Feeding Toddlers through Exploration

When introducing a new food to your baby or toddler, it is so important to allow him or her explore that new food first. To help you understand why this is important, consider the following scenario.  Imagine you are blindfolded and told, “It’s time to eat.”  No one tells you what it is. “You will like it. It is yummy,” they tell you. What would you want to do before eating it? Probably smell it. Maybe even touch it to see if you can learn any more about it. The same is true for your young child. Eating new foods is a whole experience for a baby just like it can be for us as adults.

Let Your Child Explore New Foods

When my son was 8 months old, I had given him pureed bananas from a jar, but every time I tried giving him bananas I had mashed up at home he didn’t want anything to do with them. My guess is it was the difference in texture that made him think twice about eating them. At some point I decided he just needed to check out this new texture. I put him in his high chair with a tray and gave him about a third of a ripe banana. Immediately, he looked at me like, “This is for me? OK! I will check it out!” It wasn’t about eating. He picked it up, squished it around. Rubbed some in his hair. It was everywhere. Some of it made it into his mouth, but I think it was just by accident. Then he realized it tasted good and started sucking on his banana coated fingers. He had a good experience exploring food. As parents, we should give our kids a chance to explore and try new foods at their own pace. Don’t force it, but offer it.

boy looking through binoculars

Don’t Make a Fuss

When my son was around 14 months old, I noticed he hardly ever ate any of the black beans I offered him. I would often serve them for with a weekday lunch because they are an inexpensive and quick source of protein and iron. My son’s beans would often end up on the floor. Guess who threw them there!? Despite his lack of enthusiasm for black beans, I still incorporated them into meals. One day, I tried again. I put 3 black beans in front of him. I didn’t make a fuss or say anything about them. He picked one up and ate it. He went on to eat some of the other foods and then picked up another black bean. He ate that one. As I was eating my lunch along with him I tried not to get too excited that he was finally eating black beans. I ended up having to give him more and he has enjoyed eating them since then.

Keep Offering

Why does this story matter? I encourage you to avoid putting a food on the “dislike” list just because you’ve given it once or twice to your child and they made a funny face or didn’t eat it. It can take over 10 times before a child will accept a new food. Keep offering, but don’t pressure them. It may end up being a food they love or they may never like it. You just have to give them a chance to like it by offering it. Be a good example by eating a variety of foods in front of them and keep providing healthy foods in small age-appropriate portions.

More Help with Early Eating Habits

Here are some helpful and not so helpful phrases to keep in mind as you work to establish healthy eating habits in your young child:  Help & Hinder Phrases from MyPlate

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