How to Build Healthy Eating Habits
Trying to get baby to eat a well-balanced meal, and all of it, can some times be less than fun. It’s times like these that many parents wish that they didn’t have the dreaded picky eater. Here is some tips on what you can do to keep your little one from becoming a picky eater.
New foods can be an exciting milestone for parents, but they can overwhelm tiny, new taste buds quickly and easily. There are many reasons that children refuse foods and to make things even more confusing, their reasons may change daily as they grow.
Use A Sensory Approach
When you teach new foods using a sensory approach, you use a specific strategy to keep your child interacting with a food without overwhelming them.
- Look at the food and describe it visually.
- Smell the food and describe it’s scent.
- Touch it and describe it texturally.
- Kiss the food and describe the temperature.
- Lick the food and describe it’s flavor.
- Let them scrape a “tiny mouse amount” of the food onto
- their teeth to “taste the food without having to leave it in
- their mouth” and then describe it’s taste.
- Chew the food and describe its flavor and consistency.
- Swallow the food.
Did they look, smell, lick, taste, chew or talk about a refused food? Praise them for what they did do! Give them a reason to feel that they did something to please you at the table, so they want to come back to it!
Don’t be discouraged if your baby needs extra time to warm up to purees and solids. Per American Academy of Pediatric guidelines, breast milk or formula will continue to be your baby’s main source of food up until at least one year of age, even after starting solids foods.
Your real goal as you start to wean your baby to pureed foods is simple. Introduction to pureed foods is for your baby to learn to be seated at the table and to be given a little control to explore and learn about food.
Psst…here is a little secret…you create wonderful, happy eaters when you allow self-exploration right from the start. In fact, its THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING you can do for your little one.
Let Them Be Messy
Baby’s need to explore their foods on the outside of their bodies before they will feel MOST comfortable to put them into their mouths. Place pureed foods onto their tray and then give them permission to make a mess. Yes, that’s right, a mess! We give them permission to do this by modeling looking, smelling, touching and tasting too.
A modern approach to feeding encourages you to drop the spoons and step away from the napkins during the first introductions to new tastes. Why? Using a spoon to bring food straight into your baby’s mouth actually bypasses the important sensory steps that your baby needs in order to learn. Additionally, constantly wiping tiny hands and little faces teaches our babies that we do not want the food on us. If you don’t like something on your hands or lips, you are less likely to want it inside your mouth.
Allow your focus to be on play, taste, exploration of color and texture and to try not to clean your baby off (if you can help it) until the very end of the meal.
No spoons, just hands.
Let your babies make a mess. A true sign of a healthy start to eating is a smiling baby covered head to toe in puree. I promise they are learning and they are 100% washable!
Set a Good Example
Research shows that amount of fruit and vegetables parents eat is the strongest predictor of what their baby’s intake of those foods will be. When it comes to teaching children to eat well, our actions are even more important than our words.
Parents can positively influence how their babies grow into eating by providing a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables when solid foods are introduced, by being good models and by enjoying meals with their babies. Eating is not for spectators, it’s a social experience, join in with your baby!
Know When To Seek Out Help
If your baby is struggling with bottle feeding or with transitioning onto next stages of eating, it’s important to reach out for professional support. Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a Speech Language Pathologist that specializes in pediatric feeding to help your family. Letting your baby struggle at any milestone places them at risk for picky eating as they grow.
Read More: Is Your Baby Ready for Solid Foods?
photo credit: Marina K Caprara
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Cindy Morrison is a certified speech language pathologist (CCC-SLP) specializing in pediatric feeding. She has worked with hundreds of families in her private practice to help parents raise happy healthy eaters.
She teaches her proven feeding techniques and strategies in her unique online class, Happy Eating Club.