When to add in dinner for baby?
March 11, 2015 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I am struggling under the weight of all the conflicting advice, so I'm hoping you guys can offer some anecdata to help me understand when I should start feeding my baby a dinner meal in addition to / instead of a bottle.

There is lots more info below, but probably not totally necessary. The short version is above the fold: when do you add dinner in? When is a baby ready to add a solid dinner, and how does that interact with their nighttime bottle?

Baby is now 10 months old. Here is our current schedule, if that helps:

- 8oz / 240 ml bottle between 7:00 and 7:30 am
- Piece of bread at in-home daycare around 9am (he always gets the end of the baguette)
- Lunch at 12:00 or 12:30, generally consisting of about a cup of soft/pureed veggies and meat, maybe half a pear or something similar, and about 4-5 oz of milk
- Snack of cheese/yogurt and fruit at around 4pm, as much as he wants, and maybe some water
- 8oz bottle at bedtime, generally around 6:45-7pm

Baby does not eat overnight and hasn't since about 4.5 months, so he goes from 7pm to 7am, at least, with no food. He doesn't wake up angry or especially hungry, although he does start to whine as soon as he sees the bottle being prepped in the morning.

It seems odd to me to add in a meal when he's just had a snack at 4 or 4:30, and he'll get a bottle before 7. But at the same time, he does sometimes totally fall apart by 6:30 and I suspect that some of that his hunger. He will scream when he sees his bottle being prepared and grabs at it. He rarely totally finishes the bottle, though, and will often leave a bit at the bottom at night.

Thanks for your help!
posted by ohio to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to add that the lunch and snack, both contents and timing, are at daycare and I have little to no control over this. I do think he's getting plenty of nutritious food at daycare, so if there are changes to make its on our end at home. Thanks!
posted by ohio at 11:22 AM on March 11, 2015

We had pretty much the same schedule as you. We set it up so that the family dinner was at 5:45 or 6 and the kids got what we got starting when they could handle solids. I have to say, though, that it's more of an event than a meal. They often do not eat much of anything at dinner still (they're now aged 3.75 and 2.5) and don't seem any worse off for it. My sense is that they're not really that hungry at night...
posted by MarkAnd at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2015

I have an 11 month old who is apparently planning on subsisting on air when we have to phase out formula since she's really not interested in food... except at dinner. She generally eats some of what we eat (veggies that are soft enough, supplemented with hummus or cheese, and some fruit). I think eating with us is what really helps her grok the concept. She still hoses down her nighttime bottle (7oz around 6:30, right after we eat dinner). And she still wakes up once a night, on average, to eat another 6oz.

I would just start. If he's not super hungry at dinnertime he just won't eat, no big deal.
posted by lydhre at 11:34 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

When our baby was a bit younger than that we just started making him up a plate of all the baby-safe foods on our plates. He could play with them, eat them, throw them on the floor... I think it was less an opportunity for him to eat than to just include him in the meal but it was a nice transition to actually eating with us.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:40 AM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

We started by having the baby sit at the table with us at dinner time and giving Baby-Led Weaning style finger foods for him to play with and try to eat. I think if you have baby join you at meals, that's great. Then, if baby is interesting in what you are eating, share. If not, no biggie!
posted by jillithd at 11:42 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

My advice is not to sweat it. If you're having dinner offer baby some of what you've got, just mash, smush or dice it appropriately. If he wants it he'll eat, if not he won't.

Anecdotally, my first would not touch solids (even mush) at all until he was well over a year while my second would ram whatever food she could find into her mouth starting at about 4-5 months. Babies are weird and the "rules" should be taken with a big old grain of salt.
posted by Cuke at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

(Parent of a 13 month old who recently made a similar transition off of bottles/formula here.)

It's just a thought, but your solution might be in gradually merging the 4pm solid food snack and the 6:45 bottle into perhaps a 5:30 solid meal+milk/formula.

And then giving some water before bedtime, instead of formula. ( Our pediatrician discouraged anything but water just prior to bedtime. I think perhaps dental health reasons among others.)

Every kid is different, so conflicting advice is the universal constant we use for watch synchronization here. But here's to hoping, and a happy healthy kid!
posted by atomo at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2015

Yeah, it does sounds like he's getting pretty hungry between his afternoon snack and his last bottle. I agree with the others who advise sitting him down with you at the table, maybe around 6:15, and just offering him what you are having. Or if you are like me and don't really have it together to make a full dinner that early while watching the baby, sit down at the table anyway and offer him some cubes of cheese, banana, avocado, tofu cubes, buttered toast squares, etc. If he eats, great, if not then at least you've offered.
posted by JenMarie at 11:54 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the quick answers. I'll add that eating dinner together as a family before baby goes to bed at 7 is absoluely impossible for us (only one of us is able to get home early enough to pick up from daycare and then do bedtime, the other usually gets home around 7:30 or 8). So if anyone has thoughts or advice for a culture where dinner is at 8pm rather than at 5:30 pm that would also be very welcome.

