Your baby the foodie: how to raise an adventurous eater

The day when Baby starts eating solid food is an exciting one – it’s a step towards their independence, and it can be a way to share things you love, or important parts of Baby’s cultural heritage, with them. It’s one of those experiences that you know is probably going to get pretty messy – literally. It can also be the very beginning of Baby’s journey towards or away from being a picky eater, and you can be sure that your job as a parent will be a little bit easier if they choose to move away from pickiness.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to encourage them in more adventurous food directions.

The trouble with prepared baby food

The benefits of prepared baby food are obvious – it’s convenient, and set up to be just the right consistency for Baby, which can be a pretty big selling point for new parents who are nervous about preparing food that’s palatable for Baby’s little, tiny, toothless palate. It’s also sold in approximate portion sizes, which can help when you’re not sure what a portion size should look like for a person that tiny. It’s easy to pack up on-the-go, doesn’t need to be heated up, and wipes off Baby’s face pretty easily. What more could you ask for, right?

Flavor, is the answer. Most baby foods are pretty bland, and what Baby eats when they start eating solid foods sets up a template for what foods they will be comfortable with as they grow up, to a certain degree. If those first foods are bland, sweetened, processed, and packaged, it makes sense that they might not be totally comfortable making the switch to flavorful or spiced home-cooked meals when they are big enough to start eating with the rest of the family, no matter how thoroughly you channel your inner Martha Stewart.

Instead, try making Baby meals that are versions of what the rest of the family is eating, just mushed or cut until it’s manageable with their gums. The only seasoning you might want to try cutting back on for Baby’s sake is salt. And speaking of eating with the rest of the family…

The sincerest form of flattery

When it comes to Baby eating with the rest of the family at mealtimes, it’s probably best to start as soon as possible. If Baby sees you eating the same thing you’re offering them, they are more likely to want to try it, and even if you’re eating something different from what you’re feeding them, Baby is still going to notice what you’re eating, and may be more predisposed to try it later. Yes, that’s a lot of responsibility, but healthy eating is good for both of you, and an appreciation for the occasional healthy treat won’t hurt either of you.

The novelty of novelty

Many healthcare professionals advise introducing only one new solid food per week, so that if Baby has an allergic reaction to something, you’ll be able to tell what it’s from. However, some evidence suggests that including only one flavor in their diet for a week, aside from not providing a variety of nutrients, limits their taste palate. Instead, unless your doctor advises you otherwise, try introducing a few new foods that are not often allergens to begin with. Once Baby is comfortable with a small range of solid foods, try introducing foods that are more commonly allergens at a rate of about once a week. Introducing foods at a rate that is less often than once a week could also limit Baby’s taste palate, so keeping up a steady stream of new things for them to try is important, too.

Practice makes perfect

Just because Baby doesn’t like something the first time they try it, doesn’t mean they won’t like it in the future. With Baby’s taste buds so new, and their frame of reference only just forming, most foods have some degree of an acquired taste. Some research suggests that small children might be evolutionarily predisposed not to trust or want to eat new fruits and vegetables as a way of keeping them from wandering off and eating something they shouldn’t in the wild. Even if they doesn’t like something at first, when the taste becomes more familiar to Baby, they may start to like it.

“I’ll have the combination special, please.”

Getting Baby to try something they hasn’t liked in the past, so they can get used to it, can be tricky. They are more likely to like, or at least tolerate enough to swallow, the offending flavor on the second try if it’s paired with something they do like. You can do this by blending a tricky vegetable and a sweet fruit together into a puree, and letting Baby get used to the flavor that way, or just by offering the two things together on a spoon.

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