Tips for Safer Finger Foods

Babies have a wonderful time learning to self-feed with finger foods, but there are a number of risks associated with finger foods. Follow this checklist for finger food safety to avoid putting your child at risk of choking.

Cook It Very Well

Adults prefer their vegetables with a little bit of crunch and their pasta al dente, but for a baby to eat these foods they must be a lot softer than how you might serve it on your own plate. Foods like peas, diced carrots, green beans, kernel corn, and potatoes all make excellent choices for finger foods, but need to be cooked until they are very soft. Gently squeeze a piece of the food between your thumb and forefinger. It should require very little force to break the piece down. Although this will also mean that your baby may accidentally crush it before getting it to her mouth, it’s better than trying to dislodge it from her airway. Pasta should also be cooked until it is very soft. Small pieces of meat can be served as finger food, but must be cooked until they are very tender.

Place the baby food in your mouth, and see how easily you can crush it without using your teeth. This is a good test of how well your baby will be able to mash it with her gums.

Cut It Small

Bites of finger foods should be small enough that they won’t become lodged in your baby’s throat, causing choking. Never serve baby a round food without cutting it up further. This applies to foods such as hot dogs, grapes, and other similarly shaped foods. Cheese is also a common choking hazard; cut it into small strips rather than chunks or cubes. Shredded cheese is a great idea for babies, but use shredder with large holes to make pieces big enough to grasp.

Serve It Slowly

Babies don’t always wait until they have swallowed before shoving more food in, which can cause choking due to too much food being in the mouth at once. Place only a few bites at a time in front of your baby to reduce the likelihood that he will cram too much into his mouth. Watch carefully, and remind him to chew and swallow before taking another bite.

Only At the Table!

Don’t let your baby run around with finger foods, or even crawl if he isn’t walking yet. Serve finger foods only at the table or in the high chair, where your baby will be focused on what he is doing and not on the move. Running with food in his mouth will increase the chances of food accidentally entering the airway rather than being swallowed. Keep feeding times calm and relaxed to make sure your baby eats at a reasonable pace.

Test It Before You Serve It

Just as you tested how cooked a food is with your fingers or mouth, you should test any new food you are thinking of offering to baby as a finger food. Make sure that your baby is capable of gumming the food, bearing in mind that he doesn’t have the molars to chew that you have. Even if you think it looks soft enough, it’s best to try it yourself. It also carries the bonus of checking cooked food for appropriate temperature.

Healthy Eating as Your Baby Grows

As your baby progresses from assisted sitting to sitting without support, her feeding abilities will progress as well. It’s time to thicken your baby’s food, and add new tastes and textures to the menu.

Advances in Feeding Skills

As your growing baby starts to really catch on to the feeding process, she will start to show more signs of readiness to move on to thicker baby foods. You will notice that baby is opening her mouth readily for food, and will close her mouth around the spoon to get all of the food off. She is less likely to spit food out now – at least, not accidentally! Although still not quite ready to try finger foods, you may notice more attempts to use her hands to bring food towards her.

Your baby is still not really ready to chew, but it’s time to start learning about thicker foods to begin that process. Thicker purees that are not quite as smooth will provide a bridge into truly chunky foods.

Adding to the Menu

Around this time, you can start adding more fruits and vegetables to your baby’s menu, and also start combining them for different tastes. Although it’s ok to start meat as one of baby’s early foods, most parents don’t add it until baby is a little more advanced. Meats are best served mixed with a fruit or vegetable that your baby is familiar with in order to add flavor. It’s not unusual for babies to refuse meats at first. Even pureed, meat has a very different texture from fruits, vegetables and cereal. Combine foods in whatever mixes you like, but make sure to continue the rule of adding only one new food at a time to watch for allergies.

If you are buying your baby’s food in jars, it’s time to make the switch to stage 2 foods. These will be thicker and have more interesting combinations of flavors. If you are making your baby’s food, don’t add as much water to your purees, and leave them just a little lumpy rather than entirely smooth. You can even try serving peas that are not strained to see what your baby makes of the shells.

