Feeding your kids

Did you welcome a baby to your family in 2012? You can expect to spend $241,080 over the next 17 years raising your precious bundle of joy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates in the annual report "Expenditures on Children by Families." That's up 2.6 percent from 2011, so yes, it is getting more expensive to have kids.

One of the major expenses for children is food, USDA experts say.

No one knows that better than Dr. Stan Cohen, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and author of "What to Feed Your Baby: Cost-Conscious Nutrition for Your Infant" (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., $17.95).

Cohen offers more than 30 years of experience as a provider of advice designed to help new parents give their babies a healthy start in the least expensive way.

Cohen says one of the biggest problems is mothers are not breast-feeding enough. There has been a "back-to-the breast" movement over the past 10 years, he says, with more than 74 percent of mothers breast-feeding during infancy. But only 22 percent continue breast-feeding through the first year.

Breast-feeding is one of the most effective ways to minimize costs, he says. Even the least expensive formula will cost more than $1,000 for the year. Other savings come later, as breast-fed babies will likely experience fewer illnesses and doctor visits and are less likely to become obese children.

For mothers unable to breast-feed, Cohen suggests sticking with major manufacturers that have done extensive research on developing products modeled after breast milk.

At the top of the list for healthy infants (infants without special concerns such as preterm, reflux, etc.) is Enfamil Premium, which has a higher content of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — considered brain food for babies — than comparable products. For parents seeking a generic brand, Cohen says Costco's Kirkland Signature Infant Formula or any brand from Perrigo Nutritionals (makers of generics sold at Target, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and more) provide less expensive options that are FDA-approved.

Introducing solids at 6 months old is recommended. As babies develop into toddlers, make sure you are creating good eating habits. By discouraging overeating, excessive snacking and other feeding issues, you will also reduce the amount of money you spend on food and health problems over the long term.

Here are a few tips to encourage healthy eating in older infants and toddlers:

• Learn your child's hunger and satiety cues.

• If babies or toddlers turn away from veggies, offer a different veggie or fruit instead of say, French fries.

• Incorporate babies and toddlers into adult eating habits (as long as those habits are healthy).

• Exercise portion control (estimate a serving as the size of a child's fist) and only put that amount of food on a child's plate.

• Encourage conversation at dinnertime, which slows eating.

• Allow your child to come to the table hungry — no snacks or liquids 1½ to 2 hours before a meal.

• Don't make less healthy foods a reward. Tell your child there is room for those foods as long as they also eat healthier foods.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution