I know it sounds counter intuitive, but sometimes baby knows best. If you’re having trouble getting your baby to eat, try following his lead. Obviously, babies don’t know anything about nutrition, or electric outlets, or the dangers of drinking antifreeze. That means they don’t need to run the show, but it doesn’t mean their preferences should be ignored entirely.
Babies come equipped to express their needs. If you’re a parent, you’re well aware of your baby’s ability to communicate hunger, discomfort, frustration, anger, and a preference for mommy and daddy. Each baby, like each adult, is slightly different. A one-size-fits-all approach to introducing solid food can result in frustrated babies and irritated parents. Eventually, all babies will learn to eat solid food, but why not make the process as painless as possible?
This is a frequent topic of discussion with my son who believes that hands and the floor should stay clean and whatever’s offered should be eaten…no matter what. Sometimes I wonder if he’s forgotten how he was raised. He was allowed to make a mess, get his hands dirty, and choose not to eat something as long as he was eating something else that was offered.
Mind you, I understand it’s not fun to clean up the mess my grandson DJ makes. The first day I decided to see if he was ready to scoop food out of a bowl by himself, I ended up with food all the way to the top of my refrigerator door. From this I determined he’s not ready to handle a bowl, but he knows how to have fun!
I prefer to keep meal time a lighthearted learning experience rather than a battle of wills. All this requires is a sense of humor, attentive observation, and a little preventative maintenance. I now cover the floor under the high chair with a sheet so that cleanup is quick and easy. If DJ wants to mash the banana on his tray rather than eat it, we make a game of it. After all, he’s learning what foods are called, how taste & textures vary, how to pick up small pieces of food, and depth perception. At 8 months, he’s not ready to learn table manners yet. That will come. Of course I set some limits. When DJ decides to spit peas, he gets one free pass. After that, the peas go away until another meal.
It can be easy to assume a baby wants to spit peas because she’s misbehaving or hates green vegetables, but it’s obvious that DJ is just having fun making noise, making a mess, and watching my response. He loves it when I think he’s funny. After we have a laugh, he usually goes right back to eating. He actually likes peas.
Food preferences can develop before a baby is born. A child who spits out spinach may gobble up asparagus or broccoli. When you offer a large variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, you’ll soon learn where your child’s preferences lie so that you can incorporate some of those foods into the family menu on a regular basis.
DJ’s parents feed him regular food that they prepare at home. That way he can eat the same foods they’re eating and they can know exactly what he’s consuming. While they have chosen not to use prepared baby food, they are creating traditional purées for him to eat from a spoon.
After a month or so of success introducing foods, DJ began to gag or shudder whenever the spoon approached his mouth. He no longer seemed to like foods that he loved the day before. He also seemed reluctant to touch his tray, and he clearly wasn’t enjoying himself at meal time.
I might not know how to solve that specific problem immediately, but I know how to make the experience more engaging. Once a baby is engaged, a little observation can lead to some possible solutions. Babies love to put things in their mouth. They enjoy touching new textures. DJ needed to get his hands dirty.
I bought him a silicone spoon that works as both a teether and a spoon. It’s easy to hold with no pointed end to endanger a baby’s eyes. Of course DJ wanted to grab it and chew on it. Then I added food — the same food that he gagged at when I tried to feed him. He grabbed the spoon, ate a big bite, looked at me and said, “Mmmmm!” He had fun for the rest of the meal. Weeks later, DJ is still having fun at meal time and he’s eating well. Sometimes he’s happy for me to feed him. Sometimes, he wants control of the spoon. I simply follow his lead.
The result of a little observation and willingness to experiment is a baby who has shown us that he prefers vegetables to fruits and eats a wide variety — spinach, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, butternut squash, black eyed peas, potatoes, and carrots. He also likes chicken, avocado, cantaloupe, dates, and mango. He doesn’t like to eat bananas, but he loves to smash them into his tray.
As his world expands, DJ’s preferences will continue to evolve. We plan to take note and include his new preferences in our meal plans. We will offer simple choices between A and B rather than open ended questions regarding what he wants to eat. This will give DJ control over his diet within the boundaries of the adults who know he will thrive with fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and eventually eggs, dairy, and whole grains. Our goal is to provide healthy food while keeping meal time peaceful and fun. My son and I can agree on this.
If you run into a problem getting your child to eat, keep offering a variety of fresh food, follow his lead whenever it makes sense, and remember to have fun! That may be all it takes to solve the problem.