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Introducing New Foods

By the time they reach toddlerhood, children can safely eat pretty much anything - a welcome change from pureed carrots and sweet potatoes! Even so, there are certain foods to be mindful of introducing while others require a bit of caution. Here's a quick rundown:

Whole Milk: Wait until 12 months to introduce. Infants should obtain all the nutrition they need from breast milk or formula during their first 12 months. After this point, focus on whole cow's milk rather than reduced fat milk. Children need the fats found in whole milk to aid in their development.

Reduced-Fat Milk: Wait until 24 months to introduce. After age 2, children receive the green light to transition to lowfat or fat free milk since they no longer need as much fat from their meals for proper development.

Honey: Do not introduce until after 12 months. Not only can honey be a choking hazard, it may contain Clostridium botulinum which can prove toxic to infants. After one year, rather than feeding honey by the spoonful simply drizzle a bit on foods as a sweetener or bake it into dishes for flavor.

Hard Raw Fruits and Vegetables: Prepare them to be softer and smaller in size. To minimize choking risk, soften the texture of hard raw vegetables like celery by slightly steaming. And always cut both hard fruits and vegetables into bite-size pieces ½-inch or smaller.

As little ones get older and are eating a wider variety of foods, you can gradually ease them into more as they show they are ready. Just be sure to provide close supervision and have them sit up in a chair when they eat.

In addition to the foods above, there are a handful of other foods that require special attention during a child's first four years:

  • Round foods like grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot dogs and olives should be sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch or smaller pieces before eating so they don't pose a choking hazard.
  • Just like hard raw vegetables, meat and poultry can be safe to eat as long as they're properly prepared: Cook until soft and chop into 1/2-inch or smaller pieces before serving.
  • Serve nut butters such as peanut butter, tahini (sesame paste) and almond butter spread very thin on top of toast or as an ingredient in recipes versus by the spoonful or chunks.
  • Avoid these foods entirely since they pose too much of a choking risk: popcorn, nuts, hard candy, chewing gum and marshmallows.

What about food allergies? The current position from the American Academy of Pediatrics now states even "high-risk" children (or those with a parent or sibling with allergies) may be introduced to foods commonly associated with food allergies such as eggs, wheat, corn, peanuts, soy, shellfish and fish after 6 months of age. Since some high-allergen foods, like tree nuts, peanuts and seeds, still pose choking hazards follow the recommendations above for those.

Of course, food allergies can develop at any time so it is important to keep an eye out for symptoms. Additionally, continue to introduce one new food at a time and waiting at a few days between foods to see if there's a reaction such as breaking out in hives, a rash, having breathing problems, nausea and vomiting. And always talk to your pediatrician first to learn when they recommend introducing solids to your baby based on your, and his or her own, medical history.