is about six months old you can offer all foods except fluid milk and honey. Don’t give honey before one year old, even if it’s pasteurized or cooked because it can make your baby sick.

Some foods can be a choking hazard and should not be given to your baby, for example:

  • Hot dogs that are not diced or cut lengthwise
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters on a spoon or spread thickly
  • Gum
  • Hard candies
  • Popcorn
  • Hard and stringy vegetables and fruit (e.g., raw celery, or pineapple)

Amount and Texture of Solid Foods

When starting solid foods, babies often eat only a small amount of food. It is important to follow their lead on how much to offer. Your baby knows how much to eat. See our Signs of Hunger and Fullness section or watch this video to know how much to offer.

Your baby may not need pureed food. Start with soft, lumpy, tender-cooked mashed, ground or minced food. Your baby will quickly learn to eat soft foods that are cut into small pieces. Offer thicker textures like scrambled eggs and ground or finely minced meat on a regular basis. Your baby may be ready to feed themselves small pieces of soft food and may be interested in holding a small spoon or fork. Eating with their fingers is a good way for baby to learn how to feed themselves.

Your baby may gag with new textures. Remember that gagging is not the same as choking. Gagging is a natural reaction to stop from choking and is common when babies are learning the new skill of eating solid foods. When introducing more texture, if your baby gags on lumpy purees, try small pieces of cut up food. Some babies will do better with pieces of food than with lumpy spoon-fed foods.

Work towards providing two to three larger feedings (meals) and one to two smaller feedings (snacks) a day.

Homemade and Store-Bought Baby Food

Here are some things to keep in mind when comparing homemade and store-bought baby food. When you purchase store-bought food it is important to read the ingredient list. Among the ingredients should be only the name of the food and possibly water, no added salt or sugar. Your baby does not need specialty baby food products like fruit squeeze pouches, rice rusks or toddler puffs. These can be a concern for dental health as well as prevent babies from being exposed to lumpier textures and the chance to learn to chew.

When you prepare food at home, you can control the texture of the food. Babies can eat the same food as the rest of the family. Homemade baby food is less expensive and you do not need special “baby food” equipment to make it.

Introducing Solid Foods The Regional Municipality of York en-US

Signs of Hunger and Fullness

It is important to learn your baby’s signs of hunger and fullness. Responding to your baby’s hunger and fullness cues will help your baby have a healthy relationship with food and become a good eater.

Your baby is showing he or she is hungry if he or she:

  • Opens his or her mouth when offered food on a spoon
  • Shows interest in eating
  • Leans towards food or spoon
  • Sucks his or her hands or smacks his or her lips

Your baby is showing he or she is full or doesn't want any more if he or she:

  • Pushes the spoon away
  • Keeps his or her mouth closed
  • Appears upset or disinterested
  • Spits food out
  • Turns his or her head away
  • Covers his or her mouth with hands

Watch this video to learn the signs of hunger and fullness of babies and young children.

Signs of Hunger and Fullness The Regional Municipality of York en-US

Feeding Your Older Baby (Six to 12 Months)

Feeding your older baby is not just about nutrition, it helps your baby to develop healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food.

Tips for Feeding Your Older Baby:

  • As they get older babies can feed themselves small pieces of foods. Let your baby also try eating with an infant spoon or a round-edge toddler fork.
  • Get your baby used to an open cup. Offer a small amount of breastmilk or water at meals and snacks. You can also offer a small amount of water between meals.
  • You can begin to offer fluid 3.25% (homogenized) cow’s milk as a drink between nine and twelve months if your baby is eating a variety of foods, including iron-rich foods such as beef, egg, beans, lentils, and iron-fortified tofu daily.
  • Be a good role model. Babies learn eating habits from parents and other family members.
  • Babies can be part of the family meal. Rather than feeding your baby first, eat together and share family foods.
  • A baby will want to eat what they see, so try to serve healthy foods most often and include vegetables and fruits at every meal.
  • By 12 months, your baby should be eating the same food as the rest of the family. You may need to make the texture of the food a bit softer than the family’s food.

How do I Know if Feeding is Going Well?

As long as you offer the food in a safe and responsive way by watching for your baby’s signs of hunger and fullness, your baby will be on their way to becoming a good eater. Trust that your baby knows how much they need to eat and drink and let your baby be your guide.

You will know that it is going well if:

  • Your baby is enjoying eating, discovering new foods and textures and continuing to drink breastmilk or infant formula well.
  • Your baby’s health care provider will measure your baby’s weight and length and mark their growth on a growth chart. This will help tell if your baby is growing well
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Feeding Your Toddler and Preschooler (One to Five Years)

Feeding toddlers and preschoolers meals and snacks can be a challenge. Children eat best if you and your child each have a role in feeding. It is important to know your role and the role of your child. Breastmilk can continue to be an important source of nourishment for the older baby. Continuing to breastfeed or feed breastmilk for up to two years and beyond or for as long as mom and baby would like.

Your role is to decide:

  • What foods to offer
  • When to feed your child
  • Where to feed your child

Your child’s role is to decide:

  • Which foods to eat (of the foods you offer)
  • How much to eat

By keeping to these roles, you will help your child to learn healthy eating habits. Learn more about common feeding challenges and solutions that will help you and your children enjoy mealtime.


