Does your little one seem to hate anything green? Are you worried you're going to raise a child determined to only eat 'white' foods? Do you dream of having a child who can sit nicely at the table and eat what's put in front of them?
Mealtimes with children can be frustrating and stressful, but they don't have to be. Here are our top 10 tips for avoiding fussy eating from the start.
1. Let Them Explore
Eating for small children and babies is a learning process - our role as parents and caregivers is to help them discover new foods. When introducing a new food, let your little one explore it on their own. This doesn't have to mean letting them get super messy if the idea freaks you out. If you're spoon-feeding a vegetable puree, for example, show them the puree and talk excitedly about the colour, smell and texture. You can also steam a few batons of the same veg and let your baby hold and play with them while you feed.
2. If They're not Interested, Let it Go.
Repeat after us: "I will not force-feed"! The goal of weaning and introducing solids to a child should be to help foster their innate interest in and self-regulation around food. Force-feeding can create negative associations with food and undermines your little one's ability to learn and understand their own cues around hunger and fullness. If they're not interested in eating something, let it go for the rest of the meal. Don't bribe them to take a bite or to finish their plate. We promise they won't let themselves go hungry! And besides, you can (and should!) always introduce that food again tomorrow!
3. Let them Decide
This may seem counterintuitive, but, as above, the best way to foster a good eater is by encouraging them to understand that they are in control at mealtimes. As above, the less of a fuss you make about them eating, the smoother the mealtime will go. As they become more vocal, start to give them choices (within limits, i.e., broccoli or cauliflower?) When they do the choosing, they're also more likely to do the eating.
4. Eat Together
Eating isn't just about getting full - it's a social activity, and the codes and 'rules' around eating with other people should be established from the earliest stages of weaning. Whenever possible, sit down as a family to eat and avoid feeding your baby while he or she is distracted. Your child will learn as much about eating from observing you as she will from being fed new foods. Not to mention they'll eat a lot better if you're equally focussed on your meal as theirs (no one likes eating whilst being stared at...)!
5. Make it Interesting
Variety is the spice of life, after all! Keep things interesting with new flavours, using aromatics and herbs. Give them new things to eat, and use ingredients you know they like in new and creative ways (not sure how to do it? we can help you with that!)
6. Keep Trying
On that note, try not to get discouraged if the little one pulls a face when they try something new. It's completely normal for a baby or toddler to dislike a food they're trying for the first time - even a food they're trying for the first 15 times! Yep, it can take up to 20 tastes before they learn to like a food. So don't force them to eat it (see above). Just keep introducing it until they do (it also helps if you eat that food in front of them!).
7. Food's Not a Prize
It's so easy to do - using food or treats as a reward or bribe ("Put your shirt on and I'll give you some raisins....!"). We've all been there. Teach your child to honour their hunger by trying to avoid using food as a bribe or reward. When food is limited to set meal and snack times, it also means that your child will be hungrier when it is time to eat - and hungry children eat better!
8. Let them Help
Grow herbs or a small tomato plant in your kitchen, and ask your little one (at any age!) to join you in watering them. Or set up their highchair in the kitchen, where they can watch you prepare their dinner. By being involved, they learn to understand and therefore trust what they're eating - and that makes them much more likely to try it! You can also give them 'interactive' foods that put them in the drivers seat - like dippy egg or vegetable sticks they can dress and feed themselves.
9. Keep Mealtimes Light and Interactive
Mealtimes should be a warm and reassuring environment - even when weaning your 6 month old, chat and laugh with your baby. With a toddler, chat with them about their day and ask them about what they see. Avoid putting on the TV or radio, as these can be distracting - though it is a great time to video chat with grandparents or other family members (because it contributes to your child's understanding of mealtimes as a social event). Be present and happy for their mealtimes! Keep reminding yourself - for the first 1,000 days, food is about learning, not getting full!
10. Don't Fuss if they Fuss
Even the best eaters will have periods of fussiness (teething, illness, bad day...you name it!). They may spit out something they've tasted, or flat out refuse to eat what's in front of them. And that's ok. Try not to draw attention to it. Just carry on your chatting as if nothing's different. If they become unhappy to be at the table, call mealtime to an end and move on with your day. We all eat better when there's no pressure - children included.
Got more questions? We've got answers! Send us a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond with advice tailored just for you!
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