I'll bow out now, thanks again everyone.
posted by ohio at 11:55 AM on March 11, 2015

Best answer: I think you're getting hung up on calling that 4pm meal a snack - that's his dinner right there. Fruit and cheese and yogurt is fine. Ours eats around then too - 4:30-5p and then no more food as we get within 60-90 min of bedtime.
posted by sestaaak at 12:16 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: We added in a solid dinner at 6.5 months, in terms of at least offering our baby solid food around 6pm. Between that time and 9 months, he'd tend to mostly play with the food and eat only a bit of it (like, half a banana or a few spoons of yogurt or one piece of broccoli). It didn't seem to decrease the amount of milk he drank at bedtime.

Right around 9-10 months, we noticed a definite uptick in the amount of solid food that baby iminurmefi would eat at all three meals--like, I had to start planning to make sure there was enough for him to eat if I was making something with small serving sizes, like a filet of fish, because he was likely to eat a decent amount of one of our dinners otherwise. I had heard the refrain that "food before one is just for fun" so it surprised me a little to see him start to get obviously hungry at night without solid food, even if I was offering him plenty of milk. It took probably a few weeks for me to adjust to the idea that milk or formula wasn't enough by itself. For us, 10 months was probably the point where we got fully on-board with the idea that we couldn't just give him a bottle / breast for a meal, he needed solids and would be very fussy until he got them.

The pattern you're describing of a baby getting cranky around 6:45pm, screaming and grabbing for the bottle but then not finishing it, is pretty consistent with our son's behavior around that age when he was hungry for solids at night. My son also gets a snack sometime between 3 and 4pm, and while his appetite for dinner is smaller if the snack is close to 4, he's never *not* eaten dinner just because he got food 2 hours before.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:28 PM on March 11, 2015

Also, I wanted to add: I found the period between 9 months and 12 months to be exceptionally hard in terms of feeding. In the time before that, I had gotten used to just giving him a breast or a bottle whenever he was hungry, and then all of a sudden that was no longer enough food but he also wasn't quite adept enough at eating that I could easy feed him whatever I was eating without *really* changing the way and time that I ate.

The idea that "just feed your kid whatever you're eating" (a la Baby Led Weaning) makes things simple and easy for you as a parent to feed your under-age-1 child never panned out for me, any more than the idea that cloth diapering was barely any more work than disposables because it's so easy to just throw in a load of laundry. All I can say is that I'm glad we stuck with our effort to keep giving our kid solid food at every meal to self-feed, stuff like slices of pear and pieces of string cheese and leftovers from the previous night's dinner if kid-appropriate (chunks of tofu, pieces of soft fish). It's paid off a few months later, because at 14 months we are now at a place where we can just give him whatever we've prepared or picked up without it being really carefully planned. I just wish I had known up front that the shift to solid food around 9 or 10 months was a BIG shift in terms of the amount of work on my end for parenting, because I might have been caught a little less off-guard if I had known.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:45 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could also either use a pouch or pre-fill reusable pouches with homemade baby food that you can prepare in batches on a weekly basis (pureed fruits, veg, whatever). I didn't find it that much work to go the pouch route. I know baby led weaning is all the rage these days but it didn't really work for us either, because we do not eat dinner all together and we get take out or eat at a restaurant a lot. We did give our daughter a little bit of what we were eating if it was something she could eat, but it wasn't specifically our mealtime strategy. But really it's not a big deal and I wouldn't sweat it. Give him something to eat if he seems hungry - but he might also be falling apart a little around that time because he's tired and could go to bed a little earlier. My daughter is 2 years old now and she still sometimes eats a dinner that is sort of snacky around 430-5pm and then just a cup of milk before bedtime.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:05 PM on March 11, 2015

Best answer: My daughter is pretty much the same age and is on a very similar eating and sleeping schedule as your son, it sounds like. Usually I give her a very small meal around 5:45-6 while I am prepping dinner. Either some leftovers from the night before, or a little veg/meat combo, maybe with some pasta. The amount of food she's eaten at daycare is sometimes a little bit of an unknown, so she may eat a little or a lot of this evening meal. If she's throwing most of it on the floor, I know she's probably OK until her evening bottle!
posted by medeine at 1:13 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sit down with him at 6.15 and give him solids. Doesn't really matter what it is (more bread? More cheese? Glass of baby food? Last night's left overs?). Just get him used to eating. It's going to be hard to anticipate his appetite, maybe. That's why you'll want to put not much effort into it because you might end up throwing a lot away.

