Guide to Starting Solids, Part 3: How to Raise Adventurous Eaters

  • Copy By: Shira Sussi MS, RD, CDN
  • Feature Image By: @loree.1

Here’s the thing no one really talks about when it comes to this milestone: some babies are very slow to warm up to eating food, and raising good eaters requires a lot of dedication and a whole lot of patience.

Just because your baby meets all signs of readiness to start solid foods doesn’t mean they’ll show interest in food placed in front of them – sometimes even for several months. This can feel incredibly discouraging. To us, eating is second nature and food, for the most part, is downright delicious.

But at six months of age, babies are still developing feeding skills, like how to open their mouth to let food in, move their tongue back and forth and from side to side, and chew. They’re also being introduced to new flavors and textures for the first time.

So, before you feel defeated, here are some simple ways you can help your baby learn to love eating flavorful foods – perhaps even as much as you do.

ICYMI: Catch up on the other parts our Guide to Starting Solids – What to Know about Introducing Baby’s First Bites and How to Handle Adverse Reactions to Food and Feeding.

 

Make mealtimes fun

Mealtimes should be relaxing and no-pressure family time. Make it a time where you enjoy talking and laughing with your baby.

Introducing new foods can feel stressful, especially if your baby shows no interest in trying it day after day. But if your baby starts to look forward to meal time as a non-threatening, enjoyable experience, they’ll be more open to trying something new when they are ready.

 

Be a good role model

Babies learn from watching our behaviors, and modeling healthy eating is no exception. Try to eat together as a family or, if this isn’t possible, make yourself a small plate and sit down with your baby during mealtimes.

Emptying the dishwasher can wait, as can all those texts and emails you need to respond to. If your baby is watching you enjoy eating, they are more likely to do the same.

 

Source: @heycollinges

 

Add spices

If the goal is to eventually have your baby eat the foods you eat, he or she needs to get accustomed to the spices you typically use in your cooking. Introducing spices early on exposes your baby to a wealth of new tastes and sets them up to be adventurous, healthy eaters later in life. Research actually shows that taste preferences begin in the womb as flavors are passed from a mom’s diet to amniotic fluid, through human milk in breastfeeding, and expand once baby is introduced to solid foods. Spices also have a variety of health benefits and reduce the need for salt – a seasoning you don’t want to overuse early on.

Start with aromatic spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, and ginger, which pair well with oatmeal, vegetables, or fruits. Thoroughly cook the spices before giving to baby to ensure you’ve killed off any bacterial contaminants. For adding additional flavor to pre-packaged purees, you can dry roast a spice for 1-2 minutes over medium heat before mixing it in. Fresh herbs, like adding rosemary to steam carrots or garlic cloves to roasted broccoli, also make tasty pairings.

Steer clear of excessive salt, hot peppers, and spicy condiments, which can irritate a baby’s taste buds and, if overused, trigger pain receptors in the brain.

 

Be neutral

The best reaction is no reaction at all.

We know this sounds harsh, but continually commenting on baby’s eating habits can be misinterpreted as passing judgment on what and how much he or she is eating. Long-term, this can discourage mindful eating and enable picky eating behaviors.

After seeing your baby finally try broccoli on the 21st attempt, it’s hard not to jump with joy and express excitement. This will happen, and it’s okay, but on a day-to-day basis, try to encourage adventurous eating rather than comment on it. And make mealtime dialogue less about how much, or how little, they are eating.

 

Offer a variety

Babies taste buds are still immature before nine months, so use this window to expose them to many different foods.

By providing a mix of foods, textures, and colors, you’re creating the foundation for a balanced plate and optimizing their intake of different nutrients found in a varied, colorful diet. Try prepping different kinds of root veggies, yellow or red beets, and all the shades of peppers.

Reference a list of fruits, vegetables, and proteins (there are over twenty varieties of beans alone!), and use it to plan colorful, unique meals.

 

 

Set realistic expectations

Like most things in motherhood, navigating the transition to solid foods is hard.

It’s easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong when meal after meal your baby continues to show little interest in eating or throws half the food you’ve prepared on the floor. Nicole Silber, registered dietitian and pediatric nutritionist in New York City says: “Not all babies love food at first sight or bite. It’s important to remember that every baby develops on his own pace, so let baby guide the feeding conversation and not force it if he or she isn’t ready.” 

Remember breastmilk or formula continues to provide all the nutrients for your baby’s growth and development during their first year – food is an added bonus for sensory exploration and exposure.

Practice patience – in the first few years, you will likely spend more time feeding your baby than any other interaction, so you might as well embrace the chaotic, messy journey. Be prepared for baby’s appetite to ebb and flow, and trust that if your baby is hungry, they will eat.

Know your frustration and struggles are likely shared. Lean on your motherhood tribe for meal inspiration and support.  

 

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