Is your child picking up food from your plate? Is she showing an interest in different foods at the table? Can your baby sit up securely? Is your baby starting to put food in his mouth?
If the answer to these questions is yes, this is the time to methodically introduce solid food. You will usually see these signs at 6 months of age.
At this stage, great care is needed to shape your child’s taste buds to appreciate the flavors and aromas of nourishing foods. It’s easy to gravitate to giving children sweets, but once you go down that road, it’s hard to refine your child’s palate.
The problem with sugar
Chinese medicine has recorded for millennia the negative effects of sugar for children. When a child overeats sweets, the spleen is impaired.
The spleen’s role is to separate clear from turbid byproducts of the food we eat. When healthy, clear nutrients work their way through our body into our blood, organs, cells, etc. turbid waste is eliminated.
If the spleen cannot separate the two, dampness results. Symptoms of too much dampness include:
- loose stools
- ear infections
- asthma symptoms
See our article on Why Babies & Children Get Sick to learn more.
Additional food cautions
As we wrote about in our post Solid Food for your Infant or Toddler, children at this age need to eat cooked foods. Cooking is a way to begin the digestive process by breaking down cell walls and allowing the body to absorb nutrients.
The Baby Congee Rice Soup recipe is an important first food because it builds qi, blood, and other body fluids while being easy for the stomach to digest.
Rice congee is wonderful for babies' sensitive digestive systems
Easy digestion in turn helps the spleen do its job more effectively, reducing dampness and phlegm in the body.
Also, try not to feed your child foods that are OVER nutritious. “What? Foods can be too nutritious?” you ask. Yes.
Remember, infants’ and toddlers’ digestive systems are developing and sensitive. Greasy, fatty, hard-to-digest proteins can cause blockages or entirely pass through the digestive tract without the child gaining any benefit from the food because she cannot digest it. Meats, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, etc. are examples of these foods.
Other foods cautioned against for millennia as hard for infants and toddlers to digest are water logged wheat items, such as noodles, breads, crackers, or any wheat children soak in their mouths before swallowing. These foods hurt the spleen and cause stagnation and illness.
Easy to feed wheat products often contain high amounts of sugar. They also become water logged when children eat them and hurt the spleen, causing stagnation and illness.
General guidelines for introducing foods
Chinese medicine has followed a food introduction cycle for thousands of years. These tested guidelines can help you with your child. Introduce one food at a time and watch carefully for signs of digestive problems.
One food at a time lets you know if a particular food is causing a problem. If there is a problem, stop the offending food for the time being and wait two weeks to one month to reintroduce.
If your child has any symptoms on the list below, it’s an indicator to stop the new food for the time being:
- Loose stools
- Mood changes
- Uneasy sleep
- Redness around the mouth
- Body rash
- Increased nasal discharge
If you miss these signs, undigested food will accumulate in the gut and cause more serious problems, such as mucus in the stools, nose, and lungs. Mucus in these areas can lead to ear infections, strep throat, a runny and stuffy nose, asthma symptoms, and more.
Even more significantly, in Chinese medicine, early food allergies in children result from children being fed food that is too difficult for them to digest.
What foods to introduce 6-8 months
After white rice congee, you should feed your child cooked and mashed vegetables. The following vegetables are presented in order of easiest to digest:
- Green beans
- Chinese yams
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
- Summer squash (yellow zucchini)
Remember that it’s important to cook the foods well. Your baby cannot digest food very well and needs your help! Also, feed only one food at each meal, even once you’ve introduced more foods.
Keeping the diet simple will help your baby digest the food better. Babies may not show interest in a new food for the first several times they taste it. Don’t give up!
It might take up to ten times before an infant will take to a new food.
What foods to introduce 7-9 months
Remember to cook all foods even at this age. Your child’s digestive system is still developing, and the spleen is weak and growing. Remember to introduce one food at a time and wait 1-2 weeks between each new food.
If your child has teeth, you can cut the food into soft chunks and watch carefully as they eat the food. Ideally, all meats should be organic to avoid hormones and antibiotics given to the animals.
- Bok choy
- Chicken stock
- Dried figs (stewed to soften)
What foods to introduce 9-12 months
At this stage, you can introduce grains in addition to the white rice congee. Soak all grains overnight to break down the cell walls which will allow for easier digestion.
As with the white rice congee recipe, cook all grains in copious amounts of water in order to further break down cellular structure and allow for absorption of nutrients.
For example, you should cook one cup of beans in 8 cups of water until the beans can be mashed with ease (about 2 hours). You will need to add additional water during the process.
It’s great to add nourishing vegetables that your child has already shown they can handle. You will also be able to add additional foods, remembering to follow the one food at a time rule, with one to two weeks in between each food.
All foods still need to be cooked!
- Red lentils
- Yellow lentils
- Black beans
- Chinese broccoli
- Wild caught fish (salmon and other fish with easy to remove bones)
Foods to avoid
From a western perspective, certain foods should be avoided in the early years due to the potential for children having an allergic reaction.
Ideally, you should wait until your child is at least 2 years old before introducing traditionally allergy inducing foods. Examples of these foods include:
- Gluten: wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut
- Cow dairy
- Soy products, including tofu
- Egg whites
From a Chinese medicine perspective, you want to feed your child foods that are warming in nature. This does not mean the temperature after cooking.
Warming foods are those that make our body energy rise and come to the surface, which children need as they grow and develop. Foods that are cooling in nature can inhibit children’s growth and adversely affect spleen functioning. Ideally wait to introduce these foods until your child is at least 1 year old.
- Bananas – they also produce excess mucus
- Nut butters
- Raw foods (carrots, celery, snap peas, etc.)
Highly processed foods, and those with added sugar should be avoided as much as possible. If you shape your child’s taste buds from an early age, these foods will not be as much of a temptation. Examples of processed and sweet foods and drinks to avoid:
- Juices, especially chilled juice
- Ice cream
- Dried cereal
How to deal with sugar and sweets
Limiting the sweet and sugary foods you feed your child keeps them healthier when they are little and builds lifelong healthy habits.
If your child does have birthday cake or sweets at grandma’s, just watch for the symptoms runny nose, diarrhea, congestion, ear aches, etc. If these symptoms arise, keep your child’s diet simple until her digestive health returns and the symptoms subside.
The idea is to pace the amount of sugar your child can have by following their symptoms.
If your child already has a preference for sweets and lots of digestive symptoms, you will need to be patient to help your child re-train their taste buds. Stick with it! Your child may cry, shake their head, and refuse to eat the new foods. Persistence and consistency will pay off eventually.
It’s quite sad when adults say, “I never eat anything green.” It’s like saying, “I don’t breathe air.”
They learned eating habits that hinder their opportunity to achieve optimal health. By learning more and following these food introduction guidelines, you will set your child up for fewer bouts of illness and greater health.
It’s not surprising that children in the west are often sick, based on the fatty, sweet, oily, soggy foods they eat. It will take some advanced planning on your part to ensure your child has warm, nourishing foods on the recommended lists.
After a while, cooking for your child will seem second nature.
If you would like further counseling on how to create these positive dietary habits for your family, please feel free to contact us!
If you want to learn more about how to maximize your family’s health, subscribe today for our latest posts and classes.