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Happy Pregnancy

How to Get Your Baby to Eat New Foods - A Guide for Parents

by Sherry Lee 12 Jul 2023

Introducing new foods to your baby can be an exciting yet challenging milestone in their development. As they transition from breastfeeding or formula to solid foods, it's essential to expose them to a variety of flavors and textures to encourage healthy eating habits later in life. However, many parents struggle with picky eaters or resistance to trying new foods. In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with practical strategies and tips on how to get your baby to eat new foods.

Start with the Basics: A Balanced Diet

a balanced diet

When introducing solid foods, it is important to offer your baby a balanced diet. This means offering a variety of proteins (including fish, lean meats, poultry, eggs and beans), vegetables and fruits. Also, a healthy dose of whole grains is essential. Including these foods will help your child get the nutrients they need to thrive.

Start with a small amount of the new food and gradually increase the serving size. It may take 3 to 5 days for your child to become comfortable with the new food. This will allow you to identify any potential allergies or sensitivities.

Try to avoid distractions at mealtime, and sit your baby in a safe place where they will be comfortable. Babies learn from their parents and other children, so sit them down at family meals as much as possible to demonstrate how to eat.

Remember that it is normal for your baby to spit food out when first introduced to new foods, but keep trying. Many picky eaters need repeated exposure to a food before they will accept it.

As your child gets a little more practice, you can start to experiment with mashed and lumpy foods. This helps your child develop their hand-eye coordination and allows them to learn how to chew, move and swallow solid foods. You can even try grating firm fruit and veggies into long slivers that are easy for your baby to pick up and eat on their own.

Continue to offer nutrient-dense, low-salt foods, such as iron-fortified rice cereal, pureed meats and veggies. Also, consider boosting the flavor of these foods with spices and herbs to appeal to your infant’s taste buds.

Patience is Key: The Power of Persistence

patience is key

Don’t give up on new foods if your child initially rejects them. It may take 8-10 tries before your child accepts a food, but it’s important to keep offering it without any pressure. This is how the widow from the Bible gained influence over an unjust judge—by continuing to speak out, even after she was rejected or criticized.

The key is to introduce a new food with other healthy foods that your child does enjoy, such as applesauce served with animal crackers or hummus paired with pita bread. You can also provide a variety of foods within the same group so your child can taste each one on his own, for example, combining vegetables with yogurt, mashed potatoes with apple slices or grilled cheese with salad.

You can also encourage your child to touch, hold and move the new food around the plate before he tastes it—this is called sensory exploration. Research shows that kids are more likely to eat foods they have touched, smelled and sucked on.

Many children are naturally picky eaters and it’s a normal stage of development. But if your child’s eating isn’t meeting his nutritional needs, talk to his health care provider about ways to make changes.

Some toddlers are anxious for control, so tagging a food as “something I’ll never eat” can have the opposite effect on their willingness to try it. Avoid using negative verbal or body language to communicate disapproval of a food—studies have shown that kids will often imitate their parents, even when it comes to eating! Instead, try to be a positive role model by serving your toddler foods you like and eat them yourself.

Gradual Progression: The Art of Mixing and Matching

mix and match foods

 

Even when a toddler turns up his nose at the broccoli you've just served, it is still important to offer him new foods. He may just need a little extra encouragement to eat it, which is where some reverse psychology comes in handy (but be careful not to overdo this one, as many kids catch on pretty quickly!).

For example, if your child loves to eat macaroni and cheese but won't touch peas or chicken, you can try mixing these foods with other meals that he already enjoys. If your kid isn't fond of mushy food, serve it with something crunchy like apple slices or a baked potato. You can also track his food sensitivities and keep this in mind when planning your menus (for instance, if he hates yogurt, you can replace it with milk or a squeezable yogurt drink that is similar).

If a new food is rejected, don't make a big deal out of it; it takes many attempts before some kids get comfortable eating a certain food. In fact, studies have found that it can take 10 to 15 exposures before a child is willing to taste and then actually eat a disliked food.

Don't force extra bites if your toddler doesn't want them; this will only create a power struggle that can turn the meal into a battle of wills. Instead, let him know that you will be offering another new food later on and give him the opportunity to try it again. The more comfortable he is with trying new foods, the more likely he is to eat them on his own without your prompting. He may even begin to crave these healthy, nutritious foods!

