Food & Fitness After 50: Note to Grandparents; No Need to Freak Out Over the Way Your Grandchildren are Fed

I’m sure that many of you who have grandchildren have rolled your eyes at the new infant feeding practices foisted upon your precious grandbabies! I can hear it now, “what was wrong with the old way of feeding babies, my kids turned out just fine?” Well, time marches on and so do advances in infant feeding. Today, I hope to assuage your fears about those newfangled infant feeding practices and the introduction of solid foods to babies. So, let’s talk about best practices and introduce you to something called baby led weaning.

BLD twins
Great nieces getting into baby led weaning

I got the chance to hear about all of this from an expert, registered dietitian, Keli Hawthorne, Director of Clinical Research in the Department of Pediatrics at the Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin. And, I was excited to pass along the information to my niece and her twin baby girls who are starting to eat solid foods and practicing baby led weaning.

Importance of the First 1000 Days

Keli emphasized that “the first 1000 days, from pregnancy to age 2, are a unique period to lay the foundation for optimum health, growth, and brain development.” However, both parents and grandparents are confused on what and when to feed infants, “in fact UNICEF reports that 54% of parents receive mixed messages about what to feed their babies,” said Keli. As a grandparent are you contributing to the confusion???

Here are the infant feeding guidelines from the American Association of Pediatrics

  • Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6th months
  • At 6 months, complementary foods can be introduced with continuation of breastfeeding for at least a year.

Introducing Solid Foods

The introduction of complementary foods is where things get interesting. Kelli explained that introducing solid foods doesn’t follow rules of old. “Introduce solid foods around 6 months of age and expose the baby to a wide variety of healthy foods and textures. There is no reason or medical evidence that introducing solid foods in any particular order has any advantage. And, meats can be offered as an early complementary food.” In fact, infants and toddlers can benefit from the iron found in meats. “While iron-fortified cereals are often a first food, the iron isn’t as available to the baby’s system as meat. Bioavailability of iron from fortified cereals is ~3% compared to that of animal sources which is ~12-15% and iron is a key nutrient for brain development.”

Parents who choose vegetarian diets for babies should be aware that nutrient supplements or fortified foods must be added to ensure nutrient needs are met. Allergenic foods can be introduced between 4 and 6 months, so no need to avoid foods like peanut butter. In fact, early introduction of peanuts can reduce peanut allergies later in a child’s life . (For more on the early introduction of peanuts click here .)

Baby Led Weaning

 A popular feeding method with young parents is something called “baby led weaning.” Keli explained that baby led weaning  Keli explained that baby led weaning began in Britain, where “weaning” means adding complementary foods to breast milk or formula when the baby is ready to eat solid foods. “I think if it was called infant self-feeding it would be easier for people to understand,” said Keli.  The basic idea is to ditch the pureed foods and give babies the same foods that the rest of the family eats. “Once a baby can sit up unsupported, she or he can pick up their own food and put it into the mouth unassisted — generally sometime between 6-8 months old. This method of feeding can help with development of oral motor control while maintaining eating as a positive, interactive experience.”

Baby led weaning foods
Keli’s slide showing food samples

“Food should be cut in shapes that make it easy to grasp, as babies don’t have the pincher grasp until about 9 months of age.” And, some of the concerns or fears of baby led weaning can be put to rest. “Parents should recognize the difference between the gag reflex and choking, but there is no increased incidence of choking with baby led weaning.” However, if more food ends up on the floor or in the dog’s mouth, parents may have to help baby eat.

Mixing Solids and Purees?

Keli said parents don’t have to opt for one feeding style. “There is nothing wrong with offering both finger foods and purees, but don’t do it on the same spoon. It can be confusing if finger foods and purees are offered at the same time, so try it at different courses of the same meal.”

Keli ended her presentation by showing how a family meal, ground beef and pasta skillet (for the recipe click here.) could be served to baby by breaking meat in ½ inch crumbles or making little meatballs, dicing or cutting squash into strips, and extending cooking time of pasta to ensure it is soft.

So, next time you see your son or daughter feeding your grandbabies, you can share what you know about the latest feeding techniques.

For more information on feeding infants and toddlers, check out these resources:

Feeding Tips for Healthy Infant Growth

Eating Tips for Healthy Toddler Growth

The presentation on infant feeding was sponsored by The Beef Checkoff. I was not asked or compensated to write this post. I wrote it to help my great nieces and nephews get off to a healthy start in life!

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.


Athletes and the Beige Food Diet

Athletes, especially female athletes, eat what I call the “beige food diet.” A typical recall from a female distance runner? Oatmeal, boneless skinless chicken breasts, soy milk, yogurt, bananas, granola bars, wheat bread, peanut butter, and maybe some beige sweets, like vanilla wafers. These athletes are not vegetarian but they fear red meat…specifically beef.

For those athletes who are not vegetarian (and I don’t really see many who are), I encourage them to eat lean beef a couple of times a week. Many female distance runners have poor iron stores, and according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, female athletes and distance runners have the highest risk for iron depletion and iron deficiency. Athletes with iron depletion usually have normal hemoglobin and hematocrit levels but low levels of ferritn or storage iron. Often the first thing they ask me about is taking iron supplements but I take a “food first” approach and encourage iron-rich foods, like lean beef. 3-ounces of lean beef provides 14% of the daily value for iron or 2.5 milligrams of iron compared to only 1.7 milligrams in boneless chicken breast. Beef also provides quality protein, zinc and vitamin B12 needed by athletes. The iron in beef is in the heme form and 15-35% is absorbed and is unaffected by other food components; by comparison non-heme iron found in cereals, grains or beans is poorly absorbed and can be affected by food components like fiber and phytate.

I encourage female athletes to learn about the 29 lean cuts of beef (downloadable wallet card from the beef website makes it easy to choose lean meat when grocery shopping.

I also explain that ground beef can be lean but the label information is tricky (fat is expressed as percent lean to fat so while 80% lean sounds good, it can have 13 grams of fat per serving). Choosing 95% lean gives all of the nutrient benefits of beef with only 6 grams of fat per serving. And, by comparison 85% ground turkey has 13 grams of fat with less iron than lean beef.

I suggest that when traveling and eating with the team, that they choose lean beef like a petite filet at a steak house or beef and broccoli at an Asian restaurant as healthy options to provide good quality protein for recovery while boosting intakes of iron and zinc.

When athletes ask about iron supplements I explain that iron is a pro-oxidant and should never be taken in high doses without a blood test to determine the need for supplements. It is important to be monitored when taking iron as it can be toxic in large doses without proper monitoring. Another plus for food…no need for a blood test and monitoring when eating healthy foods that nourish the body and fuel muscles for sport.