Foods to Offer

Parents decide what food comes into the home and what is served to the family. Follow these tips when choosing your child’s food:

  • Offer foods from three to four food groups for meals
  • Offer foods from at least two food groups for snacks
  • Each meal should have at least one nutritious food you know your child likes, but don’t cook only your child’s favourite foods
  • Offer small portions of food; portions may be ¼ to ½ of a Canada's Food Guide Serving depending on your child’s age, for example, two to four tablespoons of cooked vegetables, ½ scrambled egg
  • Include finger foods as part of meals and snacks, especially when feeding a toddler under three years old. This encourages your child to feed themselves
  • Offering drinks in an open cup helps with your child’s development and can prevent them from drinking too much milk and juice. If you are just starting to offer an open cup, your child will need help at first. Try offering an open cup at every meal or snack

For more information about a variety of healthy food to offer your child, read the I am a healthy eater booklet and check out the choking prevention fact sheet and the Sample Four-Week Menu for a preschool-aged child.


When to Feed Your Child

Follow these tips when deciding when to feed your child:

  • Offer three meals and two to three snacks per day
  • Schedule meals and snacks two and a half to three hours apart
  • Offer water if your child is thirsty between meals and snacks
  • Young children who are breastfed can be breastfed or be offered breastmilk as a part of meal and snack times

Where to Feed Your Child

The best place to feed your child is at the family table. Offer meals and snacks when your child is comfortably seated and supervised. To help encourage healthy eating habits for a lifetime, make eating a social and enjoyable time.

It is important to eat together as a family, because:

  • You can be a good role model for your child in learning healthy eating habits
  • Children who regularly eat with the family eat healthy foods more often than children who do not. They are likely to eat more fruits and vegetables, more dairy foods and eat breakfast more often. They also consume less pop and fried foods and eat less fat overall
  • If you can, serve food in larger serving dishes at the table so children can choose as much as they want
  • You can let children help you prepare the meal or set the table

NOTE: If dinner time doesn't work for your family, get together for breakfast or lunch instead. Any time you can share a meal together will have a positive effect


Trust Your Child to Decide Which Foods to Eat

Children have their own food preferences and may decide not to eat certain foods. Unless your child refuses to eat any food from an entire food group for more than few days, your child will get the nutrition they need. Trust your child to decide which foods they eat of the food you offer.

Follow these tips to help your child accept a wider variety of foods:

  • Children learn to like foods if they see their family eating and enjoying it
  • Be patient, you may need to offer the new food more than 10 times before a child will learn to like it
  • Read storybooks about food to your child
  • Bring your child to the grocery store and shop together
  • Let your child help to prepare the food
  • Offer the new food along with a familiar one
  • If your child refuses the food, accept this answer. If you allow your child to say "no" to food, it helps them to feel free to say "yes" more often

Read the following brochures for more information about  what to do when your child does not drink milk, does not eat meat or does not eat vegetables and for tips on how to help your child become a good eater.


Trust Your Child to Decide how Much to Eat

Children know when they are hungry and when they are full. When children are hungry, they focus on eating; when full, their attention turns elsewhere. Trust your child to decide how much to eat.

Don’t pressure or reward your child to eat more, because:

  • When parents push their child to eat certain foods, children will like those foods less
  • A child may develop negative feelings about food and eating
  • Children can discover how to use food as a way to control their parents
  • A child may lose touch with their own inner signals of hunger and fullness

Your child’s appetite can change depending on:

  • Their activity level
  • Whether they are excited or tired
  • If they are in a growth spurt or not

To be sure you feed your child with the right amount of food:

  • Let your child decide whether they will eat or not and how much they will eat
  • Serve nutritious foods in an attractive, simple way
  • Leave food in front of a child for a reasonable time (about 15 to 20 minutes with a maximum of 30 minutes) and then remove it without comment

Avoid:

  • Reminding to eat more
  • Offering rewards or bribes for eating
  • Making special foods to tempt children
  • Allowing children to eat anything they want to make sure they eat something
  • Chasing after a child with a spoon to get them to eat
  • Criticizing or over-praising about how much or what types of foods are eaten

Watch this video to learn the signs of hunger and fullness of young children.


If you are Worried Your Child is Overweight

For the most part, the way your child grows depends on their genetics. However, healthy eating habits and regular physical activity can help children grow in a healthy way that is right for them. The best way to know if your child is overweight is to ask your child's doctor, who will check their weight history, body build and growth.

What parents can do:

  • Don’t put your child on a weight loss diet as they will become preoccupied with food and will likely eat too much whenever they get a chance
  • Whatever their size, encourage your child to enjoy eating healthy foods and being active
  • Help your child to feel good about themselves. Teach your child that the way they look is less important than character, health and happiness
  • Watch your own attitudes about weight and restrained eating. Show you accept your own body
  • Avoid making comments about your own and other people's bodies

For more information about a child’s weight, read A Parent's Guide to Children's Weight and Is my child growing well?


NutriSTEP Screening for Toddlers and Preschoolers

The Nutri-eSTEP online questionnaire is a simple way to find out if your child aged 18 months to 5 years is a healthy eater. It takes less than 10 minutes to complete! You will get feedback on what is going well for you and your child and tips on how to improve eating and activity habits. You can complete the questionnaire online by clicking on the Nutri-eSTEP link under External Resources below.

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