Have you ever heard the saying “Food before 1 is just for fun?” It’s a common saying that gets passed around parenting circles and online frequently. I imagine that when it was coined, the intention was to put parents’ minds at ease.
But while putting parents at ease is a great goal, this saying misses the mark.
Why Food Before 1 Isn’t Just for Fun!
Food before 1 should be fun, absolutely. We can all agree on that. We want our babies to learn to enjoy food, and we want it to be a fun experience for them and for us!
But in those first several months of eating, food actually has a purpose!
It’s purpose isn’t just to nourish your child. They will still get the majority of their calories from their breastmilk or formula. (This fact is likely at the root of where this saying comes from.)
Food is there for many reasons outside of calories, though!
Food Before One Helps Your Child Learn to Eat
Eating isn’t just about nutrition and nourishment. There are gross motor, and fine motor, skills involved in learning to eat. If they aren’t given food to practice, they won’t learn how to eat.
We know that there is a texture acceptance window in most babies. (ref) If a baby isn’t exposed to textures beyond purees by the time they are 9-10 months, it will likely be much harder for them to learn to accept different textures down the road.
Learning about different textures and how to eat them, and being given the opportunities to develop skills around eating is a vital part of food before 1.
Food Before 1 Helps You See Any Problems There May Be
If you are told that food before 1 is just for fun, there is a big chance that you might overlook something that is a sign of a bigger issue.
So often I hear from parents who have been told this and are under the impression that food really has no purpose before 1. It's just for a little experimenting here or there, but nothing really important.
It is these same parents who might give their baby a bit of food, see that their baby doesn’t take to it easily, and then decide that they should wait a while until their baby is more ready. Thereby depriving their child of the vital texture acceptance window as well as time to develop the skills they need to eat.
It is also these same parents that might notice their child gags at everything. Even after they’ve had time to experiment and learn about eating food. But food before 1 is just for fun, so there’s no need to worry about it. They will grow out of it, right?
In this case, seeking early intervention, perhaps an evaluation from a feeding therapist, could help their child get set on a much better feeding path. Food before 1 can help tell us a lot!
Food Before 1 Has a Lot of Purpose! (But It Should Still Be Fun)
Food before 1 can help to meet your baby’s increasing nutritional needs. Between 6 months to a year, your child needs a decent amount of iron, zinc, and a few other minerals. It’s important that we offer them foods with these nutrients in them.
More: For more help with baby led weaning and how to help your baby succeed with eating, be sure to check out this article with a comprehensive guide to baby led weaning and first baby foods!
But on the other hand, it’s even more important that we offer them a calm and relaxed eating environment. That we set them up well at mealtimes, provide them the opportunities to eat the nutrients that are important for them, and then let them eat what they will.
At the end of the day, they are still getting the majority of their nutrients from breastmilk or formula. We don’t need to stress about how much they eat of the foods that they are served.
But we do need to allow them the opportunities to explore their food and to experiment and practice eating it. And to gain all of the important skills that they need to, just from that exploration.
For help with everything from how to serve balanced meals safely to how to set up mealtimes to help your child learn the skills that they need to have a healthy relationship with food as they grow, make sure you grab the Starting Solids: Setting the Foundation course!