I really enjoy talking to my young parents about feeding their baby and toddler new foods. But what about food allergies they say? I believe that healthy nutrition and good eating habits begin early on, actually just as a child starts to eat solid foods. The more foods a child is exposed to initially, the better chance a parent has of having a child who eats a variety of foods when they are older. This means no making yucky faces if you (parent) don't like spinach - fake it!
But, with that being said, so many new parents are still under the impression that there is a "list" of forbidden foods. As I talk to them about finger foods and letting their baby explore new foods and textures they are amazed when I say things like, "let them try scrambled eggs" or "what about trying almond butter or peanut butter?", "try ripping up pancake pieces".
I also like to let a 9-15 month old try all sorts of different fruit, veggies and proteins. In fact, "there are really no forbidden fruits" as long as the food you offer is mushy (we adults might say a bit over cooked at times) and broken/or cut into very small pieces. I am most concerned about the size and texture of the piece and protecting the airway than I am about the food itself.
Over the last 5-10 years studies have shown that restricting foods and delaying introduction of certain food groups did not prevent the development of food allergies. So, the idea that delaying the introduction of peanut butter until after a child is 2 yrs old, or waiting to give a child fish until they are older, or not letting your 9 month old child taste scrambled eggs, did not prevent food allergies. Some researchers would say it may actually be the converse, earlier introduction may be preventative.
But the funniest thing to me, it is like old wives' tales....these ideas have somehow been perpetuated. The new group of parents that I am now seeing were often still in college and dancing at parties when it was the recommendation to wait to introduce some foods (egg, peanut , fish etc). How do they hear these old ideas? Maybe grandparents or friends with older children. Who knows?
So, for the record, the rates for most common food allergies are still low at 2.5% for milk, 1.3% for eggs and 1% for peanut and less than that for tree nuts. Don't limit what you give your child unless you have seen them have a reaction when a food is initially introduced, and if you are concerned, talk to your doctor. Most people who report having food allergy actually turn out not to have true food allergies after a good history and further testing.
More about true food allergies to come. Stay tuned!