How to Raise an Adventurous Eater
Starting your baby on solids can stir up a bunch of emotions for you and your little bub. Exploring new textures and tastes is exciting but it’s stressful if they don’t want the food in front of them. With these emotional peaks and valleys, we’ve reached out to a professional for some advice.
Caroline Weeks, a pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist, gave us some great tips to help you raise a toddler that likes to eat and try new foods. You can find her video of feeding tips below.
Creating a positive food experience for your toddler is the goal. Feeding shouldn’t be stressful for you or your baby. They still need breast milk and/or formula until they get all the nutrition they need from food—in the beginning, they’re simply learning how to eat instead of how to nourish themselves.
Which Foods to Start With
Information is great, but let’s face it, the internet has MANY opinions on what to start with and how to feed your baby solids. Foods can be introduced in any order, but here are some recommendations to give you a starting point:
When your baby is ready to start solids
Puree everything! One method when starting solids is making the textures very soft until your baby grows teeth and learns the mechanics of chewing. Need more info on getting started? Check out our post on how to introduce solids for your little one.
- Let your little one lead the way. Baby-led weaning is another technique that gives your little bub the control to feed themselves and avoids spoon-feeding. The benefits to baby-led weaning are outlined here.
- Introduce one new single-ingredient food at a time. This enables you to see if your baby has any reaction to the food.
- Hold off on adding salt or seasoning for a couple of months. Give them a variety of new foods to introduce them to new flavors.
- Choose the right starter foods. Start with iron-fortified cereals, beans, pureed meats, poultry, and other foods that provide key nutrients.
When they’ve been eating solids for a while
- Avoid routine! Give your baby an assortment of foods.
- Graduate to finger foods. Once your little one has developed chewing and motor skills, encourage them to feed themselves with their fingers.
- Give them a well-rounded diet. Their diet should include fruits, vegetables, cereal, eggs, meat, poultry, and fish.
- Introduce new flavors. Start experimenting with herbs and spices, like a sprinkle of cinnamon on cooked apples.
12 Ways to Encourage Your Baby to Try New Foods
Mom and Dad, it’s up to you to teach your baby how to have a good relationship with food. The key ingredient to successful mealtimes is fun. Trying new food may not be easy for your little one so make it an enjoyable experience for them. Here are some ways to help them try new foods:
1. Start When They’re Ready and Stop When They’re Done
Make sure you have their attention before putting food into their mouth (how would you respond if somebody shoved food into your mouth when you’re not prepared). Avoid overloading their plate, choosing instead to give them a few small bites; they will let you know they want more. Once they refuse food, don’t try to force it. They’ll eat when they’re hungry.
2. Incorporate Food They Already Eat
For babies new to solids, start with breast milk or formula on the spoon. Switch to half-spoonfuls of puree, and then go back to the breast milk/formula. For toddlers, Caroline suggests transparency around new foods. Present new food on a plate with food your little one already likes.
3. Eat as a Family
Babies learn from the behavior you model. Turning mealtime into family time gives feeding a social component and teaches them that eating is a fun activity and makes them excited for mealtime. Consider all foods as kid-friendly—as soon as your baby transitions to table food, feed them the same food you’re eating (it may need to be mashed up first).
4. Make a Mess
When you eat a new food does it immediately go in your mouth, or do you smell it, cut into it, and look at it first? It’s the same with babies. Let them smash, smear, squeeze, and investigate their food with their fingers. It helps them get more comfortable with different smells, textures, colors, and tastes.
5. Bring on Color and Texture
Eating is a sensory experience (hence the mess) and part of eating is the visual appeal. Brightly colored foods, such as strawberries or sweet potatoes are fun to look at. Babies love to discover new things, give them different textures and shapes too (for added fun, use cookie cutters to turn ordinary food into the shapes of animals or flowers)!
6. Make Them the Cook
Caroline suggests that you don’t try to sneak new food into your toddler’s diet. Take them grocery shopping and have them “help” you cook. Toddlers are more willing to try food that they’ve helped prepare. Involve them by washing food, stirring, or dropping food into the blender. It makes them more involved and interested.
7. Add Imagination
The old airplane trick still works, but you can have fun too by using your imagination. Little ones have small attention spans, so you need to keep eating dynamic. Encourage playing with food as long as the result ends with food in the belly. Give food silly names that are fun to say, like oodles of noodles, or have your little one pretend to be a hungry dinosaur (roaring is encouraged). You can also serve food in a fun way—in the colors of the rainbow, stacked in a pile, or sculpted into a small statue.
Ah, the spice of life. Every new flavor broadens your little one’s palate. Offering a meal with at least three different foods sets the precedent that meals are well rounded and have different components, after all, babies don’t understand the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. The earlier you introduce your baby to a food, the more likely they’ll like it and continue eating it.
9. When in Doubt, Add a Smile
Ever notice how babies tend to grin when you smile at them? They love to be smiled at, by you and their food, too. Make mealtime more fun by arranging food in a happy face or smiling at them while they eat.
10. Invite Friends Over for Lunch
Set a playdate with their baby friends that are great eaters. Seeing their friend eat may entice them to eat more of their food, too.
11. More Playtime
A hungry baby is a baby who is more likely to eat what’s in front of them. Introducing more activity boosts their metabolism and increases their appetite—giving you a greater chance for successful feeding.
12. Don’t Get Discouraged
All babies are different—they walk when they’re ready and they eat when they’re ready, too. Trust the process (and your little bub). If they refuse the food in front of them, that’s okay (and it’s pretty common).
Try, try again. It can take up to 15 tries for a baby to become accustomed to new food; one day they’ll devour banana and the next day adamantly refuse it. Keep re-introducing foods in the future, even if they reject it initially.
Helpful Phrases for Mom and Dad
Language with food is important. Caroline suggests avoiding labels like “yucky” or “yummy” and focus on sensory observations instead. Try comments like:
“The peanut butter is a little sticky. Does it stick to your fingers when you touch it?”
“The applesauce is sweet. Do you want to scoop it with a spoon”
“Those grapes are bright green. What other colors are on your plate?”
Fun with food lays a foundation for a good relationship with food. Variety, how you talk about food, and experimentation helps prevent pickiness from settling into your little bub. Celebrate the small wins and take it in stride if your toddler has a bad day. They’ll be super eaters before you know it.
What kind of tricks do you have to get your little one to eat? Let us know in the comments!