Ask Gastromommy: Food Quantity

For this first installation of Ask Gastromommy, I am going to focus on food quantity. I’ve gotten several questions about it, such as: How much food should I give to my baby? What about when he’s older? 

corn
oatmeal

In the beginning of BLW, it’s best to offer your baby a small selection of foods. Overloading your baby with too many options can overwhelm him! In the first few months, I put only 3-4 pieces / kinds of food on his tray at a time. I always had more food ready in case he wanted it, which he almost always did. ;)

My best advice is to simply offer your baby a balanced, nutritious variety of food at every meal and let him enjoy himself freely. While your baby eats, he is learning and having fun! “A clean plate” is not the goal, nor should it ever be. It’s important for your baby to be able to eat only as much (or as little) as he wants and needs. Babies are self-regulators and can be trusted to manage their intake, just as they have done since birth with breast milk or formula. Don’t expect your baby to eat much food at first. His stomach is still quite small and needs time to adjust to digesting solids. Breast milk or formula remains as the foundation of his nutrition and solids are purely supplemental. Your baby may not eat much food at all for the first few months, and that is completely fine! He doesn’t suddenly need extra food just because he is six months old (or whenever he starts solids thereafter). Many babies are not very interested in food right at six months, or even in the few months thereafter.

As parents, all you can do is provide opportunities to explore with solids; beyond that, it is up to your baby to decide when he is ready and interested. Parents control the where, when and what – the location and timing of the meal and the food that is offered. Your baby controls how much food he eats. Again, he is a tiny, brilliant self-regulator and can be trusted to eat what he wants and needs.

Once your baby is older and more experienced with solids (normally 8 or 9+ months), it's best to offer him 3-4 foods maximum per meal. It is up to him how much, if any, of the meal he wants. Ideally, each meal should consist of a protein, a starch, a fruit and a vegetable. A balanced meal might consist of chicken, rice, pear and broccoli, for example.

Why limit your baby’s options in this way, you might ask? Well, it can be a very slippery slope to cater to your baby’s or child’s preferences. For example, imagine that your baby is offered the meal described above. He doesn’t want or refuses to eat broccoli, chicken and pear; he only wants rice. Afraid that he isn’t eating “enough”, you run to the fridge and bring him some of his most preferred foods like yogurt and blueberries. This situation repeats itself at other meals, and over time, he learns that he can get what he really wants by refusing the food offered on his plate. In this scenario, parents may lose control over the what of their baby’s eating. They may end up with a very picky eater with an imbalanced diet; even worse, meals may become an awful power struggle… However, they don’t have to be! You can tell your baby or child that while he doesn’t have to eat the food on his plate (whichever food(s) he may not want), it is all that will be offered at that given meal. It is his choice how to proceed.

What if you are worried about your older baby’s or child’s food intake? Look at the big picture! It is best to consider food intake over a two-week period rather than a day to day. Just like adults, babies and children go through periods of greater and lesser hunger and interest in food. These fluctuations may depend on factors such as sleep, physical activity, health, physical / mental / emotional / social developments, stress, and transitions or changes at home or school. Given all of these elements, it seems quite reasonable that your baby or child may have days of average, increased or decreased hunger and interest in food. It is most likely a temporary, passing phase. For example, there have been brief periods when Theo ate less and showed less interest in food because he was teething or had a stuffy nose. Of course, if you are concerned that your baby’s or child’s food intake over a two-week (or greater) period is insufficient and/or imbalanced, consult with your pediatrician. 

For more information, you can refer to my All About BLW series. Parts FourFive, Six will probably be the most relevant to this post.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!