Guest Post by: Kara Wilson
I have a little confession to make. It’s something I usually feel uncomfortable telling other parents.
My kids love vegetables.
There I said it. I didn’t simply get lucky. I actually spent years and years cooking for children as a career nanny before I had my own kids. I’ve had a HUGE head start when it comes to feeding kids, and I’d love to share with you all the secrets I’ve learned along the way.
I’m sure you know plenty of parents who struggle with fussy little eaters. It’s incredibly common, and I can only imagine how stressful it would be cooking lovely meals, only to be met with complaints and outright refusal.
Starting early is crucial. What you give your baby now lays the foundations for future eating habits. Are you hoping that your baby will grow up to be a little foodie? Of course you are! Okay, let’s get started RIGHT NOW - whether they’ve started solids already or not. Here are my 8 secrets to getting your baby to eat more vegetables
1. Take the Pressure Off Them
Firstly, I know it’s in the title but you can’t actually get your child to eat. It’s not your role as the parent. Your job is to decide what to cook, and then where and when your child will eat it. It’s up to the baby if they want to eat, and indeed how much they’ll eat.
If they’re turning their head or getting upset, just leave it for now and try again next meal time. If they only take a few spoonsful and then refuse it, that’s fine too. If we force it, the child will feel pressured, and what we ultimately want is a calm mealtime.
2. Keep It Positive
You have to remember that milk was their only source of food for quite some time, so once they start solids, they’re experiencing all kinds of new flavors, sights, textures, and smells. They might grimace or shudder, but it doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t like the food. Give them a chance to accept the new taste, and offer it again. It’s pretty amusing and adorable, but try not to laugh, or use negative phrases like, ‘you don’t like it’. Keep your language positive, and as though the whole experience is no big deal.
3. Food Should Be Fun
Let them play with their food. Some parents find this one tough. I get it, we all have enough cleaning to do without throwing in extra washing, bathing, and wall scrubbing…but trust me, now is the time to drop your cleaning standards a little (okay, a lot!), and embrace the mess.
That means letting them explore the vegetables with their hands, rubbing it through their hair, spilling it on the floor, smearing it all over the highchair, everywhere. That even goes for wiping chins. Leave the food there until the end; babies generally (and rightfully) don’t like their faces being wiped, or scraped with the spoon.
Babies play, and we should always encourage that. A baby who is wiped clean with every mouthful and prevented from making a mess just might grow up to be a picky eater. I’ve seen it so many times before. To save your sanity, you can either strip your baby down to just a diaper first, or use a bib that has sleeves. Put a messy mat on the floor, and use a highchair that doesn’t have endless nooks and crannies to clean out.
4. Be Their Role Model
Probably THE most important tip to a fun and calm mealtime is eating with your child. If they see you eating and enjoying vegetables, then they will be more likely to try them. Plopping some food on their highchair trays and walking away won’t teach them anything. After all, eating is a journey of learning, and you are their most significant role model.
If you are spoon feeding your baby and they’re ready to also go onto finger foods, you could place a variety of finger foods in the middle of the table for the whole family to eat. Examples could be cucumber sticks, steamed carrot sticks, avocado slices, parsnip chips, and steamed broccoli and cauliflower florets. By 12 months, they will be eating what the rest of the family is eating anyway.
5. Keep It Interesting
Food jagging is when we eat the same food over and over and then get sick of it. Offer a rainbow of veggies at every meal, and try cutting them up and cooking them differently each time. Turn avocado into a dip, roast some zucchini instead of steaming it, make soups, or put spinach into fritters, for example. Don’t be afraid to add flavor with herbs and spices, and you could mix in some cheese or olive oil.
A lot of veggies are quite bitter, so it’s crucial that we prepare their tastebuds for bitter foods, too. This means that you can ditch the bland baby rice and sweet potato as first foods, and instead offer green vegetables early on. There is absolutely no need to add fruit to vegetable dishes. Often when you buy the commercial baby foods, you’ll see this, so try to avoid these ones if you can.
6. Get Them Ready to Eat
Make sure they’re hungry at mealtimes. Avoid letting them graze all day, or filling up on more milk than is necessary for their age and developmental stage, and finally, don’t offer a Plan B (like something sweet) if they don’t eat a meal (unless of course you’re concerned they’ll be hungry overnight – no one wants a baby to wake up from hunger if they no longer need milk at night!). If they tend to be more tired in the evenings, and therefore more reluctant to try new vegetables, you could offer a larger variety at lunchtime or even with their breakfast.
7. Make It a Part of Their Routine
Consistency and persistence will pay off. If there are vegetables served with as many meals as possible at set times each day, it will become the norm. If your baby has been refusing certain vegetables, then offer them alongside ones that they love. There’s no need to disguise them, and we certainly shouldn’t be tricking our babies into eating anything. It can take 15-20 POSITIVE (that means no pressure) exposures to a food before the child will like it. So, offer it and keep offering it.
Keeping to a routine will also take the stress out of mealtimes. Children love routine, so if your baby knows that mealtimes happen at roughly the same time each day (as in before their lunchtime nap, or before their evening bath), it will give them a sense of security and predictability.
8. They Need to Eat Mindfully
There are an overwhelming number of new things happening every day in a baby’s little world. Can you imagine how this might feel? They’re constantly bombarded with new sensations, and mealtimes are no different. We eat with all of our senses, and for a baby this can be a lot to handle. This is why we need to remove all distractions like screens and toys at the table.
A baby watching TV whilst mindlessly eating won’t learn anything about the food going into their mouth. Equally a baby holding toys instead of exploring food with their hands won’t be focussing on what you’re feeding them. They need to be aware of the new smells, textures, colours, and tastes so that they become familiar with them. Familiarity will remove any feelings of overwhelm or fear at the next meal.
As you can see, how you encourage (rather than make) your child to eat a variety of vegetables is much more than the food itself. I know all too well what baby brain is like, and this may be a lot of information to take in. I’ll break it down for you in palatable chunks (pardon the pun):