Eating More Often

At this point, your baby might be ready to have more than one solid feeding in a day. His main source of nutrition, however, remains breast milk or formula. As he grows and his appetite develops, he should be able to have two feeding of solids a day without impacting his intake of breast milk or formula. Feed baby solids a little while after nursing or having a bottle, and let him eat until he refuses more food. Babies are far more in tune with their hunger cues than we are as adults, and they won’t overeat, so it’s ok to let him have all he wants as long as he has already met his nutritional needs through the breast or bottle.

In the coming months a whole new world of foods will open up for your baby, and as teeth begin to appear it will become easier for him to chew new foods and move into thicker, chunkier and more complex foods. Keep introducing new foods, and don’t give up on ones baby has refused before. His tastes are developing and changing; you might find he suddenly won’t eat a favorite food, or develops a new appreciation for one he wouldn’t eat before.

Quick Meals for Busy Families

With everything else that has to be fit into a busy family’s schedule, it can be difficult to prepare a healthful yet fast and easy meal. Too often meals are the one thing that falls through the cracks of our busy lives, and we wind up with take out, frozen dinners, or the same old thing time and again. It doesn’t have to be that way. With a few simple tips you can have a new and different meal on the table every night in less time than it takes to gather up the family to eat.

Soup Reinvented

Canned soups are a staple of the pantry in most busy households. Cracking open a can and heating it in the microwave is the quickest way to have dinner on the table in no time flat. But with just a little extra effort and a slightly longer cook time, you can have a home made soup that tastes better and is better for you.

Keep the basics of a soup in the house. While homemade broth might taste great, it’s not realistic for most families on the go. Buy cartons of store bought broth. It’s available in chicken, beef, and vegetable. By mixing together broth, a few seasonings, and some fresh chopped vegetables, you will have a tasty homemade soup in no time. Quick and easy soup recipes are readily available online, or you can make up your own. Toss in leftover chicken or potatoes; add whatever vegetables you have on hand. You can also choose from noodles, rice, or even beans. There are endless possibilities, and all you need is the basic broth. As soon as the veggies are tender, your soup is ready to serve.

Make it even easier on yourself by throwing the soup fixings in a slow cooker before you leave the house in the morning. You will come home to a lovely aroma and a meal ready to eat.

Wrap It Up

Take the boring sandwich and the same old burrito to a new level using tortillas and interesting fillings to create delicious wraps. Look for tortillas in different flavors, such as spinach and cheese to add flair and taste to your wraps. Then lay out a buffet of possibilities for filling them!

Try a Southwest wrap with fillings of beans, rice, corn, spicy chicken, cheese and ranch dressing. Go Asian with some crispy chow mein noodles, cooked chicken or pork, fresh greens and a sesame-ginger dressing. Or roll romaine lettuce, chicken, Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese into a tortilla, skip the fork and eat your chicken Caesar salad with your hands. The possibilities are endless.

Switch Up Your Pasta

If your family groans every time you serve up spaghetti and meatballs, change things up a bit. Try some different noodles, such as penne or rigatoni. Toss with pesto and chicken instead of tomato sauce, or try fettuccine alfredo at home – it really isn’t all that hard to make. These meals can be on the table just as fast as that tired old spaghetti.

Add chopped fresh vegetables to cold pasta and toss with a salad dressing such as Italian. Who says a pasta dinner has to be hot? On a summer evening a cold pasta salad is sure to be a hit.

These are just a few of the ways you can come up with a fast meal your family will love. Look to old standards and change them up for a fresh look at dinner, and your family will thank you for it!

Healthy Diets Start Young

If you want your child to grow up with optimum health and be eating a healthy diet as an adult, you must start early – even before he is born. Children are amazing to watch – they are tiny mirrors of their parents in many regards and often food is reflected through your children. If you are a healthy eater and your household contains healthy food items and mealtimes, it is likely your child will grow up in that environment and mimic it in his own home. On the contrary, if you feed your child fruits and vegetables while gorging on fast food yourself, you can count on him doing as you do – not as you say.

