As a pediatrician, one of the most frequent questions I hear from first-time parents is, “When can my baby start solid food?” Many times they hear that it will help the baby sleep through the night, which isn’t always true. It is important to follow certain guidelines when introducing babies to solid food.

    My colleague, Dr. Adam Eaton, has put together a great list of tips for new parents about introducing foods. Helping your child learn healthy eating habits is one of the most important things you can do as a parent.

    When your baby is between 4 and 6 months of age, breast milk or formula is usually supplemented by the introduction of other foods. This is the best time to begin instilling healthy habits, but there are challenges.

    Avoid juices altogether. Early in your child’s life, someone will tell you that your child needs juice. However, juices are high-calorie and nutritionally poor, compared to their native fruits. You will do better to offer fruits, either pureed during the introduction of foods or as whole fruits, when your child begins table foods.

    Be persistent in offering a variety of food even if something is initially refused. Infants, like anyone, may prefer sweeter fruits to vegetables. If we give in to these preferences early, it will only be harder to get your child to eat a good variety later. It might take offering a food 10 times or more before your child will take it.

    Try to ensure a balanced diet over the course of a week during the toddler years. As growth slows toward the end of the first year, appetites decrease accordingly. Although this often causes stress for parents who worry that their child is not eating enough, it is normal. Parents usually respond by searching for the foods they know the child will take, just to see them eat something. This can lead to a child eating high-calorie snack foods that don’t offer much nutrition. I encourage you to fight for variety in your child’s diet rather than the amount eaten.

    Resist carrying a bag of crackers or cereal to give kids during a day’s errands. This teaches children to eat when they are bored, irritable or on the go. So many of us fight this habit our entire lives, so let’s not teach it to our kids while they are young.

    Establishing these healthy patterns certainly can be a challenge, but I guarantee that if you succeed, you are giving your child the best chance for a long, healthy life.  LN

Dr. Joseph Kahn is Department of Pediatrics Chair at Mercy Children’s Hospital,