But anyway, don't overthink it. If you're a really organized person you could always leave some of what you eat for dinner in the fridge for baby for the next evening. Otherwise, just raid your pantry.

Credentials: mom of two who sometimes ate only cheese for a day, balanced by only tomatoes and bread the next. It evens out.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:33 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your personal schedule looks like tea needs to be a main meal.
A half hour after he gets home from day-care, he needs a meal that is fun, inspiring and comforting.

Menu items can be whatever, but I would look at things that are fun for toddlers. Like small squares of toast with avocado-mix. A tiny bowl-full of yogurt. Cucumber cubes. Chicken cubes. Watermelon cubes. A baby-cup of very thin cordial. Banana slices. Tiny meatballs. A bit of pasta or rice. Different veggie-mashes, some with meat or fish leftovers in them. It is really, really smart to use leftovers because you train him to eat a wide range of foods.

One important thing is to make the portions small. You can have several servings ready, but large portions lead to chaos, not nourishment.

And with all of this, water in a cup. It seems to me he is getting a lot of dairy. Dairy is good, but your son is not a cow. He needs to transition to other food-sorts. Maybe move gradually from milk in the bottle to half and half milk and camomile, to camomile with milk. This is not so much from a dietary point of view (though that is also an issue), as from a weaning point of view: he needs to learn to find happiness and satisfaction from a multitude of tastes.

You need to get him off the bottle within a year, as I see it, and you are on a very good plan. By inserting tea (the meal, not the drink) before the night bottle, you can gradually make the bottle superfluous. He is getting old enough to enjoy a richer bed-time ritual, maybe including reading a book, or listening to a specific piece of music, where the cultural element gradually replaces the drink.
posted by mumimor at 1:42 PM on March 11, 2015

About that age is when I started serving oatmeal for dinner (in addition to afternoon snack and bottle at 7pm). Some nights my son wouldn't eat a bit, some nights I'd have to make a second helping.

I'd always sworn we'd do family dinner but our kid is least receptive to new foods at that time of day and we'd all end up stressed and unhappy.
posted by betsybetsy at 4:59 PM on March 11, 2015

I agree with you that the 6:30 crankiness might be hunger, so that sounds like a good time for dinner. I'm trying to remember what we gave my daughter at that age, and I think we were giving things like chunks of avocado, plums, peaches, cheese, yogurt, bread, and if we were eating, whatever was child friendly off our plates. I think that was about when she discovered the joys of hummus (she adores hummus).

And as for the bottle, about now is when you are supposed to start phasing out the bottle - although my daughter took a bottle only at night until about 18 months when we slowly swapped that bottle to milk in a cup and now at 21 months, she still drinks 2-3 oz of milk while reading books at bedtime. My point is that as you add in more solids, the milk intake will slowly reduce, but definitely offer water with and between meals, too to make up for the loss of liquids.
posted by echo0720 at 5:32 PM on March 11, 2015

We have a very similar schedule to you - baby goes to daycare and is fed there, has a late snack around 5, we get home at 6 and baby dinner is at about 6:15 for a 7pm bedtime. We do not eat our dinner at the same time, as you say, it would be schedule madness. Our kid is now 14.5 months and on all solids + milk and we worried a lot about the transition off daytime bottles into solid food all day - she *really* loved her bottles - but it turned out to go very easily without much work - she just hit that developmental threshold one week.

To directly answer your question, our kid is always super hungry, and was/is perfectly happy to eat more food even when she had a snack AND a bottle only an hour before. We just treated the dinner time food as "fun food exploration" and if any food went in, it was an added bonus. We also did this because since she was at daycare all day, it was really our only opportunity to work on eating solids with her during the week, and to introduce new foods (since they won't do that at daycare for fear of allergies, etc). It seems to have worked out well for us, but as others have said every baby is different, and ours seems particularly enthusiastic about food. Regardless, though, I don't see any problem with offering food and seeing if he's interested. Babies (mostly) know when they're full and if he doesn't want anything he'll let you know. I think generally not worrying too much about his food intake is the best approach (unless there are specific medical concerns, but it doesn't sound like it), and let the baby lead you.
posted by annie o at 7:44 PM on March 15, 2015

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