Feeding schedule: Important when starting baby on solid foods?

My five-month-old daughter is just starting solids. I do not have her on a schedule and feed her only when she is hungry. Do you feel that a schedule is necessary?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Schedules are very Darwinian: they tend to evolve over time, and then change and adapt as the baby grows. During the first few months, babies should be allowed to eat on demand -- that is, when they are hungry. As they get older and begin eating solid foods you can help ease them into a schedule.

As soon as your baby can sit unsupported in a high chair, have her join you at the dinner table. Or, even before that, prop her baby seat on the table so she can join you for the family evening meal.

Because eating schedules tend to evolve, they shouldn't be strict. In fact, babies and children often hit growth spurts that appear to make them hungry all the time. In those cases, you may have to let the schedule fall by the wayside, and then return to it as soon as you can.

Schedules serve a couple of purposes. For one thing, they are convenient. It makes life easier for caregivers so they can plan meal preparation. Also, meals will ultimately be nutritionally superior: It has been shown that kids who eat at set meal and snack times are slimmer and do better nutritionally than those who don't. "Grazing," eating small amounts of food all day long, is also a nutritionally superior way to go, but only if the person pays careful attention to food choices. Grazing times should be set like mini-meals, as opposed to eating all day long.

Whether your child consumes a regular three meal per day pattern with small snacks in between, or six or seven mini-meals, scheduled eating times that allow for some flexibility are the best choice for older babies. Your daughter's age is an excellent time to start.

 

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