Getting Toddlers to Eat Solids and Tips for Picky Eaters
Introduction of solid food begins with offering food on a spoon in small quantities the size of 1-2 tablespoons for a meal, with one or two meals each day. The goal of offering food on a spoon to infants at 6 months of age is to help stimulate the development of mouth muscles, rather than to provide nutrition, which ideally is being done via breastfeeding. Spoon feeding involves two new experiences for infants in that a spoon has a different mouth feel than a breast, and the food does not feel the same as breast milk does on the tongue. Babies respond strongly new to new tastes or smells.
Tips for introducing solid foods include:
- Spoon-feeding experiences should occur when your baby is not too tired or too hungry, rather she should be active and playful.
- Use a small, shallow spoon, and consider the temperature of the spoon in that depending on what it’s made of, it may be hot or cold.
- Let your baby open her mouth and extend her tongue toward the food, and if she cannot extend her tongue farther out than her lower lip, she is not ready for spoon-feeding.
- Do not touch the spoon too far back on the tongue as it may trigger a gag reflex, keep it forward to the front of the mouth, and apply gentle downward pressure.
- Keep the spoon level, your baby’s chin should be slightly down to protect her airway, and using her gums to scrape food off the spoon is not recommended.
- Base the pace of eating on her ability to swallow so as not to induce choking.
- First meals may be of small quantities, about 5 – 6 baby spoons of food, they may last about 10 minutes, and should be based on your baby’s interest.
As your baby masters eating from a spoon, learn to follow her signs to indicate the rate at which she wants to eat.
In the absence of anatomical problems or health conditions that make it difficult or uncomfortable for children to eat certain foods, picky eating can just be a normal bump in the road of childhood development. For example, learning to control the tongue is a skill that has to be practiced, and sometimes kids just have issues with certain textures. This is particularly the case when a child transitions to eating solid foods.
Did you know it can take introducing a new food multiple times before it is accepted? Some children will take to a new food after a couple of introductions, and with others, it may take anywhere between 10 to 20+ introductions! If your child doesn't like a new food the first, or even third time you offer it to him, this isn't a reason to throw in the towel. Eating a variety of whole real foods is important for your child to grow and develop normally, and you CAN get them to eat these foods.
Here are some ideas that may help:
- Keep offering the food you are attempting to get your child to eat. Your child does not have to eat it. Simply exposing your child to it however is an important part of the process. It is ok for your child to pick up the food, play with it and feel it. This allows your child to get used to the food and it is part of the process.
- Offer soft foods cut up in small pieces, like a banana. Your child may be more inclined to eat a bite of a soft banana rather than a crunchy cracker. Bananas, cooked peas and carrots, avocado, plain cooked macaroni, etc., are other examples to try. Cut foods smaller than you think may be necessary.
- Give your child a spoon and let him feed himself. Letting him have ‘control’ of the situation may encourage him to eat a few bites of the new food.
- Wait to offer your child a new food until he is really and truly hungry. If he’s satiated from other foods, there won’t be much motivation to try something new.
- Give you child a few bites of a new food while you are preparing his meal that includes that new food. Let him familiarize himself with it, play with it and try to eat it.
- Take him to a store that gives out samples like Whole Foods and Costco (on the weekends) and you might be surprised at what he will try.
- Children are very impressionable, and are great imitators. They will be more likely to want what you are eating, so make your own dietary choices wisely.
- Do not panic! While it is frustrating to get your child to diversify his dietary intake, if you are anxious during meals, he’ll pick up on it.
Your child may simply need the time and freedom to explore eating new foods. Be patient, be persistent, and watch the magic happen.
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Brown J. Nutrition through the Life cycle 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2011.