Be a Role Model: Family Meals and Positive Influence

be a role model

While it may be frustrating when yogurt ends up on the floor or a new food is thrown on the ground, allowing your child to play with their food will help them develop an appreciation for it. It will also give them confidence that the food can be handled, making them less hesitant to taste it. Try putting a dollop of a new food (like Beech-Nut sweet corn & green beans) and one of their tried-and-true foods together on a plate and let them explore the different colors and textures.

You can also be a role model by trying new foods in front of your children and encouraging them to imitate you. If your child is a picky eater, it’s especially important for them to see you eating a variety of healthy foods. Research shows that kids are more likely to eat a wide range of nutritious foods if their parents do.

When you are trying out a new food, make sure the portion is small enough to avoid choking. It is unlikely your picky toddler will be willing to dig into a big bowl of peas, but they might be interested in a mouse-sized bite. You can also get creative with presentation by cutting fruits and veggies into fun shapes, serving them in ice cube trays or a muffin pan, and offering finger-sized foods they can spear with toothpicks.

In addition to being a powerful nutrition tool, family meals have many other positive benefits. Studies show that kids who regularly eat with their families get better grades in school and are more likely to engage in positive behaviors like avoiding drugs and alcohol. In addition, families who regularly eat together have stronger relationships and are more likely to be supportive of their children’s health habits.

Texture Exploration: From Purees to Finger Foods

texture exploration

While most toddlers are picky eaters and stick to their tried-and-true favorites, they can still eat a wide variety of foods. It may just take a little more time to get them to try new things, and that’s okay.

It can take up to 15 times of a food before a child is fully comfortable with it, so don’t give up too soon! Oftentimes, kids are not willing to eat new foods because they find it too difficult to chew or the texture is off. If you find that your child is rejecting certain foods because of these issues, try some of the following techniques to help them become more familiar with them:

One of the best ways to make a new food less intimidating for children is by pairing it with a food they already like. This can be a great way to get kids to try vegetables or other healthy foods that they aren’t very comfortable with, such as incorporating carrots into a strawberry smoothie. You can also hide healthy ingredients in some of their favorite foods to encourage them to eat more veggies, such as adding spinach to a pancake or berry smoothie or tucking small bits of carrot into mac and cheese.

Another important thing to remember is that children are very sensitive to their parents’ reactions to new foods, and if their mom or dad dislikes the food, they will likely not be as interested in it. Try to avoid showing disgust or disinterest in a new food and instead be excited about it, which will be contagious. Also, don’t use reverse psychology by saying things such as, “No way are you going to eat that broccoli!” This can be highly counterproductive and can actually push your child further away from the food.

Sensory Stimulation: Engage the Senses

Children learn through their senses—touch, sight, taste, smell and sound. While there are many toys that provide sensory stimulation, you can also easily engage your child's senses with everyday activities or by using items from around the house.

Getting your toddler to try new foods begins with stimulating their sensory system. During meals, offering single-ingredient pureed fruits and vegetables, cheese, pasta, well-cooked meats, baby crackers, and dry cereal can all introduce them to new flavors, textures and scents. By allowing your toddler to use their hands, chew on the food and play with it in different ways (dunking it into sauces, for example), they'll start to understand what these foods look like and feel like.

Toddlers are known to be headstrong, so don't push them if they don't want to try something. It's important to understand that it can take up to 15 exposures to a new food before your picky eater starts to get comfortable with it.

When introducing a new food, it's helpful to pair it with an old favorite. For example, if your toddler loves to dip their finger into ketchup, then they might enjoy trying applesauce dipped in yogurt swirled with cinnamon. Similarly, if your toddler eats ravioli, then they might enjoy eating cut-up veggies dipped in tomato sauce.

Engaging a person's senses is an effective way to improve their mood, reduce depression and anxiety, and increase communication. At Bucklow Manor Memory Care, we often incorporate sensory activities into the day-to-day lives of our residents. For instance, we create sensory boxes with personalized objects that are precious to the individual such as knick-knacks, holiday photos, awards, religious mementos, and more. These objects are intended to be comforting and familiar, providing a sense of safety for the resident during the sensory experience.

Variety and Color: A Rainbow of Flavors

variety and color

Toddlers and young children are often more interested in trying foods than they let on. This is a normal stage, but it can be challenging for parents to get them to try new foods.

One way to help is to offer a variety of foods in their natural colors and flavors. Whether they are brightly colored or bland, each color of food has different phytonutrients that offer specific health benefits. You can also use the advice to "eat the rainbow" to encourage kids to choose foods from every food group.

