FAQ about Baby Feeding
I wanted to share some questions I have received from readers, and my answers on how I handled it with Pablo. Hope this can be helpful. Feel free to email me or leave a comment here if you have other questions!
MEALS / MEAN PLANS
Q: Is there a typical French breakfast? What do you eat in the morning to make it from 7 until noon or so without a snack?
A: French kids we know do eat breakfast around 7am and then hang snack-free in school until about noon (from age 3 on). At a younger age as well. One important thing is to allow enough time for a good breakfast. It’s not always easy to compromise between sleep and breakfast though, I know… But if you can allow a good 30 min for breakfast, all the better. There are variations, but most French families (us included) do cereal, a hot drink (milk or chocolate milk), and some toast or bread. I also give Pablo fruit (usually berries), as well as plain Greek yogurt (with a sprinkle of sugar and a sprinkle of wheat germs) high in protein. And a bit of orange juice (the only juice of the day). So that’s a pretty hearty breakfast that does make him last til lunch…
Q: When did you start introducing breakfast items and what did Pablo’s first breakfast “meals” look like?
A: I started Pablo on the organic oat flour for babies, around the same time I started the veggies, so around 5 months.Around 6 months, I started offering a bit of fruit puree (he didn’t have a lot though). I think around 8-9 months, I started introducing yogurt in general, and Greek yogurt in the morning to give him extra protein, with a sprinkle of sugar and a sprinkle of wheat germ (I have found it amazingly difficult to find full fat organic Greek Yogurt. I found one that was 2% that we used, Wallaby brand. And just recently, have found Strauss Dairy organic full fat Greek which is amazing). Shortly after, I started him on berries or kiwi, cut up small as finger foods (though blueberry skins were an issue at one point, but he was spitting them out, so we were OK.) Around that 8-9 mo, I found it useful to have a finger food to offer at every meal so as to let Pablo self-feed partially and be involved. So the fruit worked nicely for breakfast.
I must have added a tiny bit of fresh OJ around 12-13 months, and switched to regular oatmeal or other oat based organic cereal or ancient grain cereal that he could easily chew, for variety (I found a sort of cheerio looking cereal that’s organic and 100% oat, low in sugar, which Pablo likes a lot, including a chocolate version that doesn’t have any more sugar). And last, around 14 months, I started giving him a little bit of cereal or whole grain bread toast with butter if he wanted. (To this day, the bread comes last, I first serve the fruit, yogurt and cereal)
I must admit, French tend to be creatures of habit when it comes to breakfast, contrary to other meals, we tend to have the exact same thing every day… and traditionally, breakfast is on the sweet end, rarely includes eggs etc like here, perhaps only once in a while on the weekend. One of those cultural things… But if you enjoy them, after 12 months, eggs could replace the Greek yogurt once in a while for protein.
Q: What did your daily food plan look like when Pablo was 8 months old?
A: My feeding schedule around 8 mo would look more like:Breakfast: Milk, oat cereal, some fruit (compote at first, then first berries)
Lunch: Protein + veggie puree (after 8 mo, cheese and some fruit yogurt for dessert)Goûter : fruit compote
Dinner: Veggies only (after 8 mo, cheese and/or plain yogurt for dessert, veggie + protein around 9 mo)
Note also that around 8 months, as baby is working on the pincer grasp, I started to introduce finger foods as a first course, mostly in the form of veggies that can be easily gummed down (peas, pieces of squash, carrots, hearts of palm, etc.)
For more details, check out my 8-12 months section of Feeding Baby.
Q: How did you start to wean off moving into food? Do you still feed Pablo BM or formula? When do you do it? I read that at 6 months you started to introduce protein.
