Feeding your baby nutritious food can be one of the greatest gifts you can give. Several acclaimed studies show that what babies eat in their first year can profoundly affect their growth, development and overall health - not just now, but forever. Moreover, if you start your baby off eating a healthy, varied diet you can influence their food preferences and taste buds. You will foster open-mindedness in your baby about trying different foods and, most importantly, they will be much more likely to try eating healthy foods by choice throughout their life.
Offer a wide variety of foods. Introducing new tastes and textures all the way through the weaning process teaches your child to eat a good range of foods, making it easier to achieve a nutritionally balanced diet. Offering foods over and over again – even if they shove it on the floor - sends the message that these are things which are good to eat, and not in any way frightening.
Don’t delay in introducing ‘lumpy’ foods. It is important to quite rapidly move from smooth puréed foods to mashed foods, and aim to do this by about seven-and-a-half months. Include grains like couscous and rice with soft mashed vegetables to add texture to your baby’s food. Even if your baby does not have any teeth, they should be able to manage soft mashed foods quite efficiently. Delaying the introduction of lumpy food may lead to problems accepting textured food later on.
Introduce finger food as early as six months. Eating finger food is good for a child’s development, as they learn how to pick up food, get it into their mouth and chew it. Allowing a baby to control what goes into their own mouth can actually make choking less likely. Try to offer finger food at least once a day when you start weaning. Other than offering rusks or baby biscuits, aim to offer soft raw foods like avocado or banana, or soft cooked foods like sweet potato or butternut squash.
Let them get messy! Your baby will probably make quite a mess, but this is all an important part of the learning process. Try not to rush in with wipes to get every little mess your baby makes when experimenting with their food. Babies who are able to freely explore textures and make a mess with food are less likely to have an aversion to different textures of food and trying new foods as they grow. Give your child every opportunity to explore their food with their hands.
Make sure the setting is right. It is important to place yourself so that your baby can look straight ahead at you while you are spoon-feeding. Allow your baby to hold a spoon while you are spoon-feeding them, and place the bowl of food in front of them. This gives baby some control and they will learn to feed themselves quicker if you allow them. Offer your baby a beaker of water from six months. They will soon learn how to use it, and it will make the transition from bottle to beaker easier.
Don’t offer alternatives if food is refused. Choose what it is they are going to eat, and let your child decide how much they want to eat. Do not cook separate meals if you want to have a child who’s not a fussy eater! Do a weekly meal plan which includes a healthy and varied diet for your baby or child, and stick to it.
If you are formula-feeding, calculate the amount of milk your baby needs for a 24-hour period in accordance to their weight and age, and do not exceed that daily amount. If a baby fills up on milk, they will not have the appetite to eat solid foods. Avoid giving your baby a bottle of milk just before a meal, and avoid giving them a bottle of milk as a substitute if they have not eaten.
Finally, try to eat together as a family. If your baby has eaten, give them some finger food, but always allow baby to join in at mealtimes. For toddlers and older children, make sure you are all eating the same meal. By sitting and eating a healthy meal with your children, you are being a good role model and demonstrating that food is good. Eating together as a family makes mealtime into a bonding social activity.