Children are notoriously picky eaters. For many parents, the sight of a child throwing vegetables to the floor in disgust isn’t too hard to picture, as it’s a familiar scene at dinner time.
Studies have shown that early influence on diet and eating habits can shape the way that a child sees food right into adulthood. And having a balanced and healthy diet also has a direct impact on a child’s development and growth.
Building a positive relationship between health, learning and nutrition is vital, and nutrition forms one of the three main factors which contribute to children’s development.
In today’s world, where childhood nutrition is a huge focal point for many countries around the globe, it is important now more than ever to positively impact and shape your child’s eating habits from an early age. There is no disputing that nutrition plays a huge role in a child’s development and can even be affected whilst they are still in the womb.
Under-nutrition during pregnancy can impact foetal growth and development and diet choices from an early age can follow children right into adulthood.
When your baby reaches weaning age (around 6 months old), this is the perfect time to start forming good eating habits and influencing their food choices.
So, with this in mind, here are some ways to positively shape your child’s eating habits from an early age.
Introducing solid foods to your baby is mostly focused on one thing, and that is experimenting. In years gone by, the first foods recommended for weaning babies were things which were likely to be accepted and eaten without much fuss: rice pudding, baby porridge and fruit purees were often foods of choice. These foods were very sweet and their pulp-like texture meant it was easy for babies to eat.
Babies are naturally born with a preference for sweeter foods, meaning that they often don’t need much encouragement when it comes to eating sweet foods such as fruits. However, taste preferences do change with age and development, and it has been shown that early interaction and experiences with foods, textures and flavors can help to shape food preferences and choices later on in life.
Using vegetables as a baby’s first food
There has been a whole host of research invested into weaning over recent years. This research has shown that weaning with vegetables first is important in developing baby’s tastes and acceptance of new foods and tastes.
With vegetables, you can introduce savory, sweet and bitter tastes with just a few vegetable choices and these should be offered in order to help babies accept vegetables and get used to these tastes and flavors early on in life and so that they can develop a liking for these tastes early on in life.
It’s important to remember that introducing vegetables to your baby first doesn’t mean that your baby won’t turn into a fussy eater as they reach toddler age (it is almost inevitable!), but research has previously shown that babies who are weaned and given a variety of different vegetables early on in life tend to have a preference to eat more vegetables as they get older.
Look to include vegetables which aren’t so sweet early on in your baby’s weaning journey. Things such as broccoli, spinach and cauliflower will help your baby get used to a range of different flavors, rather than just sweet vegetables such as turnips, carrots and sweet potatoes.
The first week of weaning
A lot of weaning experts recommend starting your baby on green and bitter vegetables for the first week or two. This is because your baby will be trying some completely new tastes and you want to introduce your baby to favors they’ve never had before. Using this process will hopefully help your baby become familiar with sweet, savory and bitter tastes and lead to them accepting a wider variety of tastes as they get older.
Of course, it is highly unlikely that your baby will be happy with the taste of broccoli straight away, but this is because your baby has been on a diet of sweet milk for the first months of their life. It is said that it takes around 8-10 tastes of a new food before your baby accepts it, so this is perfectly normal.
After introducing a range of vegetables over the first few weeks, it’s time to introduce sweeter tasting vegetables to your baby, as well as some other foods.
Be sure to introduce a range of foods, including carbohydrates such as potato, rice and pasta and protein and iron-rich foods including eggs, meat, fish, lentils and beans. Ensure that they are all the right texture and size for their own stage and development levels.
It’s all about moving your little one onto eating a varied diet with plenty of new tastes and textures for them to try. Weaning, especially baby-led weaning, is a particularly messy stage of development, so you might want to invest in some weaning essentials, such as baby-friendly bowls and cutlery, weaning bibs and a highchair to make the journey easier for both you and them.
- To add familiarity in those first few days, try mixing blended green vegetables with some of your baby’s normal milk.
- Don’t worry if your baby isn’t eating that much at first - they need to get used to eating food from a spoon or pieces of food.
- Even if your baby is just playing or tasting foods at first, then this is great as your baby will still be building up familiarity with all these new foods.
- Remember that weaning will take time and introducing new foods can feel stressful at times. Your baby accepting new foods won’t happen instantly and it is a gradual learning process - all babies are different!
- Whichever way you feed your baby is fine - all babies adapt to foods differently and if you’re offering finger foods, purees or both, then that is absolutely fine and safe to do.