The Healthy Home

Rather than focusing on your child’s diet, focus on the diet of the home. In an ideal situation, your baby will make the transition to baby foods and then straight onto the foods you prepare for your family. If these are French fries and chicken nuggets, you’ll struggle substantially to meet the healthy diet goals you’d like to reach. Correct failings in your own diet first and your child will naturally benefit.

Infancy

During infancy, your child has limited options as to what foods to eat. Breast milk from a mother eating a healthy, balanced diet is best, but if that is not the right choice for a baby, a milk-based formula contains all necessary nutrients and supplements a baby needs for optimum growth. Other options such as soy-based formula and elemental formula might be the right option for children raised as vegetarians or with digestive and allergy troubles.

Solids

When your baby moves to solids, you have the first opportunity to truly affect his tastes and food choices later in life. Introduce solids slowly and then, as they are introduced, feed your baby a variety of foods from all food groups. As he is able to handle textures, move quickly to the table-food variety of fruits, vegetables and starches. Lentils and legumes are easily mashed and eventually make terrific finger foods.

Be sure your child is getting the right amount of formula up to his first birthday or beyond if warranted and full-fat milk is suitable for the dairy in his diet following formula. By one your child should be drinking plenty of milk, eating protein foods, consuming other sources of calcium, eating at least two or three servings of fruits and vegetables a day and eating plenty of whole grain carbohydrates. As your child will be eating table food at this point, it means you also should be eating this balanced diet on a daily basis.

Snacks and Sweets

The most trouble to a healthy diet comes not at mealtime, but at snack time. You’d have a hard time putting cookies beside broccoli on the dinner plate, but somehow it’s easy to hand a child a cookie for a snack. The cookie can reduce his appetite for healthy foods at mealtime and, with the limited appetites of young children, can reduce your opportunity for healthier options.

Children need snacks throughout the day, but they should be the same quality of food that you’d put on their plate at mealtime. Whole grain crackers, cookies made with oatmeal and raisins, and fruit or vegetable slices are all good choices – they will help you reach the nutritional requirements for your child each day instead of working against you.

Baby Food: Safe Food-handling Practice

Your baby has a very sensitive digestive tract and is not used to even the smallest amount of bacteria that might be lingering in your household. To protect your baby’s health, it is important to handle all food items and food stuff carefully.

Cleanse and Sterilize Feeding Equipment

All feeding equipment such as new spoons, cups, bottles and especially nipples, should be placed in boiling water for 3-5 minutes before use. You should also wash the items carefully, preferably in a high heat dishwasher setting to add additional sterilization. There are also ways to steam sterilize bottle components and other feeding utensils or breast pump parts in the microwave – look for special bags for exactly this purpose. In the case of latex components, such as bottle nipples, read the manufacturer’s instructions. It may very well be that you should be replacing those every three to six months to keep them safe for baby.

Keeping Formula Safe

Formula can be stored in an unopened container for long periods of time – look for the expiration date on the container to determine exactly how long. Once the formula is opened, however, ready-to-eat or condensed formula should be kept cold and used within 48 hours. Powdered formula can be opened at kept at room temperature, but be sure to keep the container’s lid on when it is not in use.

Always mix formula according to the instructions and measure carefully as estimating amounts can make the formula to thin or too thick. While not especially harmful to baby, thick formula can cause constipation and thin formula might not provide the adequate amounts of nutrition required.

After mixing a bottle, it can only be used for about an hour after baby has started eating. Waiting longer allows bacteria to grow and can be harmful. If the bottle is made and not actually fed to your baby, you can store it covered in the refrigerator for up to forty-eight hours. Do not store a bottle, even in the refrigerator that has been partially drunk.

Breast milk

If you pump breast milk, it can be stored at room temperature for up to six or eight hours, but four hours is a safe limit as room temperature can vary. Breast milk can be refrigerated for up to eight days, but for the best temperature settings, avoid storing the milk in the door of the fridge which experiences the most temperature fluctuations. Breast milk can be frozen in the top compartment of a refrigerator/freezer for three or four months and can last up to six months in a deep freezer. Again, avoid storing the milk in the freezer door. Once a bottle of breast milk has been started by your baby, it should be discarded in an hour or two.