A: I started with 1 veggie a day at lunch around 4 ½ months (Around the same time, I introduced infant oatmeal at breakfast). Around 5 1/2 months, I started doing the fruit compote at snack time (4pm ish). Then around 6 months, I started protein+veggie purees at lunch, and shortly after maybe around 7 months, I started doing the veggie for dinner. Around 8 months, I added yogurt and cheese to lunch and dinner. Around 9 months, I did protein+veggie at dinner also. So his schedule started to be outlined this way with lunch, snack and dinner at the times they are at now, pretty much (12/1230p – 4/430p – 7pmish)
Also, check out the 4-6 months and 6-8 months sections.
Q: Where do you get your ideas for main courses? You mentioned some of your mom’s recipes – are these “in your head” or do you rely on any cookbooks for inspiration? If so, which ones? Do you have any other tips for fitting in cooking to a busy week?
A: A combination of sources: food blogs (check out my blog roll, lots of wonderful sources of recipes), some cook books I have (mostly French, some in English), some recipes I improvise, and just dishes we’ve made for a long time. I try to share a lot of recipes from French cookbooks on the blog to make them more accessible, and I will make a better effort of putting the prep and cook times in the recipes. But I think the most helpful thing I started doing, was having a weekly meal plan. It remains flexible, and we go off it sometimes as we need to, but it takes away the stress of “what are we eating tonight?”, you can shop ahead of time and know you’re eating a good variety of things. I would definitely give that a try, even for maybe one or two nights a week at first, and see how it works for you. Another thing I would recommend is CSA deliveries and/or farmer’s markets, buying local (organic if possible) produce and coming up with recipes based on what you find, is a good way to eat fresh and seasonal… I post our menus every week, so you may want to browse through the menus for some ideas as well… You will see that most meals may sound “fancy” but are actually pretty easy, maybe 20-25 mn prep at the most.
Q: How do you make your fruit compotes?
A: Yes, it really is as simple as steaming or boiling and pureeing, mix and match different fruits, you can do it from fresh or frozen. In winter, you can mix frozen berries with fresh apple or pear. A few readers have asked me to post a recipe, so I will do that very soon.
Q: In regards to cheese: do you give your son the unprocessed kind of cheese? Or what age should you introduce a baby/toddler that kind of cheese?
A: I do sometimes give raw milk cheeses, as well as fresh and aged cheeses, it’s a mix of raw milk and pasteurized cheeses, I just try to pick flavorful cheeses, and avoid bland stuff like string mozzarella. Pablo really likes goat and sheep’s milk cheeses, which also happen to be easier to digest for some babies who have a hard time digesting cow milk. As far as age, obviously check with your pediatrician, as raw cheese and milk are highly debated and it’s worth a little research. I personally chose to start Pablo on all cheeses, raw and otherwise, around 8 mo, one kind at a time for a few days like any other new food, to make sure he digested it OK. I do see great benefits to raw dairy and we consume raw milk as well. When I post our weekly menus (almost every week), I list what cheeses we’re rotating that week if you want to have some ideas, and you can look back from 13 months.
Q: How does milk play into your feeding schedule?
A: Every kid is different and you should definitely check with your pediatrician, depending on your child’s age. That being said, here’s what I know. Most children in France over 2 1/2 to 3 years old, only drink one bottle or cup (about 8 oz) of milk, in the morning, but they do eat extensive amount of dairy (cheese at lunch and dinner, yogurt once or twice a day) the rest of the day. They actually give some equivalencies, i.e. a yogurt or 1 to 1.5 oz of cheese equals about 5 oz of milk. From 12 mo on, my pediatrician told me to give Pablo a max of 16-18 oz a day (not to exceed 20) in 2 or 3 feedings (for a child who’s not that fond of milk, that quantity can be achieved with yogurt, cheese or other dairy, with equivalency above). After 12 months, if they drink more than 16/18 oz of milk, they may eat less at mealtimes and get less of the nutrients they need from real food. At 18 months, I gave Pablo 3 bottles a day, 8 oz in the morning (I’ll give him some before breakfast, and the rest after, so he still has an appetite for breakfast), 4 oz after lunch before his afternoon nap, and 4 oz at night. At 23 months, we’re transitioning to 2 bottles a day (early morning, and evening). I have to say Pablo is VERY attached to his milk, still, not so much out of hunger, but it’s very comforting for him. When he asks/signs for it before it’s time, I do tell him gently he’ll have it a bit later. I wasn’t able to continue nursing past 12 months, but I know it is usually recommended, if you do, to nurse at set times and no longer on demand past 12 months, for those same reasons, it would amount to snacking and would affect their nutrition. For us, milk has definitely been a balancing act as far as the timing with the meals. (Sometimes, it seems he wants his milk right before dinner for example, and it doesn’t keep him from eating the rest of his food.) I definitely have to pull the reins and give him milk at set times and quantities, otherwise Pablo would drink a lot more milk, and eat less at mealtimes.
