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This week, our resident pediatrician, Dr. Stephanie Dekom, gives the 411 on all things baby food from healthy meal ideas for toddlers to baby-led weaning and introducing dairy.

Need some expert advice? Submit your question through the comments below! For more tips, follow Dr. Dekom on Instagram.

What are some healthy food ideas for toddlers?

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, and it can be quite frustrating for families to prepare meals for their little ones if they have such a restricted palate. The truth is, no single meal plan or list of foods will work for all kids. What I recommend is trying to get your toddler involved in picking out healthy foods at the grocery store and helping you in the kitchen. Try to pick brightly colored foods for them to feed themselves, with a well-balanced selection with lots of fruits and veggies. Childhood is about learning to try new foods and expanding tastes; do not be discouraged if your child refuses certain foods, and please continue to consistently offer them a variety. Sometimes a child may require multiple exposures to a food before beginning to like it. One trick I learned from my own mother is that children will eat almost anything if you give them something to dip it in, often ketchup.

Is baby-led weaning safe?

Baby-led weaning is one of the latest and greatest trends for children. It is an approach that essentially skips the spoon-feeding of pureed foods to a child. Instead, children are allowed to feed themselves with child-sized pieces of ordinary food. At the outset, it is important to avoid obvious choking hazards such as grapes and monitor the child carefully. Often the best approach is to cut food into strips the child can hold by one end while gnawing at the other end. At the beginning, little food will actually make it into baby’s tummy and end up instead on the floor or anywhere else within throwing distance. Ultimately, though, the child will be eating whatever the rest of the family is eating. Baby-led weaning is a trend that is just now gaining popularity in the U.S., but it is common in other areas of the world. When I first learned about it, I was concerned there would be a risk of choking. There has been one small study published in a well-respected pediatrics journal that investigated this; the researchers found that baby-led weaning resulted in no higher risk of choking than traditional pureed foods. I think it all comes down to adequate supervision, and education. Do I think it is the “right” way to transition baby from breast and bottle? No, not necessarily. I think the “right” way is whatever works best for you and your family.

When is the best time to introduce dairy?

There is no evidence to suggest that waiting to introduce dairy into a child’s diet beyond 6 months prevents allergies. In fact, there a growing body of evidence that suggests just the opposite: late introduction of dairy products may actually result in more allergies. You can start introducing cheese, yogurt, and cooked dairy products at the start of solid food introduction. It is still recommended that that the introduction of liquid milk begin after a child turns one, and we ask that you limit milk consumption beyond one year of life to 24 ounces a day or less. Volumes larger than this can be associated with the development of anemia.

Dr. Stephanie Dekom is a board-certified pediatrician located in Los Angeles, California. After completing her B.S. degree at Staten Island’s Wagner Collage where she graduated summa cum laude in 2008 with a major in Arts Administration and double minors in both chemistry and biology. She received her M.D. in 2013 from The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. While in Washington, she took a year-long leave of absence to compete in the Miss America Pageant as Miss District of Columbia. During her year of service, she made over 100 personal appearances to promote a platform of preventive healthcare. In 2016, she completed a residency in general pediatrics at the University of California Los Angeles. Currently, Dr. Dekom is subspecializing in neonatology, the practice of caring for premature and critically ill infants. She has been involved in research studies evaluating neonatal hemodynamics, studying the microbiome of newborns, and various intensive care unit based quality improvement projects. She has presented her work at multiple national conferences.

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