Solids

When feeding solid baby foods, you can only use each container for two days once it has been opened. If you “double-dip” meaning you use a spoon in the container and then give it to your baby before returning it to the container, you’ve introduced bacteria to the food and should not use it for more than an hour. Throwing away every container you open after just an hour can be extremely wasteful, especially with younger babies who are just learning to feed. Prevent this by scooping out food from the container into a small cup and then storing the uncontaminated remainders of the container for a later feeding. You can then feed baby from the cup and not have to waste.

The Amount of Liquids Your Baby Should Be Drinking at Each Age

Babies begin life with a liquid diet of either breast milk, formula or a combination of the two. They should remain on an entirely liquid diet until around six months when solid solid foods are introduced gradually. By a year, your baby should be eating three meals and two snacks a day of table food and drinking milk as a supplement – not a meal. It’s a fast transition for both mother and child, and the most important part of ensuring a smooth transition is determining how much your child should be drinking over that first year.

Birth to Six Months

Breastfeeding

When you breastfeed your baby, you normally don’t have a gauge of how much your baby is actually eating other than the amount of time he spends on each breast. A session of breastfeeding, once established for both mother and child, should take ten to thirty minutes, but can be longer for any number of reasons. As a newborn, your baby might nurse eight to twelve times a day at any interval and this pattern can last up to six months of age.

Bottle Feeding

Formula takes a bit longer to digest, so babies typically wait a bit longer between feedings, and the amounts consumed can vary widely among babies. There is no average amount, but before the introduction of solids, your baby is likely drinking 16 to 32 ounces, or 460 to 940 mL, a day. Some babies drink more or less, and the best way to gauge if the amount is correct is to check your baby’s weight gain and growth over time. Your doctor will be doing this at every appointment.

A more numerical approach to the amount a child should be eating is offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics, -On average, your baby should take in about 2 1/2 ounces of formula a day for every pound of body weight.- This translates to 24 to 36 ounces of formula after four months for most babies.

Six Months to One Year

Around six months you will start introducing solid foods. During this period of introduction, the solid foods are a supplement to the milk-based diet, but over the remaining months, solid food will become the basis of your baby’s diet and he will be supplemented first by breast milk or formula and then by cow’s milk (unless you continue to nurse after this point.)

At six months your child will be nursing on demand or drinking close to 36 ounces of formula per day. This requirement should hold steady over the next few months as you increase his diet in solid foods. As solids become more proficient, milk will actually decrease until he is drinking only about two cups at his first birthday per day. The two cup requirement is an average and is the same for toddlers and young children of all ages.

Tips for Happy Eating

Mealtime should be one of joy and fun – not harping or frustration. To keep mealtimes happy, you should approach each with a sense of fun, not duty. Helping your baby reach his nutritional requirements should be fun – not work.

Prepare and Focus

Prepare all of the necessary items beforehand so that you can focus on your child exclusively during the meal. It’s distracting to be hopping up and down for a missing spoon or bib while trying to bond and enjoy your baby over a dish of applesauce.

Eat as a Family

Nothing will please your baby more than to eat with the family. Pull the high chair up to the table and have your child sit alongside his siblings or with just his parents as they eat each meal of the day. If you aren’t able to feed your baby while eating yourself, you can feed him before dinner and then allow him to sample mashed table foods or play with a cup of water during the actual meal – he’ll simply enjoy being around family. As he starts eating finger foods, eating with the family will become much easier, and it’s nice to have the routine already established.

Never Force

You should never force your children to eat anything. Provide only healthy options for snacks and meals and allow them to eat what they want, when they want. A snack should be small with larger servings of different foods at mealtimes, but grazing, or eating small meals frequently, is perfectly normal for children and many adults. Making food a battleground simply removes any pleasure from the meal all together. If your child is being obstinate about eating any food at all at mealtimes, allow him to go hungry until the next normal meal or snack and serve him a normal portion then. Unless there is a medial issue or he’s filling up on unhealthy snacks, he’ll eat when he’s hungry and forcing it won’t truly help matters.