Q: How did you balance the introduction of solids with the milk bottles?
A: Before 12 months, food is only to familiarize baby to solids (taste, texture, spoon, finger eating etc), while milk is the primary source of nutrition until 12 months. This helps deal with quantities of food to give, basically whatever baby wants is fine. (I started with a couple of spoons, up to about 1 oz portion at 6 months, and 2 oz around 8 months.) I kept the milk and the solid introduction sort of parallel. I tried not to give milk within an hour of the solid meal when it could be worked out that way. His milk feeding schedule shifted quite a bit with naps, etc, and I tried to follow a cue-based schedule, meaning I didn’t set a fixed schedule, and I didn’t go completely all over the place either, I structured a flexible schedule around Pablo’s cues and naps. Quantities of milk vary a lot among babies, so definitely check with your pediatrician on that… I did milk on demand until about 4 months, then it worked itself out to 4 milk feedings a day by about 5 months. Between 12-22 months, Pablo drank 16 oz of milk (whole raw milk is my preference) a day, split in 3 feedings (morning, before afternoon nap, before dinner 8 + 4 + 4 oz). I had to do some trial and error on the timing of the milk so as not to spoil his appetite. Giving him the milk in 4 oz increments helped. My pediatrician said 16 oz was the recommended quantity between 12 and 24 mo, anything above that affects the eating of solid foods (which they need nutritionally at that point, milk is no longer enough), and anything below that might affect calcium intakes, though cheese, yogurt and any dairy product count toward that number, so if a child isn’t crazy about milk, you can easily compensate with those. At about 22-23 months, Pablo is transitioning to 2 bottles a day (early morning & evening, between 12-16 oz total), and his food intake has increased as a result.
Q: When you first began giving him purees to sample, what was your method for feeding him? did you feed him 1oz or a taste of a puree at meal time along side a bottle/breast milk? Did you gradually increase the serving size between 4 and 6 months or stay with 1oz tastes?
A: Basically the way I did it, was to start introducing 1 vegetable at lunch time, for us around 12/12:30pm. At first I made 1 oz batches, and he ate only a couple of spoons. I really followed his lead and cues, and he slowly increased his intake. I believe he started taking 2 oz around 6-7 months. After I had gotten him started with a few vegetables, I started to introduce 1 fruit at snack time, around 4:30pm, same thing, a couple of spoons at first, following his cues. Basically slowly establishing the feeding schedule we have now and will have for the years to come, breakfast, lunch, snack at 430p, dinner, with no snacking at all in-between meals. I added the dinner meal around 7-8 months, with vegetables only at first, then added protein to lunch, then added protein to dinner (around 9 months). Since the milk is the primary source of nutrition until 12 months, the point of feeding them solids from 4-5 mo to 12mo is not for nutrition, but to introduce them to flavors, textures, eating with a spoon, etc. If you look at it this way, you can really relax about quantities and follow the baby’s cues. I kept the milk schedule as it was regardless of the “meals”. It varied quite a bit along with the naps from 4 months to 12 months, but I would try as much as possible to give him the milk at least 1 hr before or after the feeding.
Q: What order that you tried the first purées?
A: I started with green beans, and did leeks/potato shortly thereafter, as well as zucchini/potato, winter squash, and peas (though peas were the only one I gave him store-bought, because I was never able to make a smooth enough pea puree from frozen peas, the skins of the peas would somehow always remain, perhaps my processor wasn’t powerful enough…). You can also do lettuce (butter, watercress, endive, etc.) with potato, a good one for the very beginning.
+ See the 4-6 months section.
Q: I noticed in your recipe list a custard. When does the FSP [French association of pediatricians] suggest introduction of eggs and is it different if there is an egg allergy in the family?
A: The FSP recommends half a yolk at 7-8 months, a full yolk between 9-12 mo, and a whole egg after 12months (That is pretty much what I’ve followed myself, though I read that it was OK to introduce a whole egg from about 10 months in a cake, or a cooked preparation with other ingredients.)
They say very little about egg allergies, mostly about peanut or milk allergies with family history, and generally recommend, depending on gravity of allergy family history, to wait until after 12 months, and to introduce very gradually and in very small quantities, with pediatrician’s guidance.
Q: What do you do for liquids? Does Pablo drink water?
A: I only give Pablo water, I don’t do juice at all, with the exception of a little bit of OJ with breakfast, and I started that around 10-12 months. (I did do a little bit of diluted prune juice the couple of times he was constipated around 5-6 mo). He didn’t drink much water at first, but I kept offering. And he increased his intake on his own.Q: Do you give him any additional cereals (than at breakfast)?
A: I don’t give any additional cereals except breakfast, not counting of course rice, quinoa, sometimes millet or barley, as a side dish or included in a recipe.
Q: Do you give Pablo much fruit purees (in those first months 6-1y)?
I usually do for afternoon snack, still to this day (23 mo). So around 4:30/5 pm, I give him all kinds of fruit purees, either homemade (steam, puree, freeze) or this is the only thing I buy in jars occasionally for
convenience, the organic fruit purees, as long as it’s only one or two fruit and nothing else strange is mixed in there (no broccoli blueberry apple for us!)
When he was 6-9 mo, I offered a bit of fruit puree in the morning at breakfast as well, then just switched to fresh fruit when he was able to chew it and digest it.Q: What is your opinion on giving of fresh fruit juices throughout the day?
If you’re in a place where there are lots of delicious fresh exotic fruit juices, it is definitely a better choice than the processed juices we have here. But I would still be careful, because fruit juices are high in sugar with no fiber to compensate, and I would consume them in moderation, at certain set times (it is a snack of sorts), not on demand throughout the day so as not to spoil the appetite for the meals, and I would generally favor eating the fresh fruit over just the juice. Children get “addicted” to sugar so easily, and then it’s hard to go back. Also, I put the emphasis on drinking water with the meals so as not to create the habit of having nothing but sweet drinks. In France, juices are served as a special treat for children. I think the best way to quench thirst should remain water (perhaps this way you appreciate the fresh juices all the more when you have them?)
For younger babies (6-12 mo), I did find that a bit of prune juice (diluted in water, about 1 oz total), helped with constipation. But so did mango or prune purees/compotes.
Q: How do I feasibly start menu planning lunches?
A: Lunches I often do easy things like a salad with mixed raw or precooked cold veggies as above, and then sardines, or smoked salmon, or tofu (which I simply warm up a bit), or leftover cold chicken. Or pan-fried things, like pan-fried ground beef patty, or an egg. Q: How do you balance preparing the foods and providing variety? Any practical advice on how to get organized for meals?
A: Meal planning. Make a weekly meal plan, paying attention to having lots of different colors vegetables. Plan on dedicating maybe 1 hour to 90 minutes a couple of times a week to make stuff ahead. Examples: Make a big batch of vegetable soup that you can have for a couple of dinners (or freeze for later), make a big batch of a vegetable jardinière. And steam or boil green beans, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli. Meanwhile, make batches of purees for your younger one and freeze them so all you have to do is pull it out and reheat for his/her lunch or dinner. Have tomato, cucumber, hearts of palm on hand to mix and match with just a drizzle of olive oil and lemon or vinegar. Also, every few days, I make enough quinoa, rice or vegetable pasta to have leftover, so I can add it in easily cold for lunches.
