Starting Small- How to Teach Babies to Eat - From Baby Food to Finger Food
20 October 2011
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.