For solid foods, let baby take charge

In the long-ago 1950s, infants started “opening wide for Maypo” at about 6 months old. According to the TV commercials, Maypo, a maple-flavored oatmeal mush, was “delicious and nutritious” and could help even the most stubborn infant make the transition from milk to solid food.

In the infamous 1956 commercial, a frustrated dad gets his little one to believe the spoon carrying the Maypo is an airplane waiting to enter the child’s mouth (the airplane hangar, of course). A few baby boomers will admit to adopting this tactic 20 to 30 years later with their own kids.

Many parents still start their infants off with cereal grains between 4 and 6 months old. But cereal grains have fallen completely out of favor with many moms. The latest trend, it seems, is to start right in on fruits, vegetables and meat as soon as an infant shows any interest in solid food.

“It’s all about meat, fat and high-nutrient vegetables,” says Lynsey Shimala of Cape Elizabeth, who has two children, 7 months and 21?2 years old. Shimala says she had been told that breast-fed babies didn’t need any solid foods before 6 months old, so she wasn’t in a hurry to introduce them. But when Shimala’s son grabbed a piece of roasted asparagus from her plate when he was 51?2 months old, she figured it was safe to try adding solids to his meals. She started mashing up potatoes and avocadoes and pureeing whatever other vegetables and meats she and her husband were having for dinner that night.

Something Shimala has never done is gone to the grocery store to buy baby food. According to a New York Times story in 2015, the sale of processed baby foods has declined 40 percent in the last 10 years. Citing a study, the story also says that about one-third of moms now make their own baby food. (The hipster moms interviewed for that story were cooking up quinoa and pomegranate to feed to their infants).

While she doesn’t consider those little jars of baby food “lazy food” like some purists do, Shimala says she sticks to low-cost, convenient, homemade foods for her babies.

“I’ve never bought baby food,” she says. “It’s fine, but I’ve just never felt the need to.”

When to start introducing solid food? Experts say an infant is ready for solid food if she can sit up without support and hold her head up. Having your infant grab for food or show a real interest in the food other family members are eating is usually a good indicator. In fact, showing an interest in solid food is important so as to avoid picky eater symptoms later on.

For some new moms, one of the latest trends to help children avoid food phobias is called “baby-led weaning.” Initially, an array of soft fruits and vegetables are offered to the child, who is allowed to decide which items to pick from the plate, as well as how much to eat. Harder foods and meats are lightly cooked to make them easy to gum. Water is offered in a bottle or sippy cup. Food is never spooned into the baby’s mouth.

For those who worry about the baby popping a chunk of meat into her mouth and choking, relax. Apparently the gag reflex is closer to the front of the mouth in infants and causes them to expel food well before it can be swallowed.

Still, many parents, too nervous to adopt this routine, stick to spooning softer foods until their child is at least 9 months old. Cindy Smith, a board-certified lactation consultant in Windham, says solid foods should be introduced gradually. Smith, in fact, says breast milk is the gold standard for the first six months and that a child can go without solid foods for most of the first year without any harm.

“There’s lots of ways to introduce solid food,” she says.

Letting your infant lead the way seems to be the philosophy behind all these trends. Otherwise, the airplane has absolutely no chance of making it into the hangar.

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