What I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Feeding Babies and Toddlers


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Source: Steward Masweneng | Unsplash
Source: Steward Masweneng | Unsplash

Introducing a baby to solid foods is no small feat. You have to learn about the risks of choking, what to do in the case of allergies, adapt to any digestion issues and—not least of all—deal with a ton of mess. But if you let those things stress you out too much, they can keep you from enjoying the fun of seeing your baby discover the wide world of solid foods and shout “yummy!” for the first time. Here are some of the valuable lessons I learned—the hard way—about feeding babies and toddlers.

What I Wish I’d Known About Baby and Toddler Feeding

You don’t have to commit to only one feeding method

When I was getting ready to introduce food to our child, it seemed like all my parent friends were raving about baby-led weaning (BLW), which is a method of feeding in which you let babies feed themselves from a young age (between 4-6 months). The term is a little misleading because you’re not weaning them off of breastmilk or formula when you start it, but the general gist is that it helps babies become more independent eaters. Some of the purported benefits include raising less picky eaters (because babies are introduced to a wider variety of flavors and textures) and, contrary to what it might seem, lowering a baby’s risk of choking (because they become more adept at eating). 

I liked the idea of this and referred to Solid Starts for advice. They have a great app with tons of different foods on it and recommendations about serving them to babies and toddlers. While I don’t regret doing this at all, I did initially think of it as an “all or nothing” thing. Either you were feeding purées from a spoon like your mom did back in the ‘90s, or you were going the “cool route” and giving your infant giant spears of watermelon and chicken drumsticks. 

What I came to decide is that it was not practical for us to commit to BLW only. It’s super messy, our child wasn’t always into it, and relatives wanted an easier method when helping out. So we did it sometimes, and spoon-fed her other times. Now, I am not a feeding expert so take this with a grain of salt, but our child turned out to be a great eater. I’ve since talked to friends who were anxious because they wanted to do BLW but their daycare/nanny wasn’t open to it, and I want to tell them all it’s probably going to be fine to mix-and-match.

Use a full-coverage bib for baby and toddler feeding

Despite warnings from seasoned parents, I was still not prepared for the sheer amount of mess that feeding babies creates, especially if you’re letting them feed themselves. After ruining a few cute shirts, we started to take off all of our child’s clothing except for her diaper before meals. While this isn’t the worst method, I sometimes worried she was cold, and it was a hassle to undress her just to re-dress her again. That said, we did have a great silicone bib from Loulou Lollipop that catches food as babies eat it. 

We now use a full-coverage bib from Bibrella, which is made out of water-resistant polyester and completely covers her arms, chest, and lap. It closes in the back with Velcro and can be easily taken on and off and thrown in the washing machine. The only time I questioned using it was when we were eating outside in the height of summer, as it seemed like it might be a little too hot. But then, what better time to shed their clothes altogether?

Invest in a good vacuum

We have a weird setup in our home where the carpet extends into the dining area. To try to keep the mess off our carpet, we purchased a fabric floor covering, but it was so unsightly that I hated looking at it. So, we rearranged our layout so that the highchair was on the tile. This required buying a new table, but we found one on Facebook Marketplace for under $100 and it was well worth it.

A few months later, we were gifted a Dyson cordless vacuum. With different models ranging from about $300-$1,000, they are not cheap. But if you have the budget, or an opportunity to ask for a bigger ticket gift, they are worth it for how light, portable, quiet, and effective they are. Not having to lug a heavy machine around and find an outlet for it has motivated me to vacuum far more often.

baby and toddler feeding
Source: Vanessa Loring \ Pexels

Have feeding supplies at multiple people’s houses if needed

We live close to my extended family, so our child goes to their houses a lot. What we quickly learned is that lugging the travel highchair, bib, and baby utensils back and forth between their homes and ours was a giant pain. Not to mention, half the time we’d forget something. One of my relatives bought a $30 IKEA highchair, while another one got a hand-me-down highchair from a friend. I also gave them extra utensils and bibs, and it made baby and toddler feeding there so much easier

Know that solids can really mess with a child’s digestion

It’s unfortunately super common for babies to experience digestion issues and constipation when they start eating solids, and it can be really stressful to troubleshoot. Don’t be alarmed if this happens, but also don’t give up on trying different things and continuing to pester your pediatrician. None of the initial advice I got from doctors was helpful (I’m sure it was for other people, just not for us), and it was very frustrating to feel like we were doing everything “right” without getting results. Of course, there are some common things every parent should be mindful of: offering lots of fiber in the form of fruits, veggies and whole grains, and making sure your child gets physical activity, for instance. Giving them lots of water helps too, but this is easier said than done when they’re still learning how to drink from a cup. 

What we ended up doing is using over-the-counter medication (which was recommended by a doctor) and feeding bottles with 90% water and just a tiny splash of juice to make sure she was hydrated. Full disclosure: this goes against advice from pediatric dentists, who would say to never put juice in a bottle. So by no means am I saying this is what everyone should do, but we were desperate. She wouldn’t drink the water otherwise, and it did seem to help. We also offered water in a cup every day, but she drank way less of it that way. It’s always good to check with your doctor first before doing anything.

Be mindful of heavy metals in certain foods

I don’t want to overly freak out parents about safe foods, because there are a lot of factors that go into determining how at risk they are (like, eating something once in a while is very different than three times a day). Still, it’s worth knowing that recent reports have found that some baby foods contain concerning levels of heavy metals. However, it’s important to note that it was mostly an issue in certain kinds of foods (rice puffs and rice crackers for instance), and that homemade baby food is as likely to contain heavy metals as store-bought. The reason for this is that certain kinds of foods just tend to have more of these substances in them. According to Consumer Reports, “Rice, for example, is more likely to pick up inorganic arsenic, the most harmful form of that element, and spinach can absorb high levels of cadmium.” Potatoes can also be a risk, but washing and peeling them helps. The Consumer Reports article contains a number of helpful tips about which foods to avoid. Even so, I let our daughter eat some of these foods on occasion (and have never met a toddler who didn’t love rice puffs), But after learning about the risks, we were mindful to keep it to an occasional snack.

Have realistic expectations about portions

If your baby is not that into solids, keep in mind that they really don’t need to eat that much solid food. Breastmilk or formula should still be an infant’s primary source of nutrition before they’re one. Once they get into toddler stage, the portions still might be far smaller than you think. The Instagram account @kids.eat.in.color, which is run by registered dietician Jennifer Anderson, has great guidance on portion sizes, nutrition, and other feeding info. For example:

Be patient

If your baby loves food the first time they try it, that is great news. This was not the case for me. When we first started offering our baby food at six months, she was deeply uninterested and it stressed me out a lot. Mainly, it just felt so tedious to wrangle her into the highchair only for her to consume a teaspoon of avocado. It’s also simply not satisfying to feed someone who isn’t excited to eat. Still, we kept slogging through the effort because I had read that it’s important to expose babies to different foods and allow them to practice eating.

Eventually, a little after she turned one something shifted, and she began to show more and more enthusiasm for eating solids. Nowadays, she is, without exaggeration, more obsessed with food than any toddler I know. (It’s actually wild—even other parents comment on it). Is this tedious in another way? Absolutely. But ultimately, I’m grateful she’s getting lots of good nutrients, and it’s fun to see how much she loves to eat.

A Comprehensive Guide to Feeding Your Baby Solids
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