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Feeding & Nutrition

Not all babies are the same, so it should come as no surprise that whatever your little one finds yummy may differ from other newborns. Huggies answers your questions and provides some food for thought when it comes to feeding your baby.

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Picky eaters

The daily war

The mere sight of peas evokes a screaming match from Ann's otherwise well-behaved five-year-old daughter Abbie.

"I've tried everything to get her to at least take a bite. There are only a few things that she does like and they are not very nutritious," says Ann.

It's an all-too-familiar scene. At one time in our lives, all of us were probably picky eaters — refusing to eat anything but toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It frustrated our parents. How were we going to get all the minerals and vitamins our growing bodies needed?

So what does a parent do with a pre-schooler who refuses to eat fruits or vegetables and claims the only food that isn't "gross" is peanut butter sandwiches? Do you force or bribe them to finish what is on their plate? How do you avoid a food fight with your five-year-old?

Most experts agree it is not worth rolling out the heavy artillery to get your kids to eat what you think they should. Here are some tips to keep peace at the dinner table.

Let your child see you eating healthy foods

Jeffrey Hampl, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, believes the solution is for parents to keep "undesired" food out of the house in the first place.

"Practice what you preach and set a good example for healthy eating," he says.

Know that it's OK when your child doesn't like something

Not everyone — adults included — likes spinach. But you need to find a nutritional equivalent that your child will eat. "Parents are in a position to buy and cook healthy foods. If they don't want any, respect that choice, but don't make junk food an alternative option," says Hampl, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Arizona State University.

It's easier for children to reach nutritional requirements than many parents think. If they won't eat vegetables, fruits have a similar amount of fiber and vitamins. If kids won't drink milk, offer yogurt, cheese or broccoli.

Keep introducing new foods

Place one-or two-bite portions of the new food on your child's plate, alongside more familiar foods, at each meal. Do not comment on whether or not they eat the new food. After several trials, the food will not seem so new and they may decide to try it.

"I would gently encourage your child to try something rather than fight over it. If they don't want to, so be it. As they grow older they will develop their own tastes. Tastes change over time," says Lawrence Balter, child psychologist, professor of applied psychology at New York University and editor of Parenthood in America: An Encyclopedia.

Don't force it

Don't force your child to finish his plate — six hours later, he'll still be sitting there.

"Parents should not make a child finish what is on their plate. Time at the table depends on age and circumstances: toddlers can eat in a minute and be allowed to run off and play. It is not wise to create power struggles over dining. If a child truly doesn't want to eat something, there is no value in making a big fuss about it. If they are not hungry now, but want to eat at an inconvenient time later, then provide them with something quick and nutritious," says Balter.

If you are worried your children are not getting their required nutrients — for the most part you don't have to. "'One-food jags' typically last from 10 days to two weeks. Keep track of what your child eats for a few weeks, and you will probably see that the child is not missing out on any nutrients in the long-term," says Hampl.

"Nobody really knows why some children limit themselves. It is usually the case with pre-schoolers. One likely reason is that they want sameness because it is reassuring," says Balter.

Rule out any medical problems

Being a picky eater early in life does not mean the child will develop eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia later. "Almost all kids go through a picky eating phase. It's a normal part of development," says Hampl.

But parents should pay attention to some warning signs that a child's eating habits are dangerous. If a child is not physically or socially active or if there is a total lack of eating, parents should worry. Trust your instincts. And make regular checkups with a doctor to make sure your child is growing normally.

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Bye-Bye, Bottle

Many pediatricians recommend weaning babies from bottle to cup sometime between 12 and 18 months. Extended sucking on bottles (or pacifiers or thumbs) could gradually change the shape of a toddler’s mouth, leading to problems with his dental arch or with speech. And while sippy cups have valves, bottles don’t — that means formula, milk or juice can continually dribble out, pooling around teeth and causing decay.

Making the move

To move from bottle to cup, first invite your baby to play with the cup and try it out when she’s not really hungry or thirsty, so she’s not frantic if she doesn’t figure it out right away. After she gets the hang of it, gradually substitute one bottle feeding at a time over the course of a week or more. End with the most beloved bottle, which is usually the one before bedtime or nap.