Make Food Fun

To make mealtimes fun, you should focus on making food fun as well. Have your older toddler help in the kitchen. Older children can make entire dishes on their own and toddlers can help with stirring or adding ingredients. Letting your child help prepare the food makes it much more fun and interesting to eat. Arranging the food colorfully on the plate is also greatly entertaining for children – even adults love eating pancakes designed like smiling faces.

Pay Attention to Signals

Your nonverbal child will send you signals that he is filling up or is no longer interested in his meal. When he starts playing with his food or throwing it on the ground, he’s not hungry enough to eat it and you can remove a source of frustration by taking his plate and offering him a toy to play with instead. This allows him to stay at the table with the rest of the family, but you won’t have to scramble to clean up a huge mess at every meal.

How to Quickly, Easily, and Safely Make Your Own Baby Food

Making your own baby food is an easy way to save money, to introduce your child to the same foods your family eats and to control what items you’re feeding your child. Making your own baby food is simple – you’ll need something to process the food such as a hand mill, blender or food processor. You’ll want storage containers such as ice cube trays as you can freeze baby food to keep it fresh much longer than storing it in the refrigerator.

Selecting Food Items

The majority of baby foods made at home include fruits and vegetables. To get the safest produce, you might opt to buy organic as these items will be free of pesticides and other toxins used in growing commercials plants. But you have the option to use fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Use fresh fruits and vegetables very soon and freeze the extra portions to ensure they are stored safely. Avoid vegetables high in nitrates such as carrots, beets, green beans and squash. You might use the organic varieties of these or buy them frozen as nitrates are less likely to appear in the frozen varieties.

Prepare the Raw Ingredients

To prepare the vegetables and some fruits, such as apples for the food processor, you’ll need to cook them. You can cook them until soft by steaming, baking or boiling. If you elect to boil the vegetables, use as little water as possible and pour as much as possible back into the blender with the rest of the food item. Remove peels, pits and seeds from applicable food items.

Preparing Fruits and Vegetables

To prepare the baby food, place the soft fruits and vegetables into a food processor, blender, or food mill. Add a bit of liquid – water, formula or breastmilk and puree until the mixture is smooth and soupy. If the food has small seeds, be sure to strain it before serving. Most preparations produce more than a single serving of food, so place the extra into ice cube trays, freeze and then store in freezer bags. You can simply thaw the item to have freshly prepared baby food at any time.

Preparing Grains

You can puree grains as well. Rice and millet can be cooked according to package instructions and then ground in a food mill or blender until smooth.

Preparing Meats

To make meat dishes for baby, you must first remove the skin and as much fat as possible from the piece of meat. Cook the meat and then place it into the hand mill or food processor. Add a bit of water and puree or grind it up. Older babies can handle the meat if it is cut up into very small pieces.

Storing Baby Food

As mentioned, you can freeze the extra portions of baby food and store them in the freezer. Ice cube trays make a nice serving size and are easy to use. Keeping the frozen food cubes in plastic bags allows you to label each with the date. You can keep fruits and vegetables for up to eight months if solidly frozen and meats and grains store up to two months.

The Importance of Mealtimes

When your baby is young, she eats when she is hungry. As she grows, her feedings might start to fall into a typical routine, but as she begins eating table foods, she should have firmly established mealtimes.

Solid Foods

As your baby begins eating solids, she is still getting the vast majority of her nutrition from formula or breastmilk. It is only over time as she eats full meals of solids that a shift will occur between milk and solids as the primary form of nutrition. Regardless of how much she needs the solids, once they are introduced, you should be feeding your child at mealtimes rather than sporadically throughout the day.

By a year, your child should be taking a cup or bottle only a couple of times a day and eating three full meals. She should also be enjoying two snacks a day – one in the midmorning and one in the mid afternoon. Toddlers have a small stomach and not much appetite on average. Serving many small meals of solid baby foods including healthy snacks is the best way to get all of the daily nutrients into her small system.

