You’re sure to have plenty of questions as you dive into the wonderful world of food with your little one. Are you doing it correctly? Should they be eating more or less? What do I do if they refuse food? Paediatric Nutritionist Mandy Sacher shares her top tips for ensuring you are setting them up in the right way for better long-term healthy eating habits.
1. Repetition is key
With first tastes, it can take between 6 and 16 flavour experiences before a particular taste or food becomes accepted. 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 all of us. So be patient and persist. Serving your baby the same food several times before they get onboard is completely normal!
2. Role model healthy behaviours
You can’t expect your baby to eat their veggies if you don’t touch them yourself. Right from the start, babies begin to learn so much from our behaviour 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.
3. Avoid infant commercial products and sugars
A baby’s relationship with food is shaped from the very first taste of food that 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 flavour 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.
4. 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 baby refuses to be spoon-fed or if you choose to baby-led-wean (BLW), don’t limit their choices to “appropriate finger foods”. Instead, offer porridge with some compote and make it thicker or bolognese with 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.
5. Be wary of disguising food
Allow your baby to experience the true flavour of foods right from the beginning. Little ones can reject food up to 16 times before giving it a go. Little taste buds are forever changing, so don’t rush into disguising their veggies by adding them to fruit purees or sweetening natural yoghurt with pear puree. Instead, allow them to taste the true flavour and texture of the food on offer.
6. Praise and positive reinforcement
Encouragement at the dinner table is key – praise your baby for eating new foods or trying new food. Babies love praise, and if both parents praise a baby for eating well, it can have a long-lasting effect, making mealtimes a happy, positive experience for the whole family.
7. Family meals
It’s important to make time for family meals as much as possible. If it’s too early for you to eat your meal, you can put a small amount of food on a plate for yourself and sit and eat with your baby. It’s always a good idea to ensure you have vegetables visible on your plate as it will help to spark their interest and encourage them to imitate your good habits.
8. Mealtimes should be fun
As adults, we spend so much time dining out or inviting friends to our homes to join us for a meal. So get your little ones involved with preparing family meals, sing songs with your little one, make pictures out of 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!