Some of these foods may not be as attractive or appealing as the ones they already love, so a key is to introduce them alongside other favorites. This can make the new food less intimidating, and it gives them an opportunity to see how they like it.

Another trick is to be up-front about the ingredients in your child's food. This can be especially helpful if they are very picky eaters. For example, if they ask what the green specks in their smoothie are, explain that you added spinach because it makes the smoothie healthy and yummy. This will build trust and make them more likely to taste it and other foods in that food group.

Also, be patient. It can take many times of offering a new food before kids are willing to try it. And remember to serve small portions. You want them to be able to experience the flavor and texture of the new food. You can even tell them that they are getting a sample and that they can always have more if they want. In addition, some kids need to touch and smell a new food before they are willing to eat it.

Get Creative: Presentation and Fun

Try to introduce a variety of foods in an interesting way to spark your toddler's interest. This will help them get used to different flavors and textures, so they'll be more likely to eat a well-balanced diet later on. You can cut foods into fun shapes, use food coloring to make foods look exciting, or serve them with a healthy dip such as hummus or low-fat salad dressing.

Once your baby has mastered spoon-fed purees, you can start to introduce them to firm foods, such as grated veggies and fruits. You can also try mixing new foods with tried-and-true favorites to make them seem less intimidating. For example, if your child loves to eat melon, try adding some sliced apples or carrots to their plate.

A great way to encourage your picky eater to explore a new food is to let them examine it with their hands before they decide whether or not to eat it. It may take up to 15 attempts for a child to accept a new food, so don't give up!

If your child wants to eat the new food, but can't quite manage it with their fingers, you can try offering them small shreds of meat and small pieces of fruit and vegetables that are about the size of their fingertip. Be sure to avoid choking hazards, such as grapes (unless they're quartered), hot dogs and nuts. You can also offer your toddler a soft handheld food option such as a squeezable yogurt tube or a piece of cheese, which is easier for them to hold and control with their hands. You could even make it a game, by encouraging them to "build" an edible mountain of slivers of their favorite fruits and veggies before they eat them.

Don't Force and Respect Preferences

respect preference

Sometimes, even with all the best intentions and creative presentation, a toddler simply doesn’t want to try new foods. When this happens, it’s important to respect their boundaries and not force them to eat something they don’t enjoy.

Some foods may need to be presented multiple times before a child feels comfortable eating them. It is normal for babies and toddlers to have preferences and aversions, but it is important to encourage them to eat a variety of foods to get the nutrients they need.

Children are more likely to eat healthy foods if they are involved in the preparation of those foods. Getting your toddler to help you with mealtime can be a fun way to encourage them to try new things. Even if they only stir the fruit into yogurt or squirt the mustard on the bread, it will give them a sense of ownership and control over what they eat.

Involvement in food preparation can also be a great motivator for kids to eat more of their favorite foods. Try taking your child grocery shopping to pick out fruits and vegetables that they will be excited about. Then, back at home, encourage them to help you prepare those foods. Even a toddler who won’t eat broccoli might be willing to have a taste if they helped plant it and watch it grow.

When introducing new foods, it is often helpful to pair them with a food that they like. For example, a toddler who doesn’t like mushy foods might be more willing to try it when served alongside animal crackers. This will also help you to monitor for any possible food sensitivities.

Consult a Pediatrician: Expert Guidance

consult a prediatrician

Some kids have a hard time accepting new foods, even when their parents try to be gentle and supportive. If your child is refusing new foods or has frequent food jags, it may be beneficial to consult a pediatrician. These experts are trained in a variety of approaches and have a keen awareness of your child's overall health and development. They can also help you determine if your child has a sensory issue that could be contributing to their eating problems.

Children may need to be exposed to a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will accept it. To help them get comfortable with the texture and taste of a food, offer it with something they do like, such as dipping vegetables into yogurt or bread crumbs. Kids also tend to be more receptive to new foods if they see their parents enjoying them. Try squirting mustard on a sandwich or mixing some berries into oatmeal to let your child see that you enjoy these foods too.

Finally, encourage your toddler to play with his or her food. Keith Williams, director of the feeding clinic at Penn State Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania says that letting kids play with their food helps them develop their sense of touch and smell. This can make them more willing to eat it when it is served up later.

Most importantly, remember that almost all picky eaters will eventually become more receptive to new foods. The key is to keep trying and be patient with the process. If you follow the strategies outlined in this article, your little one will be enjoying a wide array of healthy foods in no time.

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