Bump up snuggle time

Make sure to give your baby lots of close physical contact and hugging when those final bottles are being replaced, so it’s only the bottle she’s missing, not your time or cuddling. And as with bottles, don’t let your child take a sippy cup of formula or breast milk to bed.

Shop around for sippy cups

If your child is really resistant to picking up a cup, try a cup with a different design or character. You can even let her pick a special cup herself. It may turn out that a different type of valve, spout or handles will work better for her.

Sandy and Marcie Jones are the authors of Great Expectations: Baby's First Year. Order your copy from Barnes & Noble

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How to Get Your Child to Use Forks and Spoons

A guide to making sure your child uses utensils as eating tools, not toys.

When should you introduce utensils? Babies don’t actually start using spoons correctly until they’re in that mimic-everything stage at nine months or so. In the meantime, you can give your child a spoon to hold for practice as you feed her.

Spoon or fork first? A baby spoon is your best bet. Truth is, when your little one starts whipping her arms around in excitement over her smooshed pears, even a baby spork can be dangerous.

Plastic? Soft rubber? Wood? "All are good in their own ways," says Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "The important thing is that the spoon is in good shape: no pieces missing from the rubber or any splintering in the wood. Give your baby different kinds to experiment with and she’ll find her own preference."

What about metal? That engraved silver spoon from Grandma may be beautiful, but it could be too hard on your baby’s tender gums. "Metal spoons also get colder or hotter, depending on the temperature of the baby food," Dr. Swanson says, "so they can get too warm or too cold for your baby’s liking." Save it for display.

And, come to think of it, what about plates? They’re not necessary when kids are learning to self-feed. "When my son was about 7 months old, I’d seat him in the high chair and put a glop of food directly on the tray, along with a plastic spoon for him to smear the food around," says Tracy Wilkes, a mom of two in Houston, Texas. "It took his attention away from the bowl of baby food I was spooning from, which he would usually try to grab in frustration. This way, he got to investigate food in his own way."

What if your tot takes the spoon from you? Let him have it. "I always have a spoon for me and a spoon for my 9-month-old," says Mandy Tipton, a mom of one in Seattle, Washington. "If he has a spoon in his hand, he’s not always reaching for the one in mine. If he does, then it’s a simple swap—I take the one he had!" She also always keeps a third spoon on hand in case one falls to the floor. "It’s inevitable," she says.

What if the mess is driving you nuts? "Accept the fact that feeding time is never going to be a pristine operation," Dr. Swanson says. "It’s going to be messy. And it should be—the more you let your baby participate in meals, the more she’s going to learn."

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Feeding your new finger foodie

Big step toward independence

About the time that babies start to move around on their own and pick up most anything and everything within reach, they begin to show an interest in feeding themselves. Self-feeding is a big step toward independence and also helps a baby learn eye, hand and mouth coordination.



Prepare yourself for messy mealtime

When it comes time for self-feeding, you'll want to encourage your baby's efforts and get ready for a few months of messy mealtimes — with more food on the face or on the floor than in the baby. This is okay, and a stage that every parent goes through. Take a deep breath and let them dig in!



First they gum

Finger foods should be firm enough to pick up and hold, yet tender enough to "gum" (and later on, to chew) and swallow easily. You can tell if a cooked food is the proper consistency for self-feeding if it can be pierced easily with a fork. Keep the pieces large enough for baby to grasp, but small enough so that even those pieces swallowed whole won't be lodged in the throat.



And then they chew

As your baby grows and becomes more adept at chewing, you can add munchier foods. Try zwieback or French toast, small chunks of soft cheese, or fruits that have been peeled and cut into bite-size pieces. Dry cereal is another favorite finger food, but one that's too difficult for babies of this age to manage. Wait until your child is about nine months old before offering this snack, and when you do, make sure it's the sugarless kind.



Signs that mealtime is over

Some babies may delight in flinging their food about or dropping it to watch it land on the floor. Babies will often do this toward the end of a meal when they've had enough to eat and are no longer hungry. If this happens, simply say that mealtime is over, take the baby down from the chair, and go on to some other — less messy — activity. Or, you may simply prefer to remove the food from the high-chair tray and give your baby a favorite toy or two to play with.



Keep it interesting, keep it healthy

You'll find other suggestions for finger foods in baby-food cookbooks. Of course, if you have any questions about suitable foods, ask your doctor. He or she is the best source of information about the proper nutrition for your baby.

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