Explained by a pediatric nutritionist
Introducing your little one to solid foods can be an exciting adventure, but many parents also find themselves frustrated, stressed and confused.
During the early weeks and months, the tastes and flavors your baby is exposed to will play a large role in shaping their future eating habits.
While this may sound like a daunting task, it’s a wonderful opportunity to teach your baby to enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods and to build a positive relationship towards food and mealtimes.
As you embark on your child’s first flavor-filler journey, follow these easy guidelines to help make this developmental milestone an enjoyable and wholesome one, no matter how you decide to go about it.
Repetition is key
With first tastes, it can take between six and 16 flavor experiences before a particular taste or food is accepted. So, if your baby turns their nose up on the first try – don’t give up. Learning to accept and enjoy certain foods is a process and a learnt skill for us all, so be patient as you offer new tastes to your baby again and again. It’s completely normal!
Role model healthy behavior
You can’t expect your baby to eat their veggies if you refuse to eat them yourself. Right from the start, babies begin to learn from our behavior and the more they see you eating and enjoying a rainbow of veggies, fruits, proteins and whole grains, the more likely they are to mimic your choices and actions.
Avoid infant commercial products and sugars
A baby’s relationship with food and their preferences begin forming the very first time food touches their tongue. Manufacturers often add hidden sugars as they know this will keep your baby coming back for more! It’s important that you teach your baby to enjoy the flavor of homemade, freshly-prepared, unsalted and unsweetened foods, before introducing artificial tastes or overly sweet options. These will form the standard that other foods are compared to.
Encourage your baby to regulate their own appetite
It’s important to allow your baby to feel that they’re leading the way and making their own choices. Babies are extremely good at regulating their own appetites so if they’re offered healthy and nourishing foods, then there’s no need to limit their portion size. Baby’s whose parents follow their hunger and satiety cues are more likely to embrace a healthy weight.
Embrace the mess and encourage self-feeding
Allow your baby to reach for food and feed themselves. If your little one is being spoon-fed, offer them their own spoon to attempt to feed themselves. It’s sometimes easier to have two spoons at mealtimes, one for you and one for your baby.
If your little person refuses to be spoon fed or if you’re embarking on baby-led-weaning (bypassing the pureed foods in favor of immediately moving to the exploration of foods in their natural state at their own pace), try offering finger foods but don’t limit their choices to ‘appropriate finger foods’. Instead offer oatmeal with some compote to make it thicker, banana muffins or try bolognese over pasta shells so they can pick up and explore the shells covered in the nutritious sauce. Remember that enjoying food is a sensory (and messy) experience.
Be wary of disguising food
Allow your baby to experience the true flavor of foods right from the beginning. Little taste buds are forever changing, so don’t rush into disguising their veggies by adding them to fruit purees or sweetening natural yogurt with pear puree. Remember that little ones can reject food up to 16 times before giving it a go, so instead, allow them to taste the undoctored flavor and texture of the food on offer.
Praise and positive reinforcement
Encouragement at the dinner table is key! Babies love praise, so applaud your little one for eating new foods. If both parents praise a baby for eating well, it can have a long-lasting effect, making mealtimes a happy and positive experience for the whole family.
It’s important to make time for family meals as much as possible. If it’s too early for you to eat your meal, put a small amount of food on a plate for yourself and sit to eat with your baby. Our Coconut, Fish and Vegetable Stew is a great dish for babies and parents to enjoy – simply serve yourself and then puree the rest for your baby or fussy eaters. This way, you’ll only have to cook once to feed all the hungry tums.
Remember to always keep veggies visible on your plate as it will help to spark their interest and encourage them to imitate your good habits.
Mealtimes should be fun
Why else do we as adults spend so much time dining out or inviting friends to our homes to join us for a meal? Get your little one involved with preparing family meals, sing songs with them or even make pictures with veggie sticks and dips – create imaginative ways to help your baby enjoy their mealtimes. Don’t worry about table manners or mess for the moment – the most important thing is that they enjoy the whole sensory experience – even if it means sticking their fingers into everything and eating with their hands!
Visit the Wholesome Child website to learn more about Mandy Sacher. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Nutrition Guide with more than 140 Family-Friendly Recipes” is available to purchase online and through iTunes and Amazon. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.