Q: You never seem to to eat leftovers (occasionally I see you list them, but not very frequently)…do you always just make the exact amount for the meal, or do you ever freeze things?
A: We do have some, but not a ton. Because of our meal plan, I try to make just enough for a meal, unless I planned otherwise. Leftover chicken will be eaten for lunch the next day, often we have leftover soup or grated carrots (a couple of servings), that sort of thing, we’ll just have it for the next lunch. We do freeze some things, like chicken basquaise, or purees. Comes in handy for those improvised nights.
Q: How much do you spend on food each week?
A: It varies from week to week, but I guess we’re somewhere around 200-300 a week for a family of 4. CSA delivery is great.
Q: How do you manage to cook for every meal, do you get burned out?
A: I do have my mom helping me, which is priceless. But cooking has become quite therapeutic for me, and the meals are some of our favorite moments of the day. So that makes the logistics around the meals easier to handle. You’ll notice that our lunches are usually not that involved, just a salad and something cooked very quickly, there’s rarely more than 15 mn prep for lunch (unless I do something a bit more involved to post on the blog). That being said, leftovers for lunch are a great time saving option for sure. I hope that answers your questions… Cooking for every meal can be a tall order, so you have to find a balance that works for your family and keeps you happy.
SELF-FEEDING, DEALING WITH ISSUES
Q: What are your methods with feeding babies food when they are old enough to want to feed themselves. Do you just serve one course of finger foods and then serve the rest with eating utensils? At what age do you start letting your baby feed himself?
A: Pablo was obviously fed by us at first, when we started solid foods around 5 months.
Around 8 months, when they start to work on pincer grasp and fine motor skills, is when I started giving him a “first course/finger food” so he could practice. At first, I did put it directly on his high chair tray. (I introduced a plate I believe around 12-13 months. Because it was a novelty, at first he kept turning it over with all its content – yikes. That lasted a few weeks, we kept telling him that wasn’t OK, the plate was made to stay on the tray and eat out of, and after the novelty passed, he stopped doing it.)
He did have a testing phase around 13-15 months of dropping food on the floor to see our reaction, same thing, we made sure to calmly but firmly say that wasn’t OK (“I can’t let you throw food on the floor”), and the phase passed. I think what helped also is how good a time he was having at the table, interacting with us, enjoying his food etc.
So from 8-10 months, even though I gave him a spoon he could chew on, I was still feeding him the real soft stuff, puree, yogurt etc. Because he could touch, grab, feel the finger foods, he didn’t mind being fed the rest. Also the cheese, which I serve after the main course, made a good finger food. From around 11 months, I would also have him practice spooning soft food (with help) if he showed interest.
On his own, he started to get really interested in using fork and spoon around 14-15 months, and from 20 months, he’s been getting fairly proficient at it (he can eat soup with a spoon himself, though a fair bit of soup gets on the bib). That’s the other thing, in order to leave him some freedom without having to change him 4 times a day, I got those long sleeves plastic bibs with a pouch for him, so he can get a bit messy. That being said, he never did put lots of food in his hair etc.
Q: How do the French handle self-feeding of babies/toddlers?
I am a bit more lenient that most French on this issue, most French feed the kids until quite late, and don’t let them “play” with their food or eat with fingers. I personally thought it was important to establish, around 8 months, a sensory connection to food, give the baby a chance to experience it with his senses. I encourage smelling the food and comment on how it looks and tastes (and even sounds of things cooking and such), so touching it too makes sense. Of course, that would not be OK at 3, but I think kids have less interest in playing with food at 3, if they could do it at 8 months…I also didn’t want to bring power struggles to the table, especially with using utensils. So I let him come to them naturally, and he did, wanting to do like us.
