Friday, November 7, 2008

Protein to Grow On

Protein is so important. For all of us, really. And it's especially important for babies who grow so very much in those first couple of years.

Because preemies can have issues with mouth (tongue and jaw) strength, severe tongue thrust issues, and sometimes tire easily, eating meats can sometimes be challenging. While my little girl would use her finger to mash bits of steak on her ONE tooth to eat it, not all babies will be willing to go through the effort. They still need protein! Preemies, especially, can be prone to "low tone" and protein is essential for helping to build up their muscle strength and stability.

First of all, do know that as long as your baby is on breast milk and/or formula, most of his or her nutrient needs are being met that way (I am referring for up to one year old, corrected, here. If you choose to breastfeed your child until kindergarten, so be it, but your child needs to have their nutritional needs met through FOOD by that point). Also, even as you introduce table foods and try to wean from baby foods, it is not harmful to your child to "fill-in" nutritional gaps with baby food until your child has mastered the "big people" version. So, for example, your baby may be scarfing down pasta, cheerios, bananas, and peas, but you may fill in with jars of baby food meats or meat/veggie blends. There is nothing wrong with this.

Here are just a few more things I want you to consider. Chicken, beef, and pork are all tasty options. Here are a few more great protein options that, I think, too many parents ignore:
  1. Beans- Beans have little to no fat and can be easily mashed up. They can be cooked to a "softer" consistency eliminating virtually any choking risk. Many beans have little flavor on their own and can easily be mixed with familiar, enjoyed flavors or spices.
  2. Peanut Butter- Barring a familial history of food allergies, many doctors say it's safe to let your baby try peanut butter at one year old. To be safe, serve peanut butter in sauces or spread in very thin layers. Never offer your baby a big glob of peanut butter. This can be a choking hazard.
  3. Eggs- Eggs are a wonderful, mild, economical protein. The yolk is safe for babies as young as 9 months; the white at 12 months. Eggs are soft and easy to swallow. They also contain fats that are beneficial to these tiny babies!
  4. Fish- White fish is very mild and easy to chew. I'm not sure why so many people don't offer their babies fish at a younger age... We also chose to let our kids have shellfish at a young age because we don't have a strong history of food allergies. Both fish and shellfish tend to be less "tough" than their land-animal counterparts making them excellent choices for early foods!
When parenting a preemie, sometimes it pays to think outside the box a bit. Don't be afraid to try new things, offer new flavors, and explore new avenues. There are lots of ways to make sure your child's nutritional needs are being met. Try not to get discouraged and enjoy the exploration!

1 comment:

Ryann said...

Great tips. One thing I found very interesting is the OT, nutritionist, and developmental docs suggested jerky for Addy. It would help build strength in her jaws, would provide a bold new flavor, an alternative texture, and protein. I found they were very low in fat (we are looking for high fat foods) so I chose some Slim Jims. This won't work for every preemie or toddler, but it seems to be helping Addy.