In the first few years of their lives, your child learns how to eat in the same way they learn how to walk and talk. They develop tastes for new flavors and textures and start to build their relationship with food.
According to a study by Stony Brook University, there is a strong correlation between the eating habits children develop in their early years (healthy or unhealthy) and their eating preferences as they become adults.
That’s why, as much as you exercise great caution in picking only the best baby foods for your little one, you also need to learn how to instill healthy eating habits in them from a very young age.
1. Be Patient
A love of new foods doesn’t come naturally; it needs to be taught. Many parents expect their children to take to a new food immediately, and when they don’t, they give up after only a handful of tries. Even going from pureed baby food to different tastes and textures can involve an adjustment period. The Serenity Kids’ stage 2 baby food guide is a good reference for picking out new foods.
However, research revealed that it takes babies between eight to 15 exposures to a particular fruit or vegetable before they develop a taste for it. So the next time you’re tempted to write off a new food as something your child doesn’t like, remember to have patience and let them take their time discovering its new taste and flavor.
2. Give Them a Variety of Foods and Textures
Children are more agreeable to trying new things as babies (six months to two years) than they are as toddlers. So the more you serve them different foods and flavors at this age, the less likely they’ll become picky and resist new foods when they’re older.
You can also supplement crushed organic fruits or purees with cooked vegetables like steamed zucchini, carrots or sweet potatoes that your little one can hold and nibble on. Babies exposed to different textures earlier on tend to have fewer feeding problems and a healthier attitude towards food later in life.
3. Don’t Mind the Mess
If your baby is having a blast poking, squishing and smearing their breakfast all over their highchair, don’t rush to wipe their faces and hands off and discourage them from playing with their food.
Doing this helps them explore new textures, combinations and interesting flavors. So, the more you allow them space to experience food with all their senses, the more likely they’ll be to eat and enjoy what you’re serving.
4. Include Vegetables and Fruits at Every Meal
Older children can sometimes refuse fruits and vegetables simply because they’re not used to seeing them on their plates. That’s why getting your child accustomed to eating fruits and vegetables early on is essential.
Make a habit of offering raw or steamed vegetables and small pieces of fruit at every meal and maybe even as a regular snack. Knowing that such foods are served at all times and not just as a dinner side dish will make your little one more familiar and accepting of them.
It might take some time for them to reach for that veggie plate, but every tiny bite can add up to a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
5. Avoid Pressure
Your little one’s appetite can be influenced by many things like teething, changes in routine, being tired, developmental milestones, illness and so much more. At these times, it can be hard for you to tell whether you should be pushing them to eat more or if you need to let them be.
Watch out for cues of your child not wanting to eat, like turning away, spitting their food out, clamping their mouth shut or pushing their plate away. As frustrating as it seems, they might actually be trying to tell you they’ve had enough.
And however well-intentioned it might be, pressuring your child to eat when they’re not hungry can sometimes lead to a host of feeding problems as they grow older.
6. Turn Mealtime Into an Enjoyable Experience
Part of your child building a healthy relationship with food involves the experience of sitting, sharing, and enjoying meals together.
The social element of eating with others can help them form positive associations with food and an appreciation for mealtime, much like they do at kindergarten or daycare. So, make time to sit and eat together as often as you can.
7. Say No to Kids’ Menus
Walk into most restaurants, and you’ll find the kids’ menu is mostly an uninspired mix of chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, greasy hot dogs, and pizza.
So, don’t be confined to the children’s menu when eating out. Instead, order what you would typically opt for as a healthier option, ask for a small plate and share bites of your food with your little one.
Raise a Happy Eater
Your baby isn’t going to change their eating habits overnight. It will take some time, consistency and a lot of patience on your part, but it will be well worth the effort.
Remember to start early, stay positive and make mealtime an enjoyable experience for everyone, and you’ll be on your way to raising a happy, healthy eater.