The other positive thing about them feeding themselves, is babies know when they’re full, and they know how to listen to their body, and I wanted to encourage and nurture that as much as possible. But doing partial spoon feeding, as well as self-feeding with fingers or utensils, worked for us, and he was still able to know when he was full. Probably also because the 4 course format makes us eat slower and gives us more of a chance to know when we are full. I learned from my son on that one, as I have a tendency to eat way too fast, and had to be careful not to feed him too fast. I think they naturally like to chew for a long time when they’re babies, so I tried to let him take his time and not rush him.
He doesn’t eat spotlessly, but it’s not a disaster either. I had to find my own limit at how much messiness I could handle and go from there, while keeping my expectations of my son realistic and age appropriate, developmentally speaking.
I guess it’s always a fine balance each family has to find between what works for baby and meets his needs, and what works for us as parents. Juggling about having realistic expectations of what our children can do, and at the same time being aware of what we can and cannot deal with (I wouldn’t be too happy about yogurt hair, for example ;-))
Q: How often do you have to reintroduce foods to your child? Example: I intro celery root puree to my clan(15 month old & 6 year old twin boys) this past week with mixed reactions…when does a veggie like that make a reappearance into their meal?
A: Fairly often. If Pablo seems to reject a food, I usually keep a little to get him to taste it again the next day or soon after, because a lot of the time, it’s not so much that he doesn’t like the taste, but that he’s not in the mood, or not that hungry at that moment. Otherwise, I try reintroducing the food maybe the following week in a different setting. Celery root can be awesome in soups to try. I recently did a celery root, apple, sunchokes soup, or celery root/fennel/apple, or maybe just celery root, Yukon potato and apple (or pear would be worth a try). I can provide simple recipes if you’d like. With your older boys, might be fun to include them in a search for a cool recipe with celery root (or other new food) + i think celery roots look kind of cool, all gnarly, this might spark their interest as well in the preparing processQ: What do you do if at any point he just refused to TRY certain foods?
A: Food refusal. First, you may want to check out this post I wrote a while ago with some of my strategies. Otherwise, basically, my MO is 1/ to stay cool and nonchalant about it, not make too big a deal, not stress out and avoid power struggles around food 2/ keep trying, keep offering, being creative with the way I offer it. You could get a kid to taste a soup by dipping a piece of bread in it, or for younger ones, by being playful and silly with it, or by making a dish that’s fun to eat, or presenting the food in a different way (for that vegetable custards, soups and gratins are great, they make vegetable taste great), also for older kids, involving them in the cooking, maybe researching recipes together, going to the market, growing some herbs, stuff where they can participate and be engaged is always helpful, 3/ keep gently coaxing the child to try, as one of Karen Le Billon’s great rules, you don’t have to like it, but you have to try it…
Q: Did Pablo ever go through a phase where he didn’t like certain textures, only wanted one type of thing, would only eat a few bites of something you made and then beg to get down from the table?
Check out this post with 7 strategies which could be helpful. My first instinct response would be: keep cool and stay the course. Don’t stress out too much if you can, remember that infants do not starve themselves, this is just a phase. I would continue offering what we eat, stick to the 4 meals and no more, and just try to be as nonchalant about it as possible (I know, it’s hard!), don’t jump to conclusions that she’s picky or doesn’t like something… Don’t let it ruin your meals, you continue enjoying your meals as a model..
Also, I know that around 12 months, their nutritional needs shift quite a bit, growth is getting slower in the 2nd year, so it might have something to do with that too, baby may not need the same quantities or the same foods. Also, milk have anything to do with it. I had to adjust the quantity of milk Pablo was drinking around the 12 mo mark (my pediatrician gave me the 16 oz guideline), which took some trial and error and adjustments with quantity and timing of milk bottles, as Pablo does love his milk. But it definitely affects appetite…