Q&A: From Karmel to Pediatrician…HELP!

I often get questions regarding meal plans and infant feeding guidelines. Here’s one from a mom in Pretoria:

MOM:  Please advise on suitable foods for a 6 month old? I have the Annabel Karmel app for baby recipes etc, but according to the baby clinic I take my baby to, some of the foods she uses in her recipes aren’t suitable for a baby until 8 or 9 months, yet it says 6-9 months with no breakdown of what you give your 6 month old or so forth.

This solid feeding thing is soooo confusing at times. I am not very imaginative when it comes to food, so prefer a guideline as to what is right and what is wrong to feed a 6 month old or even some ideas would be much appreciated.

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RESPONSE: This is such a relevant question on so many levels.  I may sound like a broken record, and I know this doesn’t help with the confusion, but please remember that there are many different ways to introduce solids. As first time moms, I often feel we are bumped around from expert to expert (or over-opinionated-loud-mouthed-know-it-all to completely opposing over-opinionated-loud-mouthed-know-it-all), often feeling guilty or unsure along the way.  Confusion is a horrible place to land.

First I’d like to comment on the Annabel Karmel recipe book (and yes, I’m feeling a bit giddy to throw in my expert opinion next to hers—wink, wink).  I think her book of recipes is a wonderful addition to a feeding plan, but I don’t believe it’s the proper place to start.  When it comes to solids AT THE START, things are a bit boring and slow. To have a recipe entitled “Butternut” and the ingredients: “butternut” and the cook time “until soft, then puree with still water” would probably make Annabel Karmel giggle.  So she skipped the boring and went right to the gourmet (and frankly right to the “let’s make moms who can’t cook feel guilty” although I don’t believe that was her intention).  I will dive further into using her cookbook below, but let’s start with: Where to Start.

3Day Wait Rule – I recommend using the 3-day wait rule, where you introduce a new food every 3 days, in small amounts.  This ensures that baby can stomach the new food and that there is no allergy or reaction to the food. It may seem like 3 days is a long time, but it’s actually due to the number of false-positives if you only wait 1 day. Think about the symptoms of teething, growth spurts, regular crankiness….if you only wait 1 day,  you may think that your baby is allergic to solids—all of them! The wait rule is why introducing solids can be slow and a bit boring for cookbook writers, however it’s never boring for Mommy.

First foods – On to the good stuff.  My favorite first food for baby is avocado. It’s great for brain development, abundantly available here in South Africa, and one of the only foods you can give to baby raw. After avo I would recommend butternut or pumpkin—also easy to digest. I like to stick with veggies before fruits, although there are some fruits that are age appropriate from the start. If you’re not going to wait to introduce fruits, be sure to mix them with previously eaten veggies to cut the sweet or else baby may learn to prefer sweet to savory.  After butternut/pumpkin, you can try sweet potato, carrots, millet & oats (use a whole grain source and grind to a powder; cook to porridge – send me an email if you want the full recipe).  From here you can add apples, pears, banana, plums, green beans, quinoa, spinach, etc. still using the 3day wait rule between new foods.

Things get a bit interesting after you’ve introduced 3-5 different foods using the 3day wait rule.  As soon as something is on the “safe” list, you can now mix it with the new foods. So you can make avo-butternut or carrot-sweet potato.  Once you’re further down the road, you can mix interesting things like apple-spinach-quinoa. Remember: baby doesn’t have any previous knowledge or expectations. She doesn’t know that we don’t eat spinach for breakfast or that it isn’t usually mixed with apples.  She’ll love it, regardless—I promise.  You can carry on in this manner throughout the baby food stage, or after you’ve introduced a number of foods from above, you can dig out that gourmet cookbook and give it a whirl.  By now you’ll be able to judge if you want to cook a stew with 2 new ingredients or if you want to substitute with something you know she’s had before. The Baby Food Police do not come a’knocking if you bend a rule here or there. And by 8-9 months, most babies are trying things at a more rapid rate.

A word on Pediatrician feeding plans:  You will find so many variations from doctor to doctor that it’s hard to know what’s right. With regards to solids, it is a pediatric recommendation to wait till 6 months to start solids. It is not recommended to start with instant rice cereal (or worse, to put it in baby’s bottle). And you do not have to give baby juice or tea concurrently with solids.  If your doctor is telling you these things, I recommend politely saying that you have a feeding plan and are happy with the results so far.  If you’re feeling bullied into any of these things, then reach out for support (to me, to other sources, to a friend).  At the end of the day, if something doesn’t feel right, then you shouldn’t feel pressured to do it.

A word on Recipes: I’ll preface this by admitting that I’m a great cook, but NOT a great baker. I hate to measure; I love to improvise; and I often feel like I’m playing my own game of Chopped (that cooking show with a limited basked of ingredients) in my own kitchen.  So please, mommies, don’t rip your hair out trying to find exotic ingredients to make gourmet baby food.  Find ways to improvise and use what you have.  I have a lot of pictures on my Nurture Naturally facebook page that will inspire you with ingredients found here in South Africa.  I use fresh herbs, organic grains, fresh produce…but nothing that can’t be found any day of the week.  And always things that can be substituted or eliminated. Think of healthy baby food as a good pureed soup or a hearty, warm stew.  Often when we create these for our families it starts with the fridge door propped open and the “what’s left in here?” moment in our heads.  Cook from the heart, not just a recipe.

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