From baby food to family food

Good sence eating
In the beginning, it was simple. Feed your baby breast milk or formula, then start adding cereal, vegetables, fruit and meat. He ate baby food—and you and your spouse enjoyed your usual favorites. Whether he ate jarred baby food or you prepared your own was immaterial. It was standard baby fare and didn’t remotely resemble the food you eat.

But when it was time to advance his diet, things started to get complicated.

Transitioning your toddler’s diet

At baby’s first birthday, it’s normal to notice a waning appetite, coinciding with a slowdown in growth. By now, he’s graduated to eating finger foods, mashed items from the family dinner and soft pieces of fruits and vegetables. He is also drinking less milk.

At this stage, some parents question how to transition toddlers from soft, easily digestible foods to foods that are more grown-up in texture and quality (and that mom and dad are eating).

Bridget Swinney, a Texas-based registered dietitian, mother of two, and author of"Baby Bites: Everything You Need to Know about Feeding Babies and Toddlers,” recommends following your child’s lead.

“Give them small bites of grown-up food and see how they respond. If they can chew it without problems, keep giving it. If not, back off a while until your child’s development progresses. Keep in mind that it takes quite a while for a toddler to be able to chew meat, because that requires molars.”

Too much fiber?

A diet emphasizing whole grains and a low glycemic index is recommended for adults. Yet parents of an 18-month-old may wonder if it’s appropriate to feed whole grains to their child. Is there a potential danger of filling them up with so much fiber that they feel full and don’t consume the nutrients they need?

No need to worry, Swinney says."Toddlers this age eat such small portions; they are much more likely to get filled up with what they drink than with what they eat. Fresh fruits and whole grains are also more nutrient dense, so they help toddlers get the nutrients they need in smaller quantities of food.” Her advice is to serve the whole grains the rest of the family is eating, which should be at least three servings per day.

Toddlers need more fiber than many of us realize. It may be surprising to learn that the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for 1 year olds is 19 grams of fiber. Compare that to 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men ages 19 to 50.

Diet for different age groups

It can be challenging to juggle the needs of toddlers with your preschool, elementary and even middle school children. How can parents make sure the healthy diet they and their older children eat isn’t inadvertently unhealthy for a little one?

If the rest of the family is eating reasonably healthy, the same diet should be appropriate for the youngest family members with a few exceptions—potential allergens and choking hazards, according to Swinney."The rule should be if you don’t want your toddler to eat it, he shouldn’t see it. Save exceptions and other treats that you want to keep away from baby under wraps until his nap.”

It’s vitally important for the family to establish healthy eating routines."Have regular meal and snack times without the TV and have your toddler sit with you as long as his attention span allows. He needs to see good role models for eating,” Swinney says.

Sweet Potato Fries

1 1/2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cinnamon-sugar mixture or vanilla yogurt (optional)
2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into wedges

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Whisk together first four ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Add sweet potatoes and toss to coat evenly with oil.

4. Place on cookie sheet and bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender.

5. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture or vanilla yogurt for a sweet treat.

Yield: About eight 1/2 cup servings

Nutrient content per serving: 110 calories, 1 gram protein, 2.5 grams fiber, vitamin A 170 percent, vitamin C 130 percent, vitamin E 70 percent, vitamin B6 40 percent, riboflavin and magnesium 20 percent.

From Baby Bites, 2007, by Bridget Swinney, MS, RD. Reprinted with the permission of Meadowbrook Press,

Dear Good Sense Eating: Our family enjoys popcorn while watching movies at our home. At what age is it safe to give our children popcorn?

Sadie G., Evanston

Choking is a real hazard for little ones. The American Academy of Pediatrics says to refrain from feeding your child popcorn, nuts, whole grapes and olives, sliced hot dogs, hard candy and even gum until they turn 4. Although your child may appear mature enough to enjoy these foods, it’s simply not worth the risk. Finally, children should eat only while seated, never while walking or running.

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a registered dietitian in private practice in Naperville. She can be reached at (630) 369-8495 or

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