Establish Healthy Habits

One of the healthiest food habits you can have is to treat your food with respect. This is something you can help your child learn by taking mealtime seriously and not sabotaging meals with snacks too close to the meal or with distractions from the food at hand. Sitting down together for a meal as a family helps children eat healthier and encourages healthy relationships as well. Your baby will love being part of the family at mealtimes and will enjoy her own food more in your company – especially once she’s able to eat the same items you’re eating.

A Healthy Variety

Snacks should be one or two items offered in small portions, but a meal can include up to a third of the day’s caloric requirements. You should serve a variety of food at each meal to give your child an option of what to eat and to make picky eaters less trouble at mealtimes. So long as there are healthy options on the plate, you don’t need to trouble yourself about which options your picky toddler is choosing. Over the course of a few days, your child is likely eating all that is necessary – even it is one choice at each meal.

Establish a Comfortable Routine

Children of all ages are comfortable in a routine. Knowing when to expect at certain parts of the day makes them feel more at ease as they go about their day. The typical day for any child is anchored by mealtimes. If you have breakfast, lunch and dinner in a steady fashion day in and day out, you’ll be going a long way to giving your child the kind of structure she craves and you’ll be allowing her to live her life with an undistracted focus on play and discovery.

The Amount of Foods Your Baby Should Be Eating

The amount of food your baby requires varies a great deal not only from one developmental stage to the next, but also among babies of the same size and age. Many conditions play into the nutritional requirements of babies, and the best way to determine if the child’s needs are being met is through growth and measurement patterns. If your child is eating a balanced children diet and growing well, you can rest assured he’s likely getting what he needs.

While this is comforting, many parents still prefer to average their child’s food intake at different age. This becomes more important as children reach their first birthday and are taking the bulk of their nutrition from solid baby foods. When trying to help your child meet the minimum requirements for a toddler, be sure to average three days to a week at a time rather than focusing on each day. In a given day a toddler might seem to eat next to nothing in a particular food group, but then compensate by eating large amounts the next day.

Birth to Four Months

From birth, babies are fed breastmilk, formula or a combination of the two. The breastfed baby is eating eight to twelve times a day at random intervals and the formula fed baby is eating six to eight times a day on more regular intervals. The breastfed baby should be nursing ten to forty minutes in a sitting and the formula fed baby should be consuming 16 to 32 ounces on average.

Four to Six Months

The breastfed baby continues on the same track, but with reduced feedings. Occasionally longer stretches of feeding will occur offering you signs that your baby might be ready for a supplement to breastmilk. The formula-fed baby is eating 24-36 ounces of formula on average.

Six to Nine Months

Beginning at six months, the amount of formula and breastmilk should hold steady as you introduce solids. Introduce the solid foods slowly and let your child eat as much as she wants at mealtimes. She is still getting the bulk of her nutrition from milk and formula at this stage, but increasingly she is gaining essential vitamins and nutrients from the solid food. All told, she should have:

  • Breastmilk or formula (24-34 oz.)
  • Half cup of iron-fortified baby cereal per day
  • Soft mashed, ripe or soft-cooked fruits or veggies
  • Strained meats

Ten to Twelve Months

As your child becomes more adaptable with finger foods and is able to eat larger portions from a spoon, her needs for milk or formula will decrease. This means getting a balance of nutrients from solids is even more important as they are becoming the bulk of her diet.

  • Breastmilk or formula (16 – 24 oz.)
  • Cereal, toast, bagels, crackers, dry cereal, whole grain bread, pasta, rice, cooked grains, muffins
  • Fresh, peeled ripe, soft-cooked fruits and veggies
  • You can now also add egg yolk, yogurt and soft-cooked beans

After One Year

At a year, your child might be eating voraciously or starting to slow down as her rate of growth slows. At the minimum, your toddler should be eating:

  • 2 cups of milk (you can switch to whole milk at one year)
  • 4 servings of fruits (a serving is 1-2 tablespoons)
  • 2 servings of meat or the equivalent (a serving is 1-2 tablespoons)
  • 4 servings of breads and cereals (a serving is one quarter of an adult serving)

Be sure that your child gets at least one fruit or vegetable with vitamin C and another with vitamin A every day, and that at least one grain be a serving of iron-fortified cereal.

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