Smart Answers to Common Feeding Questions

Starting Solids

My 7-month-old eats no more than a couple of tablespoonfuls of food per day. How much should she be eating?

macaroni and cheese

Michael Kraus

At this age, "some kids are precocious," says Dr. Jana. "They eat three meals of solids and are even into table food, while others are just getting the hang of it." So don't worry about the numbers, and concentrate more on gradual improvement as the days and weeks go by, says Paul Contini, MD, a pediatrician in San Jose and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on nutrition. If you think your kid is eating small amounts of food because she's not wild about spoonfeeding or is still adjusting to the whole eating thing, try increasing the number of times you offer baby food to two to three times a day so she can practice, says Dr. Contini.

If your baby drinks more than 30 ounces of formula a day or still nurses every two to three hours, then cut back on the milk a bit so she'll have an appetite for food, he adds. To ensure that your child will be hungry, it's also a good idea to wait at least an hour after bottlefeeding or nursing before offering baby food.

My 8-month-old hates meat. What can I do?

While meat is important for babies because it's a source of iron, your child can also get iron from other foods, such as fortified infant cereal and green vegetables, says Liz McMillan, RD, a clinical nutritionist at the University of California-San Francisco Children's Hospital. Nonetheless, continue to offer meat to your child, she says. Dr. Jana suggests mixing it with other foods you know he likes. In fact, she says, you can go straight to mixed dinner baby foods, such as carrots and beef or apples and chicken. If you know your baby has already had the vegetable or fruit with no adverse reaction, then it's fine. Also, a baby who doesn't like pureed meat may like meat once it's offered in a different form, such as shredded chicken in soup, she adds. Just let the soup cool first.

My toddler prefers to snack all day rather than sit for bigger meals. Is this okay?

Yes. "Toddlers have small stomachs and even smaller attention spans," says Dr. Contini. But at the same time, try to establish a schedule of meal and snack times -- usually three meals and two snacks a day. "Ultimately, even if it doesn't seem like it, your child wants structure and wants you to tell her what's correct," says McMillan. That's why your toddler should be sitting down for meals and not walking around, says Dr. Contini, who also reminds parents -- when serving snacks -- to give children healthy choices they would serve at a "real" meal, such as fruits and vegetables, and not junk food.

My 15-month-old will eat only three foods -- applesauce, macaroni and cheese, and Cheerios. How can I expand his diet?

If he refuses to eat what you're serving, forget cajoling or forcing him, says McMillan. Accept his refusal, but don't automatically pull the Cheerios box out of the cabinet. Wait another hour or two until your child is hungry again, and offer the same meal. At that time he'll be more likely to eat it, McMillan says. If he still balks, give him a choice between the dinner foods and a simple, healthy alternative, like a cheese and tomato sandwich. "This sends the message that Mom is still in charge of the food choices but is willing to work with the child to a certain extent," says McMillan. And eventually, if you continue this routine, your child will eat other foods. It just might take awhile.

Letting your child participate in preparing meals can also lure him in, says McMillan. So ask him to add the salt and pepper to the soup or to pick out which tomato you'll use for the salad. There's also nothing like a little creativity to make foods more attractive, McMillan says: "Help your child arrange the vegetables into a smiley face or another simple picture on the plate."

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