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Starting Small- How to Teach Babies to Eat - From Baby Food to Finger Food

20 October 2011

After a miserable first year as a teacher, I read the book, The First Days of School, by Harry Wong.  In the book he talks about how the way in which you handle the first days of school is extremely important and will dictate the way the rest of your year will go. Looking back at my first year, I knew that he was right and so before my second school year started, I set my mind to carefully planning my first day and first week.  The difference was amazing. I had set the tone, set the expectations, and set up the environment in a way that allowed me to be much more successful as a teacher throughout the year.

In many ways, our homes are like schools, and our children are like students.  If we want to be successful "teachers" to our children, it is best if we "start from the very beginning."

"Good eating," like any other positive habit that we wish for our children to have, is a habit and a skill that we need to "teach." And there is no better time to teach this, than from the start.

Here are my tips for teaching good eating habits from the beginning: 

1. Unless you have a good reason, don't start baby food until 6 months.  Many people start feeding their babies rice cereal at around 4 months for a variety of reasons.  Unfortunately, since it's not recommended to start many other foods until later, babies spend several months eating, and aquiring a taste for, very bland foods.  If you start feeding your baby baby food at 6 months, regularly introducing new foods, your baby will acquire a taste for a variety of foods.

2.  Feed more veggies than fruit and limit the rice cereal.  Again, we want to help the babies learn to enjoy different flavors.  Use fruits to sweeten the vegetables, if necessary, and gradually cut back on the fruit so that the baby tastes the vegetables more fully.  Likewise, try not to cut the taste of the foods by mixing with rice cereal. Save the rice cereal until after the baby has eaten the vegetables, or use the rice cereal to cut the sweetness of fruits. Again, this should help  to "teach" your baby to taste the food and enjoy different tastes.

3. Introduce new foods as often as your doctor advises and continue to rotate foods so that babies don't get "stuck" on one flavor.

4. Don't force baby food.  Starting baby food is all about "learning," and your babies main source of nourishment is still breastmilk or formula.  Unless your doctor has concerns about your baby's growth, don't worry about how much he or she is eating. Just continue to try each day. Don't stress about how much he or she is eating and just have fun!

5. Encourage finger foods as soon as your doctor says it's ok.  My first daughter did not like baby food.  More to the point, she was independent and did not like being "fed."  At 8 months she completely refused to be fed anything and I had to resort to finger foods. I believe that this is one of the keys to why she is such a good eater.  At 8 months, she started eating "real" food and she has never stopped since! Some of my favorite finger foods were: ripe avacado, fruits cut into very small pieces (particularly cantelope, honeydew, kiwi, pears, and grapes) cooked cut up carrots, boiled chicken or turkey cut and shredded into very tiny pieces, and beans (black beans have been a favorite of all 3 of my kids.)

6. Lay off the carbs.  When babies start self feeding, it can be easy to fall into the bread and cereal trap.  Breads and cereals are easy to grab and always ready, but also help teach kids to seek out bland foods.  Think outside the box when deciding what to feed your baby (as long as it's safe!) Once we were eating at Saladworks and I forgot to bring food for the baby. I was tempted to hand him a piece of bread, but instead handed him a piece of spinnach. To my surprise- he ate it!!

7. Never assume that your child won't eat something.  When my daughter was 9 months old, my husband got take out from a local restaurant.  Watching my husband eat, my daughter reached for his food. The main dish was fish, so he gave her some of that first, and she gobbled it up. Then he gave her some tomato, she liked that too.  The meal also included Kalamata olives.  I don't even like olives myself and never would have thought to give a piece of one to my baby, but my husband is an adverturous eater and it never occurred to him that she wouldn't like it. Sure enough, she ate that too- and begged for more!!

8. Once your baby has been introduced to most foods and you know that he or she doesn't have allergies, feed your baby what your family is having for dinner (or a variation of the family meal.)  There are many recipes out there for baby and toddler meals, but I never found the need to make separate meals for my children (and quite honestly, I was too lazy to do so!)  Sometimes I made variations based on texture. For example, if we were having sweet potato fries,  I would boil some of the sweet potatos and
mash them or chop them.  If we were having turkey burgers, I would simply cut it into small pieces and give it to the baby without a bun.

9. Don't be afraid of flavor!  Spice it up!  The more flavors your baby is introduced to, the more he or she will develop a taste for a variety of foods.

Starting from the very beginning, is, in my opinion, the best way to teach your child to be a good eater.  However, I know that, just like me in my first year of teaching, sometimes, you miss that window at the beginning. In future posts, I'll give you some of my tips for helping toddlers and older children learn good eating habits.

What tips do you have for helping babies become good eaters? What were some of your favorite "baby foods?"

This post is linked up at Teach Me Tuesday.


  1. Hey Juls sounds great!! Will be perfect for baby number two and as a reminder for Charley!! I will say I have learned a lot from you and Charley eats black beans like I eat M & M's!

  2. Julie, I have always had Rylee try whatever I was eating or cooking. Now she always wants to try something new. And Rylee like black beans too,lol!!

  3. Maureen- I don't think I ever ate a black bean until I was an adult! Now, I don't know what I'd do without them. You should try the refried black beans (with jalenpenos- but not spicey) from Trader Joes... My mom has to stock me up every time she visits. I spread it on bagels, bread, tortillas... add a little cheese, maybe some avacado... Yum!

  4. Actually she likes spicey, loves salsa,cheese with jalenpeno and she used to have hot sauce! Next time I'm down there, I'll try it. Thanks

  5. Good advice. I will take some of this for my youngest who is soon to be 9 months, thanks! :)

  6. Thanks Heidi Jo! You'll have to let me know how it goes.

  7. Wish I'd had those tips when my son started eating solid food. It's too darn easy to get stuck on one food! I read the Harry Wong book too, what a great connection to make to food.

    Can I make a suggestion? You might think about adding keywords into the title so others can find this post better when searching Google. I think it would help other parents SO much, so perhaps include a few key words to increase SEO (like tips for feeding infants or transitioning to solid food or something like that). I normally would never make suggestions to other bloggers, but really, your post is so great I want others to find it easily!!!

  8. Carrie, Thank you so much... I have soooo much to learn and I know that SEO is something that I need to work on--- I appreciate all of the advice I can get and I really respect you and your blog!

  9. Featured you! And I need to work on SEO too, I'm terrible at it. ;-)


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