Are you frustrated because your baby is pulling faces or spitting out their food when it’s loaded with lovingly cooked vegetables? Or, is your baby about to start solids and you’re looking for tips to raising an adventurous eater?
Encouraging your baby to eat more vegetables isn’t about hiding them, sweetening them with fruit, using distractions, or rewards. Those strategies don’t have any long-term impact. What you really want is a baby who loves their veggies!
Have you heard of the Division of Responsibility in feeding? It’s the theory that children will eat as much as they need, they grow in the way that is right for them, and they learn to eat what their parents eat (Ellyn Satter). This means that:
If your baby refuses their food or gets upset, leave it for now, and try again next meal time.
Milk was your baby’s only source of nutrition for awhile, so you can imagine that the new textures, smells, temperatures, colours, and tastes of food would be overwhelming at first. If you find that your little one is pulling faces, grimacing, shuddering, or spitting food back out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t like it. They’re processing all of this new sensory information.
Keep your language positive, and rather than laugh or say, ‘oh you don’t like it’, just smile, stay calm, and try again. There’s no need to make a big deal of it.
This is a tough one for a lot of parents, but babies play, and mealtimes are no different. Touching is their way of making sense of this big amazing world around them. Check out our article on the importance of messy play for babies starting solids here.
So, embrace the mess and allow them some time to touch their food, smear it all over the table, rub it through their hair, and watch it as it falls to the floor. What we want is a baby that associates mealtimes with enjoyment. Deep breaths…this stage is worth it!
There’s no use expecting your baby to eat their vegetables if you’re not sitting with them enjoying them as well. If your baby has started finger foods, then there’s no reason you can’t all be enjoying the same food, like roasted vegetable chips, steamed broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, for example.
Eating is a learning process and you are their most important role model. Show them how much you love your vegetables, and they will be more willing to try them.
It’s important not to keep offering the same vegetables, cooked the same way, day after day. Babies need and enjoy variety, just as you do. Try cutting up the vegetables in different shapes, mash them, bake them, make dips, soups, casseroles, and put them in fritters or patties.
Get creative, and start experimenting with gentle herbs and spices. Ensure that your baby is exposed to bitter green vegetables early on as well, to get their little developing taste buds used to the different flavours. Vegetables for bubs don’t need to be bland or sweet (read why here).
If your baby has been grazing all day, or has a milk feed too close to meal times, they might not actually be that hungry. Also, if you’re finding that your baby is tired and cranky at the table, you might want to try pushing mealtimes forward. Let your baby guide you to work out the best time to eat, rather than by the clock. Your baby may even be more open to trying new vegetables for breakfast instead of later in the day.
Offer vegetables at as many mealtimes as possible at regular intervals each day. Babies love routine, so if mealtimes are at predictable times (such as after a nap, or before their bath in the evening), then it will become the norm. Predictability gives them a sense of security, and that should lead to calm meals and an openness to trying new foods.
Learning to eat is a complex process for a baby. They eat with all of their senses, so you can imagine how that can overwhelm them at times. Their day is busy, their world is growing, and they’re constantly bombarded with new sensations. So, it’s a great idea to remove toys from the table, turn the TV off, have everyone sit down together, and just enjoy meals as a family. It should be a time of socialising, pleasure, and fun!